PGW & SFF appoint judge to mediate


PGG Wrigthson and Silver Fern Farms have found some common ground – they’ve agreed to appoint retired judge Robert Fisher QC to mediate between them over compensation for PGW’s failure to complete their agreed merger.

It’s a start and it’s cheaper than litigation which is where the dispute over compensation will lead if mediation doesn’t succeed.

Bill said then they said then Bill said


Bill English has just made a ministerial statement about the report which concluded the $1.5 billion hole in the ACC accounts should have been disclosed before the election.

The responses were illuminating:

Labour accepted no responsiblity and criticised National.

Russel Norman used it as an excuse to argue against privatising ACC and also said that a fixed election date would make it easier to comply with the Public Finance Act.  I favour a fixed date but am not sure that it would make a difference to ministers who weren’t inclined to full disclosure.

Tariana Turia listed some of Labour’s other breaches of trust including illgal spending of public money on their election campaign then changing the law to retrospectively validate it.

Roger Douglas attacked Michael Cullen and Helen Clark for failing to abide by disclosure requirements.

Peter Dunne said the important point was how to ensure ACC was funded properly.

In his response Bill agreed with Dunne. He then laid the blame at Cullen’s feet and said that everytime Labour criticises National in the next three years for not funding something,  he will be able to say if they had disclosed the problem and done something to solve it there would be $1.5 billion more in the public purse.

Cullen was wrong when he said, “We’ve spent the lot.” He should have said, “We’ve spent more than the lot.”

UPDATE: Rob Hosking  is scathing:

New Zealand has that pre-election economic and fiscal update for good reasons. Too many governments have lied.

The Treasury is the guardian of the public purse and is also supposed to be ministers’ consciences on these matters. It failed.

At least, though, it has admitted it was at fault. Secretary of the Treasury John Whitehead today issued what amounts to a mea culpa on behalf of his department.

Former Labour ministers have failed to admit any fault: instead raising the privatisation bogey.

Which is balderdash. . .

 The NBR explains the consequences for breaching the Public Finance Act.

South starts to get a share


The ODT was underwhelmed  by the government’s stimulus package because it didn’t give much to the south.

Today there’s happier news with the announcement that the government will underwrite the $15 million shortfall  in funding for a new stadium in Dunedin and Hillside Engineering has won a $39.9 million contract to build passenger carriages for the TranScenic rail routes. 

This is a welcome boost for the city although whether taxpayers should be subsidising the stadium and building railway carriages is open to debate.

They should’ve fessed up about ACC shortfall


The Ministerial inquiry into the $1.5 billion shortfall in the ACC accounts has concluded that it ought to have been revealed in the PREFU.

The report found the shortfall in the Non-Earner’s Account was known to ACC, the Department of Labour, Treasury, ACC Minister Maryan Street and Finance Minister Michael Cullen in time for it to be disclosed as a fiscal risk in the Pre-election Fiscal Update.

“The previous government knew about the funding hole and effectively hid it. There are systems in place to protect us from this, but in this case they did not work,” Finance Minister Bill English said when issuing the report today.

The PREFU is supposed to ensure that no incoming government is faced with nasty fiscal surprises as National was in 1990, but what use are laws if they’re ignored?

According to the report, Treasury’s rules for the fiscal risks section of the Pre-Election Fiscal and Economic Update did not always reflect the provisions and intent of the Public Finance Act.

“Treasury secretary John Whitehead has advised me that Treasury accepts responsibility for the part it played in this error and is committed to acting on the report’s recommendations,” Mr English said.

Treasury accepts responsiblity, but what about the politicians? Will Michael Cullen do a mea culpe too or will he just take refuge in the lines he gave when asked about the shortfall in December:

“I’m the Treaty negotiations spokesman,” Dr Cullen said.

“I have no intention of re-engaging in those areas.”

He and Street have been named in the report. Helen Clark wasn’t but does anyone seriously believe she wouldn’t have known about this too?

Cullen and Clark are retiring from politics but Street isn’t. If she doesn’t accept some responsibility for what is effectively a lie to the public and show contrition for it how could we trust her in future?

But then how can we trust any of these people when they seem to think ethics is just a county in England?

More for ag research & greater scope for irrigation fund


Agriculture Minister David Carter says he’ll get more funding for agricultural research than the Fast Forward Fund which was scrapped.

And while there will be a delay as a new funding structure is established, he says what the Government will put in place will ultimately deliver funds faster than the FFF would have. . .

. . . It’s not about removing money from research and development, it’s about developing a transparent process for distributing that money.’

Carter has also expanded the scope of the Community Irrigation Fund to allow local government agencies to apply for grants.

It’s not just what is being done but that fact that the government is demonstrating by actions rather than rhetoric the importance it places on both agricultural innovation and irrigation which heartens me.

The former Minsiter of Agriculture spent a considerable time recently telling Jamie McKay on the Farming Show how good he’d been but when the North Otago Irrigation Company was planning a $60 million scheme to bring water from the Waitaki River to the Waiareka Valley he didn’t come up with a cent.

Down and dirty but no complaints


Passing quickly over the question of whether there was a need for resource consent for introducing foreign bodies into a waterway, the annual initiation rite for residents of Selwyn College took place without the problems associated with last week’s toga party.

The Leith Run is one of many strange initiations at Otago’s oldest residential college, Selwyn College. Students traverse the Leith River beside Otago University, while former residents pelt them with eggs, flour, and rotten food.

The tradition began in 1935 when the sons and daughters of former residents carried a bath tub owned by rivals Knox College safely down the Leith.

When I was at Otago in the mid 70s a group of us from St Margaret’s College (Dunedin’s student residence not to be confused with Christchurch’s private school), borrowed the bath in the middle of the night, painted it with hearts and flowers and put it on St Mag’s front lawn in the expectation someone from Selwyn would notice it when visiting a girl friend.

They did, but only after we asked the local radio station to list it on their daily lost-and-found notice board.

Open border mustn’t risk bio security?


The idea of reclassifying Trans-Tasman flights as domestic rather than international  is a good one – with the proviso that bio-security controls are maintained.

New Zealand and Australia have the strictest bio-security border controls I’ve encountered for very good reasons. Both are bordered by sea which makes it more difficult for accidental incursions by unwanted species or infections; and primary production is very important to both economies.

The ability to travel more easily across the Tasman has many advantages but it mustn’t come with any risk to our plants and animals. 

There are still some things in each country which the other doesn’t want and if our Trans-Tasman travel is freed from passport controls both countries will need to ensure that bio-security controls aren’t relaxed too.

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