$50m wasted on politicising grief

June 11, 2020

Andrew Little, says it is “just impractical” to expect the remains of all of the fallen miners to be recovered from the Pike River mine:

Instead, the re-entry efforts are now essentially solely focused on gathering evidence in the “homicide of 29 men”, Little told a select committee hearing this morning. . .

Re-entry originally had a $23 million budget but the Government has already spent roughly $35m and that that could reach as high as $50m.

But that, according to Little, is the absolute funding limit.

“There is always a limit to these things – I have no plan or intention of returning to Cabinet for any further additional resources.” . . 

The limit was reached a decade ago when the then-National government made the only sensible and ethical decision that lives would not be risked to rescue the dead.

That decision was criticised by Labour, NZ First and the Green Party all of whom are guilty of politicising the grief of the families who believed them.

Mike Hosking says the fiasco has been exposed:

. . .The retrieval of bodies is no longer practical. The simple truth, a decade on, is that the retrieval of remains was never practical.

Little perpetrates the con a little further by suggesting that the main reason they are still there, apart from perceived political gain, is to gather evidence for the crime committed.

If it needs to be stated, let me state it again, there is no evidence, there will be no evidence, and there will be no charges. . . 

Families who are angry, and rightly so, who want vengeance, justice, or a bit of both, all have good arguments and much emotion behind the cause. But that does not a case or charges make, or indeed anywhere close.

The Labour Party should be ashamed of themselves. They took a tragedy, saw a political gap, and leapt on it.

Not just Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party leapt on it too.

The previous National government did what any logical, sensible, and adult government would have done, all they could. Short of making up stories and promising false hope like the current lot have.

They consulted experts, the experts said it was too dangerous and too big a risk. The Labour Party promised the world. Winston Peters chimed in equally as opportunistically and promised to be one of the first down the shaft.

Millions has been spent, budgets have been blown – and now the cold hard truth. There will be no bodies. The families asked for and were granted by the Labour Party their loved ones back, but it won’t be happening.

But the con is, it never was. The families were used for political gain, and cheap violin string headlines.

Most of them won’t admit it, I don’t think because they all seem enamoured with the Labour Party. This was as much about being against the last government as it was about a rescue. . . 

If they really wanted to know what went wrong they could have saved their time and our money and spent just $40.00 for Rebecca MacFie’s book Tragedy at Pike River.

As is often the case in major failures, there were multiple faults that led to the tragedy and at least some of those should have been known by the union which Little headed at the time.

The chances of investigations uncovering anything that isn’t already known about the compounding failings in design and operation are tiny.

The three governing parties have already done far too much harm, stringing along the grieving families with promises that should never have been made.

They have wasted $35m and finally admitted that they’re not, as they foolishly promised, going to be able to bring the men back.

There is nothing to be gained by wasting another $15m in hopeless pursuit of answers that almost certainly won’t be there.

There is something to be gained if they learned from their mistakes and in future followed National’s good example with the Christchurch massacre and White Island tragedy, in not politicising tragedy.


Rushed law is bad law

December 4, 2019

This headline is a lie:

Government to ban foreign donations

So is the first paragraph:

The Government is taking action to protect New Zealand from foreign interference in our elections by banning foreign donations to political parties and candidates, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced today.

It isn’t banning foreign donations, it’s lowering the amount foreigners can donate from $1,500 to $50.

Concern about foreign influence on elections is real, but why the lies and why rush the Bill through under urgency?

Why not give parliament and the public at least a little time to scrutinise it and recommend improvements?

One such improvement would be making it quite clear that donations to a foundation set up to fund a political party would be treated like, and subject to, the same requirements for disclosure as, donations to a party.

Winston Peters claims the New Zealand First Foundation is a similar model to the National Party Foundation.

But National the National Foundation has a website on which the purpose of the capital-protected fund and the uses to which investment proceeds are put is explained.

It also discloses donations to the foundation as donations to the party.

This openness contrasts with the secretive nature of the NZ First Foundation and the way in which it appears to have funded the party’s operational and campaign expenses.

The Electoral Commission is investigating claims it breached the law.

Whether or not it did, this Bill is an opportunity to make it quite clear that donations to party foundations should be disclosed as donations to parties, whether or not proceeds from foundations are donated or loaned parties.

Rushed law is bad law and this one is no exception. This omission could have been corrected and further time to consider could well have discovered other faults and allowed for improvements to be made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


No ifs, not buts, no exemptions

August 28, 2019

Giving the Pike River re-entry plan a safety exemption would set a dangerous precedent:

The Government’s intention to exempt the Pike River Mine re-entry team from safety laws and regulations is concerning and inappropriate, National’s Pike River Re-entry spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“One of the most important failures identified by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Pike River was the unsafe design of the mine in not having two means of egress.

“The regulations were re-written in 2016 to specifically address this. It is unacceptable for the Government to now consider bypassing the very laws and regulations that were put in place to prevent a repeat of this awful tragedy. This shows a complete lack of leadership.

It’s not just lack of leadership, it’s lack of judgement and hypocrisy.

