Word of the day


Faculative – discretionary, optional.

Does iPredict understand MMP? – UPDATED


iPredict’s weekly election update #7 had good news for those of us political tragics at the blue end of the spectrum:

John Key will lead a National/Act/UnitedFuture government with 62 seats and a two-seat majority in a 122-seat Parliament after the next General Election, this week’s snapshot of New Zealand’s prediction market, iPredict, suggests. Were the Maori Party to continue supporting this National-led government, the government would have 67 seats and a 12-seat majority. . .

. . .Forecast party vote shares are: National 44.5% (down from 45.6% last week), Labour 35.4% (up from 34.4% last week), Greens 7.8% (up from 7.5% last week), New Zealand First 4.1% (down from 4.6% last week), Act 3.6% (up from 2.8% last week), Maori Party 2.5% (down from 2.7% last week) and UnitedFuture 1.1% (up from 0.3% last week).

But I think there’s a mistake in the writer’s understanding of MMP: 

For the first time, UnitedFuture Leader Peter Dunne is forecast to be re-elected in Ohariu, with 37% probability compared with 35% probability for National to win the seat and 30% probability for Labour. . .

. . .   The result in Ohariu does not affect the likelihood of a National-led government, with National having 56 seats if Mr Dunne wins his seat and 57 seats if he does not.

It’s the party vote not electorate seats which determine the number of MPs a party has in parliament. If National got 44.5% of the vote it would get that percentage of seats in parliament regardless of whether or not it won Ohariu. Winning the electorate seat would mean it would have one less list seat and so would end up with the same number of MPs.

If Dunne lost the seat the party votes for United Future would be redistributed among all the other parties. That’s not many but if he commits to supporting  a National led government rather than a Labour one it would give the centre-right one more seat if he wins than if he doesn’t.

The iPredict website is here.

UPDATE: Comments from Matthew and Graeme below show iPredict was right, I hadn’t taken into account National getting an extra list seat if UF didn’t get an electorate or 5% of votes.

To Stuart


This Tuesday’s poem is To Stuart by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Other Tuesday poems linked in the sidebar include:

Mary McCallum’s Notorious Veins

Alicia Ponder’s This Way to Grandma’s

And Saradha Koirala plays Whisper Down the Lane – fun with synonyms.

More political tragics needed for strong democracy


The good news is that The Nation and Q&A are going to be funded to broadcast next year.

The bad news is they will probably screen at inconvenient times as they did this year.

Do few people watch these programmes because they’re broadcast at unpopular times, or do they get those time slots because few people watch them?

An ABC interview of  Dr Sally Young, senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne,  by Mark Colvin might have the answer:

 Sally Young:  . . . Who is the political news audience?  . . . basically the people who are really political news tragics – people who watch Parliament Question Time or subscribe to Crikey, for example, or watch Sky News press conferences and so on live – that’s about 0.5 per cent of the Australian population. So they’re your real political tragics and it’s a very small percentage.

MARK COLVIN: And so politicians have a real dilemma there. I mean, they’re speaking on two levels and if they engage too much with the Twitterarti etc, then they’re in danger of ignoring the vast majority of the population.

SALLY YOUNG: Mm, that’s right and I mean, even just broadening it out. When I looked at the percentage of people who buy a broadsheet in Australia, it’s about 2 per cent of the adult population. So, you know, it broadens out to things like, if you count people who watch ABC or SBS news and current affairs that’s about 10 per cent, or 12 per cent might listen to ABC Local Radio. So it’s somewhere between 0.5 to 12 per cent. That’s the core audience you think are interested in detailed information about politics, that sort of public affairs.

MARK COLVIN: So you’re left with 80 to 90 per cent who get everything they know about politics from the first couple of minutes of one of the commercial channels’ news bulletins.

SALLY YOUNG: Exactly. That’s right. And one of the findings I was looking at in the book as well is that those people who are reliant, as you say, particularly on commercial television news programs, those news programs will devote possibly two minutes a night to the election…

If it’s only political tragics like you and me who watch, read and listen to serious political analysis, what do politicians do?

