Are you smarter than the Finance Minister?


Can you do better than the Finance Minister?

It should be back to school – if he can find one that’s open – for Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, says National’s Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

“Having raised doubts about our detailed Back in Business economic recovery plan, we thought it might be useful for the Minister, who has only ever been a professional politician since his days in student politics, to brush up on his financial literacy skills.

“So, let’s give him a quick quiz – Economics 101, if you like. The Minister should answer true or false, and show his working for all questions.

“Note that while he may seek assistance from senior colleagues, we’re not sure that Health Minister Andrew Little, who still can’t work out how many ICU beds there are in New Zealand, or Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who is in charge of an education system where the numeracy levels of Kiwi kids are going backwards, will be of much use.”

    1. Spending $710 million from the borrowed Covid Response and Recovery Fund on a plan to pinch water assets from ratepayers who have already paid for them is Covid-related. True or false?
    2. Spending $26 million from the borrowed Covid Response and Recovery Fund to put cameras on fishing boats is Covid-related. True or false?
    3. Granting $500,000 from the borrowed Covid Response and Recovery Fund to a start-up headed by an American wedding celebrant with close to zero knowledge of New Zealand literature “to help Aotearoa audiences access books” is Covid-related. True or false?
    4. Granting $19,000 from the borrowed Covid Response and Recovery Fund for a temporary public art activation where members of the public can “harvest” a ceramic vegetable from a small makeshift garden which they can then take home as a gift is all about responding to Covid. True or false?

“There are at least 60 more questions in the quiz, but we’ll save the Minister some time. The answers are all the same. There’s little or no explanation for how any of these projects can, or should, be categorised in any way as Covid-related.

“And, put together, they add up to some $12 billion – money the Government borrowed to get us through Covid. But, instead of actually using it on the Covid response, the Minister and his Government spent it on vanity projects such as a ‘green school’ in Taranaki and $27 million on wallaby control.

“This $12 billion would fund our Back in Business package many times over.

“It also puts the $1 billion gain over 15 years from the free trade agreement with the United Kingdom to shame.

“If the Minister wants to know how we would pay for the critical spending to help New Zealand businesses and prevent New Zealand being mired in growing debt, we can tell him where to start.

“We’ve even attached the full list of dodgy spending to help him out as a study guide.

“And if you answered ‘false’ to the four questions above, congratulations – you are officially smarter than Grant Robertson!”

Wasting money at any time is an abuse of power.

Spending money approved for one purpose on something else is a misuse of funds.

Doing it during a pandemic with borrowed money that was supposed to help the recovery makes it even worse.

Brexit benefits NZ


Whether or not Brexit is good for the UK is still moot, but it has led to a free trade agreement with New Zealand which is good for New Zealand.

Trade negotiator Charles Finny writes :

. . . If you had told me 10 years ago that New Zealand would on 21 October 2021 announce agreement in principle on a comprehensive high quality free trade agreement with the UK, and that agreement, over time, would lead to full free trade in beef, lamb and dairy products, I would have asked what you had been smoking or drinking.  . .

We have to wait 15 years for some of the more sensitive agriculture products to reach full free trade but that will be worth the wait. Beef, lamb and dairy products will enjoy progressively larger duty free access to the UK from year one. Ninety-seven percent of New Zealand’s existing exports go duty free on entry into force. . . 

All up, the Government is claiming that the agreement will boost New Zealand’s GDP by $1 billion. I am sceptical of such claims – usually high quality agreements such as this deliver far greater impacts than it is possible to model. . . 

The UK’s entry to the European Union in 1973 had a serious impact on our trade.

It wasn’t all bad though, it forced us to diversify our markets which is sensible. However, in recent years we have become very, many would say overly, reliant on China.

The deal announced yesterday allows us much better access to the UK than we’ve had for decades which will be good for consumers and exporters on both sides of the agreement.

Their farmers will be worried but they have five years until cheese and butter are fully liberalised and 15 years until beef and sheep meat are fully liberalised.

Those who are fearful could learn from what happened here when we were forced to face the real and unprotected world of trade in the 1980s.

Instead of producing what the government subsidised  us to produce, we had to provide what markets wanted.  Farmers, and the wider economy, are stronger and more sustainable as a result of that.

This deal is a welcome reversal of the protectionism that has increased since Covid-19 spread and a reminder that the only really fair trade is free trade.