Labour is supposed to be the party that cares about workers.

Worker safety should be of paramount concern, no ifs, no buts and definitely no exemptions.

“The Minister for Pike River Re-entry, Andrew Little, has confirmed in Parliament that the Pike River Agency is seeking exemptions from the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and its regulations, to allow the re-entry to continue.

“It was disappointing to see a Minister of the Crown, under Parliamentary Privilege, mocking long-time mining journalist Mr Gerry Morris, a proud West Coaster with a long history of involvement in mining.

“The Minister should have fronted up and explained to New Zealanders why the Government has decided to not adopt new safety regulations that were put in place to prevent any further loss of life at Pike River.

“The advice that National had in Government was that it was always too dangerous to re-enter the mine. Our position has always been that we’re not against a safe re-entry of the drift provided it is done well within new safety guidelines.

“I am extremely disappointed and have lost all confidence in the Government, which now appears to be prioritising an entry at all costs, rather than a safety first approach.”

I have been opposed to re-entry attempts from the start because the living should never be put at risk for the dead.

Entertaining the possibility of re-entry to the mine and retrieval of bodies by the three parties in government is playing politics and prolonging the uncertainty for grieving families.

Inadequate attention to health and safety was a major contributor to the Pike River tragedy.

The only good to come from it was a change of law to ensure far better protection for workers.

That law prevented any attempts at re-entry in the past because the safety of the workers could not be guaranteed. It ought to bring an end to this attempt too.

Kwiiblog has Gerry Morris’s article here.

 


Unintentional balance

August 6, 2019

When I saw this on Twitter on Sunday I wondered how long it would be before someone took it down.

I took a screen shot and when I checked back shortly afterwards the tweet had gone. It was replaced by another with a photo of Justice Minister Andrew Little who is introducing legislation legalising abortions.

No doubt someone realised this photo was an inappropriate one to accompany such a story.

But it, unintentionally, gave a little balance to the debate by illustrating the intellectual inconsistency of one of the pro-abortion arguments – that it’s just a bunch of cells, a fetus, not a baby.

How can it be a baby when, as the photo shows, it’s wanted and loved but not a baby when it’s not; a baby if it is lost in a miscarriage and that is a reason for deep grief, but not a baby when it’s an abortion; or a painful experience when a baby dies in utero and a simple medical procedure getting rid of some cells when it’s aborted?

It can’t but we’re unlikely to see much if any discussion of this in the media, if coverage since the news broke is anything to go by. Everything I’ve read or heard so far accepts a woman’s right to choice with no consideration of a baby’s right to life.

There is an irony that Newshub’s exclusive breaking of the news showed some balance, albeit unintentionally, with that photo because as Karl du Fresne points out  anyone looking for it in coverage of the debate shouldn’t hold their breath :

. . . As the abortion debate heats up, we can expect to see many more examples of advocacy journalism for the pro-abortion case. Overwhelmingly, the default position in media coverage is that the abortion laws are repressive and archaic and that reform is not only overdue but urgent.

But at times like this the public more than ever look to the media for impartial coverage. Is it too much to expect that journalists set aside their personal views and concentrate instead on giving people the information they need to properly weigh the conflicting arguments and form their own conclusions?

That accidental photo could well be as close as much of the coverage  gets to impartiality and balance on this issue.


Can it ever be safe enough?

May 3, 2019

The re-entry to Pike River won’t go ahead today as planned:

Andrew Little announced on Thursday there has been a set back with the Pike River Mine re-entry due to elevated oxygen levels at the far end of the drift.

The minister described the elevated levels as “unpredicted and unexplained,” and because of this, the mine will not be entered, although there will still be an event for families.

“If you can’t explain it, you stop what you’re doing until you can,” he said.

The shift in oxygen levels means the atmosphere in the drift has changed and the air is no longer breathable. . . .

Calling off the re-entry is the right decision.

But it raises questions: can there be any guarantee that there wouldn’t be “unpredicted and unexplained” elevation in oxygen levels while people were in the drift and what would happen if there was?

That leads to another question: can it ever be safe enough?


Personal or political?

May 1, 2019

Is the media’s determination to claim the scalp of National leader Simon Bridges personal or political?

Two months ago John Armstrong said the media script required Bridges to end up as dog tucker:

The media have proclaimed Simon Bridges to be dog tucker. Having issued that decree, the media will do its darnedest to make sure he does become exactly that – dog tucker.

That is the ugly truth now confronting Bridges in his continuing struggle to keep his leadership of the National Party intact and alive.

It might seem unfair. It will likely be regarded in National quarters as irrefutable evidence of media bias.

It is unfair. Some pundits had made up their minds that Bridges was the wrong person to lead National within weeks of him securing the job. Those verdicts were quickly followed by bold predictions that it would not be long before he was rolled by his fellow MPs. . . 

Those predictions are heating up again, but why?

Is it personal dislike of him?

Probably not.

There were similar campaigns against Bill English and Don Brash when they were opposition leader.

So is it partisan?

The media were just as quick to criticise and slow to praise Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little so no, it’s not necessarily partisan.