MARK COLVIN: Alright so put yourself in a politician’s shoes. Or let’s say, the communications director of one of the major parties. How do you deal with this?

SALLY YOUNG: Well you can see one of the ways they deal with it is that they try to, if they’re brave enough, that the politicians will go on some of the more popular news programs as with Kevin Rudd going on Rove, for example. You know, that they’ll try and engage that audience and reach that audience that isn’t the hardcore political news junkies. They’ll try and get to them through the media they actually use. So that’s one of the ways.

MARK COLVIN: As a professional journalist, we tend to see that as “Oh, they’re trying to avoid the hard questioning”. But you’re saying that it’s just a logical reaction to what’s going on.

SALLY YOUNG: And it would be anti-democratic if they didn’t try to engage those people who don’t access that sort of hard news media, really. I mean, I know that journalists do – especially in those elite media, if you want to call them that – don’t like it when politicians avoid them to go on popular media like FM radio or comedy shows or whatever it is.

This explains a lot about why politics has become much more about personalities and why election campaigns are much more presidential with so much resting on the leader.

But it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for hard news journalism and political analysis. The problem is, if not many people are interested in it, advertisers won’t be keen to pay of it which is why New Zealand On Air is helping to fund both The Nation and Q&A.

 Hat Tip: Larvatus Prodeo   who got it from Trevor Cook who concludes:

Twitter, Facebook etc are only going to be important when they break stories. Sure they are entertaining, but they are not journalism . . .

To paraphrase Colvin, I think we will be left with 80 to 90 per cent of the population getting their political news from the first two minutes of the evening bulletin unless Mark Scott, or some other saviour, can turn some of that social media into (research-driven) journalism, rather than turning journalism into social media.

The challenge isn’t just how to fund serious  media, it’s also how to turn more people into political tragics. That will not only ensure a bigger audience for political news and analysis it will engender more participation in the political process and membership of political parties.

Both are important parts of a strong democracy.



12/15 in this week’s Domini0n Post political quiz.

Nothing to fear in careful sale of some assets


The government’s first investment statement is a welcome addition to open government.

“Effective management of the Crown’s assets and liabilities and making the best investment decisions is important if we are to realise our economic goals and deliver better public services,” Mr English says.

“The first annual Investment Statement clearly shows the Government’s assets, liabilities and future investment intentions and brings this important aspect of financial management into line with other regular fiscal reporting.

“It forecasts Crown assets to grow by $33 billion over the next five years to $256 billion – about five times the size of the sharemarket. That growth comes from a combination of investment in new infrastructure and social assets, alongside forecast accumulation of financial investments.

“At a time when we are borrowing for all new capital investment, we need to get the most out of our existing asset base and ensure new investment goes into areas where it can provide the largest improvements in public services.

When so much money is invested in these assets it is vital they are operating efficiently and giving the best possible return.

“We believe this level of transparent information allows the public to demand a much greater level of accountability from the Government and will lead to sharpened incentives and significantly better public sector decision-making.

“One of the big challenges is to get our capital moving to where we think it will have a positive impact – for example, newer better schools, modern well-organised hospitals, upgrades of our national electricity grid and the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband. To do this we need to look at ways of reprioritising poorly performing capital.”

Some of the areas identified in the Investment Statement, where capital is not being used efficiently, include:

  • Social housing: About 27,000 state houses are the wrong size, location or quality to meet the needs of high-priority Housing New Zealand clients. There are also 5,000 tenants currently paying market rent who could afford to rent in the private sector. 
  • Defence: Opportunities exist for base consolidation and divestment of housing stock, which would reap significant gains. 
  • Education: The Ministry of Education holds 244 surplus schools, teacher houses, vacant sites or other assets worth $96 million. 

The primary school our daughter, her father and grandmother attended closed several years ago. It was sold last year and I haven’t heard a single complaint or question over the sale. There ought to be loud complaints and continuous questions over why so much other capital isn’t being used efficiently.

“Disposing of these surplus assets faster would provide additional capital for new schools, more appropriate social housing and modern defence equipment,” Mr English says. “We are asking other agencies to investigate a similar approach.