Sowell says


Thatcher thinks


Bureaucratic madness & inconsistency


Why would these people have to spend an extra 14 days at sea?

The 100% Kiwi crew of the NZ based ship MMA Vision managed by Taranaki based company Kingston offshore has been denied an exemption to avoid MIQ today after having already been isolated at sea for 18 days.

The MMA Vision has been undertaking survey work of the sea floor for the new Southern cross cable. When completed the submarine cable will double New Zealand’s internet capacity.

The 18 crew members all undertook PCR tests and received negative results before boarding in Auckland over two weeks ago, they then travelled to 150km east of Lord Howe island, just past the Kermadec rise in the middle of the Tasman sea, to undertake their surveying work.

On their return trip to New Plymouth the vessel has been advised that although they have not been to another country or even sighted another island since leaving, because they left our EEZ (Economic exclusion zone) they are now required to complete a 14 day isolation period onboard the vessel in New Zealand waters before they are allowed to come ashore.

The only way this would be even more stupid would be if the seafarers were taking up scarce MIQ rooms.

Once this period of isolation has been completed it will be 32 days since the crew of the MMA Vision last stood on solid ground.

Kingston Offshore applied for an exemption and the New Plymouth DHB have conducted a risk assessment and agreed that the risk is low, and exemption should be granted, however The Ministry of Health have decided to decline the application for exemption citing safety concerns.

Safety for whom? It’s certainly not safe for the mental health of the seafarers.

However the Government did not cite any safety concerns when 23 crew from the Interisland ferry Aratere was granted a full exemption from MIQ after being in drydock in Sydney this month. Allowing the entire crew to walk off the vessel straight into Wellington after a 12 day trip.

Questions need to be asked here about rules.

For the 18 crew onboard the MMA Vision it seems there is one rule for private companies, and another for Government owned companies

The decision from the MOH gets even more absurd if you consider If the MMA Vision had not crossed an imaginary line (the EEZ) they would not have had to complete any isolation, and been free to return home to their families.

Once again New Zealand Seafarers are not being given a fair go by the New Zealand government.

How can people who have been at sea for 18 days with no contact with any other people pose a risk when those at sea for 12 days don’t?

How can these seafarers pose a greater risk than people with Covid-19 who are now permitted to self-isolate at home?

It’s rules for the sake of having rules which combine bureaucratic madness with inconsistency.

‘Anger, concern and bafflement’


How on earth can this be justified?

A start-up headed by an American wedding celebrant with close to zero knowledge of New Zealand literature has been given a massive $500,000 grant from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to “help Aotearoa audiences access books”.

The grant was announced on Friday, and has stunned leading figures in the New Zealand books trade. In interviews with ReadingRoom, all expressed various states of anger, concern and bafflement – and view it as a waste of a significant amount of public money.

Anger, concern and battlement are understandable reactions and the view that this is a significant waste of public money is valid.

Recommendations site Narrative Muse presents itself as a matchmaker, a kind of Tinder app that seeks to put together people with the books they’d like to read. It’s been floating around since 2016 and is headed by US-born Brough Johnson, who has worked in New Zealand as a film editor (Power Rangers, Westside) and wedding and civil union celebrant (“As a storyteller, I love working with couples to sculpt their special tale and find the perfect rituals that suit them”). Almost no one in New Zealand writing has ever heard of Narrative Muse – a position of ignorance matched by Johnson’s knowledge of New Zealand writing. Asked yesterday to name one local book or author, she said, “Um – if I’m honest I’ve never been any good at naming any authors on the spot. So obviously there’s the obvious one, which is Auē, which is by Becky, and I’m forgetting Becky’s surname right now.”

“I’m aghast,” said author Paula Morris, at the government windfall given to Narrative Muse. Morris sits on numerous boards in New Zealand literature, such as the Māori Literature Trust and the New Zealand Book Awards Trust. “I looked at the site, because I’d never heard of it, and it’s essentially what Amazon is doing already, which is if you like this you’ll like this as well. Why is half a million dollars going into that?” . . .

Amazon isn’t the only on-line book seller that does this. When I’ve bought books from Fishpond and Book Depository they also tell me if I like that book, I might like several others.

It’s a service offered by any good bookshop and I get similar advice from friends who are readers.

None of these need any public money.

The $500,000 funding is part of the Government’s $374 million Covid recovery package for the arts sector. Something called the the Cultural Sector Innovation Fund was allocated $60 million over three years “to support innovative projects that improve the sustainability and resilience of the sector”. Successful applicants needed to find “new ways to add value to the economy, particularly through digital exports”. . . 

How does funding a site which ignores New Zealand publishers and pushes readers to international booksellers rather than local ones do that?

How could anyone think this grant was the best way to help Aotearoa audiences access books and that this was acceptable use of scarce public funds?


Thatcher thinks


What rights do employers have?


It’s taken far too long but at last we know that people who aren’t vaccinated won’t be as free as those who are:

If you are not vaccinated, there will be everyday things you will miss out on, the prime minister says. . .

“It will become very clear to people that if you are not vaccinated there will be things that you miss out on, everyday things that you will miss out on,” Ardern told Morning Report.

Exactly what those things are has yet to be specified.

“It’s about both rewarding people who have gone out and done the right thing but also keeping away people who are less safe.” . . 

Ardern said the government is drawing some distinctions though, they don’t want an environment where people can’t access necessary goods and services to maintain their lives.

“We can’t say someone can’t get health services, medical needs, pharmacies, food.” . . 

If the government is going to be this tough, will it allow people who can’t, or don’t want to, have the Pfizer vaccine to have an alternative?

And will they give employers much needed advice on what their legal rights and responsibilities over vaccinated and unvaccinated staff are?

Some businesses are already notifying clients that they won’t allow their staff to work in premises where there are unvaccinated people.

There is no legal problem with that.

But what if employers have staff who won’t be vaccinated?

The government has declared that all education and health staff must be vaccinated. The court ruled that Customs had the right to sack a border worker who wouldn’t get vaccinated.

Which, if any, other employers have the legal right to require their staff to be vaccinated?

If the government knows it’s not telling. Unless and until it does make a ruling employers are lost in a legal minefield.

Sowell says


Inflation steals from us all


The last election took us back more than 25 years to a First Past the Post result and the government that gave us is giving us an increase in inflation from the same era:

The consumers price index rose 2.2 percent in the September 2021 quarter, the biggest quarterly movement since a 2.3 percent rise in the December 2010 quarter, Stats NZ said today.

Excluding quarters impacted by increases to GST rates, the September quarter movement was the highest since the June 1987 quarter, which saw a 3.3 percent rise.

Annual inflation was 4.9 percent in the September 2021 quarter when compared with the September 2020 quarter. This was the biggest annual movement since inflation reached 5.3 percent between the June 2010 and June 2011 quarters.

Excluding periods impacted by changes to GST rates, the September 2021 annual inflation was the highest since it reached 5.1 percent in the September 2008 year. . .

The Prime Minister who promised to address child poverty is leading a government that is fueling a sharp increase in the cost of living:

The Government needs to urgently recognise soaring inflation as the biggest medium-term threat to the New Zealand economy and halt its wasteful spending, says National’s Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

“Today, StatsNZ has confirmed what Kiwis all across New Zealand already know – the cost of living is rising fast under the Labour Government.

“In the past 12 months, the cost of living has increased by almost 5 per cent, meaning prices are now rising faster than they have at any time in the past 10 years.

“Grant Robertson has increased the size of government spending by more than 40 per cent in just four years. It is no surprise New Zealanders are now seeing costs increase all throughout the economy.

“Labour’s big spending is hurting the very people Labour claims to represent. The cost of renting a house has now increased 7.8% since just September last year, the biggest increase since records began.

“Prices of fresh fruit and vegetables have increased 9.3 per cent in the past 12 months.

“The increase in prices in just the last three months is the highest three-monthly increase since the 1980s, excluding the one-off increase in GST in 2010.

“The next big cost increase is unfortunately likely to now be mortgage costs as the Reserve Bank is forced to painfully increase interest rates as Kiwis and businesses try to recover from the current Covid outbreak.

“Grant Robertson needs to hit pause on any and all of his so-called Covid stimulus spending that is not fully committed. It makes no sense for the Government to be spraying cash at pet projects like the Green School when the biggest problems now facing the economy are inflation, labour shortages and Covid closures.

“The Covid Fund needs to be used to support businesses impacted by lockdowns and to ramp up the health response to Covid, not as Grant Robertson’s personal slush fund.”