“The Government is committed to new capital investment where it can be shown to improve public services. But over the coming years, most state agencies will be expected to first show their existing capital base is being fully and effectively used before being granted additional capital.

“The Government is focused on getting better performance across our entire asset base. With regard to major asset sales, our position is clear – there will be no sales this term and if that position changes we will say so and campaign on it at next year’s election,” Mr English says.

In a recent speech, Don Brash said:

As a Party, we need to be at the forefront of challenging why the state should be:

  • The biggest owner of dairy farms in New Zealand;
  • The biggest fund managers in New Zealand;
  • The 50% owner of a large chain of petrol stations;
  • By far the biggest owner of rental properties;
  • The dominant generator of electricity;
  • The dominant owner of our trains and planes;
  • The owner of our most aggressively growing bank.

And the list goes on. Nothing in history or experience suggests that ministers and officials and their appointees have the incentives to get the decisions right in managing those assets to their best potential.

Asking the question doesn’t mean the answer is to sell all of these assets at once or even ever. Nor does it mean all of those which are sold should be sold in their entirety.

Partial floats may be better for some of them, getting an injection of capital and providing new investment opportunities for individuals.

But I wouldn’t include Landcorp among them. Most investors would want a much better return on capital than it gives.

However, I am not advocating selling the company as a whole or all its farms at once while the rural real estate market is sluggish. A gradual sale of individual farms over time would be the best way for the state to divest itself of these low performing assets.

Any mention of possible sales will inevitably engender howls of rage from the left but it is the least painful way to help return the government books to surplus.

The half-year fiscal and economic update made gloomy reading.

The state either has to spend less or earn more. A careful sale of surplus assets will be an important ingredient in the recipe for recovery.

December 15 in history


37 Nero, Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was born  (d. 68).

Nero 1.JPG

1791  The United States Bill of Rights became law when ratified by the Virginia General Assembly.

United States Bill of Rights

1832 Gustave Eiffel, French engineer and architect (Eiffel tower), was born (d. 1923).

1863 The mountain railway from Anina to Oravita in Romania was used for the first time.

1891  James Naismith introduced the first version of basketball, with thirteen rules, a peach basket nailed to either end of his school’s gymnasium, and two teams of nine players.

1892 J. Paul Getty, American oil tycoon, was born (d. 1976).
1905 The Pushkin House was established in St. Petersburg to preserve the cultural heritage of Alexander Pushkin.

1906 – The London Underground‘s Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway opened. 


1915 – World War I: Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig replaced John French, 1st Earl of Ypres as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force.

Douglas Haig.jpg

1930 Edna O’Brien, Irish novelist and short story writer, was born.

1933  – Donald Woods, South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist, was born.

1939 Cindy Birdsong, American singer (The Supremes), was born.


1939  Gone with the Wind received its première at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


1944 The Finance Act (No. 3) abolished the Chinese poll tax, introduced in 1881, which was described by Minister of Finance Walter Nash as a ‘blot on our legislation’.

Poll tax on Chinese immigrants abolished

1951 The towering Belmont railway viaduct, which bridged a deep gully at Paparangi, northeast of Johnsonville, Wellington, built in 1885 by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, was demolished by Territorial Army engineers.

Belmont viaduct blown up

1955  Jens Olsen’s World Clock started by Swedish King Frederick IX and Jens Olsen’s youngest grandchild Birgit.


1965  Gemini 6A, crewed by Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, was launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida.

Ge06Patch emb.png

1973  John Paul Getty III, grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, was found alive near Naples, Italy, after being kidnapped by an Italian gang on July 10, 1973.

1978  President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would recognise the People’s Republic of China and cut off all relations with Taiwan.

1997 The Treaty of Bangkok was signed allowing the transformation of Southeast Asia into a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.

2000 The 3rd reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was shut down due to foreign political pressure.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, viewed from the roof of a building in Prypiat, Ukraine.   Fourth reactor

2001 The Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened after 11 years and $27,000,000 to fortify it, without fixing its famous lean.

2006  First flight of the F-35 Lightning II.

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia.

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