The only winner from soaring inflation is the government that will collect more tax as pay increases push people into higher tax thresholds:

Responding to the revelation of 4.9% inflation for the last year, Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Jordan Williams says:

“Skyrocketing prices are an indictment on the Government’s print, borrow, and spend economic strategy. In general, Government spending is more inflationary than leaving money in taxpayers’ pockets, and Grant Robertson needs to shoulder some of the blame for today’s numbers.”

“The need to adjust income tax brackets has now become desperate. Inflation pushes our wages up into higher tax brackets even when we’re no better off in real terms. Grant Robertson might be pleased to get his hands on all this inflation-driven tax revenue, but during a pandemic this tax grab is unconscionable.”



It steals from us all, devaluing the real value of wages and savings by making everything more expensive.

It creates a vicious circle. When people know things will cost more in the future they are much more likely to buy more today. That feeds inflation which encourages people to buy more . . .

It will almost certainly force an increase in interest rates which will make mortgages unmanageable for the highly indebted and add to the costs of doing business which will in turn push up prices and that will feed into higher inflation and all of this will hit the poorest hardest.

Sowell says


Yes Sir Humphrey


Which is more important?


Health Minister Andrew LIttle’s big fees are costing ICU beds:

The $1.4 million spent by Minister of Health Andrew Little on consultants working on his ill-conceived restructure of the health system over just two months could have paid for two new, fully-resourced ICU beds, says National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

“In July and August alone, Andrew Little paid Ernst & Young consultants enough money to add a new ICU bed for each month.

“The running tally of consultancy fees alone for the Minister’s vanity project so far now stands more than $7.2 million – a staggering figure when we consider the dire shortage of funding for ICU beds and other facilities vital to the Covid response.

There’s also a dire shortage of funding for other healths services in hospitals and the community, from ante-natal right through to end of life care.

“District health boards with low ICU capacity, such as Lakes, Tairāwhiti and Northland, would have a much greater safety net for the Covid response if they had just a few extra ICU beds.

“But, even now, it’s all a bit too late for a Minister who built no new ICU beds in Auckland in 15 months, failed to fast-track new nursing staff and brought in a pay freeze that actually drove ICU nurses to Australia.

“Andrew Little may argue the toss on the numbers but he can’t deny that he declined a request from Auckland DHB to use $6 million in leftover funding to build negative pressure rooms and then ended up building them in the middle of a pandemic.

“At the end of the day, Andrew Little’s consultants can’t put up a drip or run a ventilator, and that is what New Zealanders need right now.”

Prioritising funding for consultants rather than urgently needed ICU beds is even worse whenintensive care unit occupancy rates in district health board areas with large Māori populations were at capacity even before Covid and the current Delta outbreak.

Which is more important – consultants working on restructuring or health services which were over-stretched and under-resourced before Covid-19 hit?

If there is ever a good time to radically restructure a health system it’s not in the middle of a pandemic when the focus and the funds are so desperately needed on the front line of health services and the people who provide them.

Nutrient density matters


Nutrient density matters because not all carbon emissions are equal:

A lot of people make food choices based on what they think is good for the environment, and therefore also makes them feel good, but often their choices are hurting the environment unnecessarily.

This was the underlying message of Rabobank’s Netherlands-based managing board member, Berry Marttin’s talk at last month’s Farm2Fork summit, held at Cockatoo Island. . .

Today we talked a lot about world population – we have to produce more. But Paris is saying ‘no, no, we can only emit four megatonnes'”.

The Paris Accord also stipulated that emissions reductions must not come at the expense of food production.

He said the gap that our food producers will have to overcome is to lift from the current 13 trillion calories to “20-something trillion calories”, in 30 years time, which is an increase in the realm of 50-60 per cent.

At the same time, food production will have to go from 12Mt down to 4Mt of carbon output.

“Every calorie produced has to be four to five times more efficient,” Mr Marttin said.

“So we have to understand, what are we going to do? What are we measuring?”

He said a lot of current reports are measuring how much emissions per gram, or kilogram.

“But the issue is that we don’t live by kilos. We survive as humans by calories.”

He said if you look at it from a calorie point of view, it painted a clearer picture of the amount of carbon output along the whole supply chain versus what calorific value you obtained from that food – and also better reflected the amount of processing. . .

Milk production also represents 3-4pc of global carbon emmissions.

“And that brings us to the fact that people think that cows are polluters – it’s a big issue. That’s what people think about it.”

He said the Australia-New Zealand region did have the lowest output of carbon in the world per litre of milk produced.

“If you look at 100 grams of milk, it produces 100g of CO2. But if you look at the most important thing, which is actually the nutrition density of milk, it’s 50 (nutrients that we need daily).

“It’s a very high nutrition density.”

“Let’s look at the emission of soya drink – it has very low emissions (per unit of volume). But then let’s look at the nutrition density of soya drink, the problem is it has only one or two nutrients that we need every day.

“So are we measuring the right thing? Nope. Are we telling the right story? What’s better? Milk, or soya drink?

“Is the industry telling what is better for the environment?”

He said if you correlate the emissions with the nutrient density, you get a clearer picture of nutritional value against emissions output. . .





Spot the contradiction


The government is planning for quarantine hotels to be over-run with Covid cases:

People with Covid-19 will soon be asked to quarantine at home, rather than being ushered to a managed isolation facility.

Modelling suggests Covid-19 case numbers could overwhelm managed isolation spaces, with a worst case scenario model predicting 5200 cases per week, just in the Auckland and Northland regions alone.

That modelling is based on a 90 percent vaccination rate, which those regions have not met.

At even a fraction of those rates, quarantine hotels would be full to the brim. . . 

Spot the contradiction – people known to have Covid-19 will be isolating at home but fully vaccinated people arriving from overseas who have negative tests still have to spend 14 days in MIQ.

The government has got this the wrong way round.

It would be far safer for people who are double vaccinated and have a negative Covid test before they fly in and after they arrive to self-isolate at home than people known to be infected.

It would also take a lot of the pressure of MIQ hotels.

Either way self-isolating would be safe only for some people and some homes.

The people self-isolating would have to have others who could bring them food without making contact with them.

If there were others in the house, those self-isolating would have to be able to do so separately from everyone else.

That would require bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

Before MIQ was instituted last year people coming from overseas were left to self-isolate on trust and many didn’t.

Unless there’s electronic monitoring of everyone self-isolating the risk of people not following the rules will be high.

Even if people do everything required, if would be far less risky if those self-isolating at home were people who were double vaccinated and with negative tests than if they had the disease.

Sowell says


Thatcher thinks


Higher costs for no gain


The government has done it again – an announcement of a plan that will add costs but do absolutely nothing to reduce emissions:

The proposed Emissions Reduction Plan is an emperor with no clothes as it won’t reduce emissions because of the way the Emissions Trading Scheme works, points out the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union whose members and supporters made up the vast majority of submitters to the Climate Change Commission on the same plan last year.

“The Government’s approach to climate change is centred around making as many announcements as possible, with costly new interventions into Kiwis’ lifestyles and the economy, while ignoring the system that actually governs our net carbon emissions,” says Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Jordan Williams.

“Most of our emissions are capped and traded under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). That means when the Government uses regulation to cut emissions from a particular source – say, petrol vehicles – carbon credits are simply freed up making it more affordable to produce emissions in other ways. That is why the UN advises countries against the very interventions this Government proposes when cap and trade is in place.”

“Even if the laundry list of regulations proposed in this plan did succeed in reducing total emissions, a Government-knows-best approach inevitably means blunt measures with unforeseen costs. For some businesses, their particular circumstances mean switching to electric heating or electric vehicles will involve inordinate cost.”

The Government has the power to cut emissions at will by simply reducing the emissions cap, which would increase the cost of carbon credits and incentivise businesses and households to cut emissions in ways most practical for their individual circumstances. Ignoring the ETS and using a hundred different regulations to whack unfashionable sectors is divisive, costly, and cynical politicking.”

Using the ETS to increase costs will hit everyone and be hardest on the poor which makes it politically unpalatable, but it would reduce emissions.

What the government is imposing will increase costs but won’t reduce emissions.

Matt Burgess wrote about this last month and concluded:

. . .Next month, the government will commit tens of billions of dollars-worth of new emissions policies under its Emissions Reduction Plan. Nearly all of them will work under a binding ETS cap. As a result, they will not change total emissions by a single tonne. We will be no closer to our emissions targets, not by one gram. We will just be poorer. . . 

This is exactly what’s been proposed – a plan that will impose higher costs on us all for absolutely no environmental gain.

Give Us Hope


This video was taken down, it’s back again, but for how long?

Sowell says


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