But is it political?

The media tends to be liberal on social issues and Bridges is more conservative.

Could the sustained campaign against Bridges be because he has said he will vote against the Bill to legalise euthanasia and is likely to oppose any liberalising of abortion law?


Let’s not panic

April 2, 2019

Andrew Little plans to fast track a law review which could make hate speech illegal:

. . .He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change. . . 

Isn’t it thorough enough and does it need to change?

The Free Speech Coalition disagrees:

The Free Speech Coalition will campaign against new laws to suppress traditional freedom of speech signalled by Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Constitutional lawyer, and Free Speech Coalition spokesperson, Stephen Franks says, “New Zealand already has clear laws against incitement of violence. We have a very new, uncertain, and far reaching law against digital harassment.”

“We have seen little or no effort by the government to enforce the existing law in the internet era, or even to explain it. Few New Zealanders know how our existing law works to criminalise genuinely hateful attempts to incite violence and contempt. We have seen instead repeated efforts to justify the granting of fresh powers like those used overseas to allow authorities to criminalise arguments and the expression of concern about issues where they want only one view to be expressed or heard.”

“The Government and the Human Rights Commission should focus on explaining and enforcing the existing law, not disgracefully seizing on the wave of sympathy from all decent New Zealanders, to rush through new restrictions on the opinions we may debate, express and research.”

“The term ‘hate speech’ is deliberately extreme. It has been designed to prejudice discussion. It exploits the decency of ordinary people. How could anyone not oppose ‘hate’? But as defined legally it generally means something that could upset someone. Overseas examples often just gives authorities the ability to say it means what they want it to mean from time to time. Recently, in Britain, their version of the law was used to bring criminal charges against an elderly woman who refused to use a transgender man’s preferred designation as a woman and insisted on referring to him as a man who wanted to use women’s toilets.”

David Farrar lists a few more of the perverse outcomes from hate speech laws in the UK which includes:

  • A student was arrested for saying to a mounted police officer “Excuse me do you know your horse is gay”
  • A teenager was arrested for barking at two labradors, as the owner was non-white
  • A teenager was prosecuted for holding up a placard that described the Church of Scientology as a cult
  • A man was charged with racially aggravated criminal damage for writing “Don’t forget the 1945 war” on a UKIP poster
  • An Essex baker Daryl Barke was ordered to take down a poster promoting English bread with the slogan “none of that French rubbish”, because the police believed it would stir up racial hatred. . . 

Emotions are understandably high after the Christchurch terror attack but that’s no reason to panic and rush.

Freedom of expression is a basic plank of democracy which must be protected from the borer of emotive and ill-defined constraints.


Drip, drip, drip

November 30, 2018

Leader of the Opposition is reputed to be the worst job in politics.

It’s certainly not an easy one, especially early in the term of a new government when few outside the politically tragic are interested in what you do and say.

The media doesn’t help by fixating on poll results and interviewing their own keyboards to write opinion pieces forecasting the end of the leader’s tenure.

They carry on, drip, drip, drip like water on a stone in the expectation they will eventually be proved right.

They did it to Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little and it worked because the Labour caucus was too fixated on itself and its divisions and the party panicked.

They did it to Helen Clark but it didn’t work. Even when all she could muster in the preferred Prime Minister poll was only 5% she stared her would-be coup leaders down.

They didn’t do it to John Key because he polled well from the start and he became leader towards the end of the Labour-led government’s third term when it was looking tired and stale.

They didn’t do it to Jacinda Ardern but she took over the leadership at the very end of the National-led government’s third term and so close to the election she got far more attention than a new opposition leader normally would.

The drip, drip, drip is happening to Simon Bridges but none of the pundits give their gloomy analysis context. He became leader only a few months after the election when it’s almost impossible for an opposition leader to shine.

Jami-Lee Ross’s sabotage  didn’t help but at least for now, it makes Bridges’ leadership stronger. The National caucus has learned from Labour’s bad example that disunity is electoral poison.

It is the caucus who decides who’s leader. None of them will want Ross to claim the leader’s scalp and anyone with the political nous to be leader would know that this early in the government’s term, it would be almost impossible to make headway in the preferred PM polls and no matter who took over, he or she too would be subject to the drip, drip, drip of negative columns.

What the columnists don’t see, or at least don’t write about, is what I saw yesterday – Simon Bridges speaking confidently and showing his intelligence, sincerity and warmth.

This is not the dead man walking about whom they opine.

He has, to borrow a line from former Invercargill MP Eric Roy, had a very bad lambing.

I don’t know how much tough stuff he’d faced before, but yesterday convinced me that like good farmers after bad lambings, Bridges has got up and is getting on, in spite of the drip,drip, drip that’s trying to take him down.


No more lives should be risked

November 26, 2018

The Listener editorial says there should be no more lives put at risk in the Pike River mine.

It goes without saying that New Zealanders have enormous sympathy for the families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River Mine disaster. However, it does not automatically follow that all New Zealanders think there should be an attempt to enter what is sadly now more tomb than mine.

That such an attempt seems set to be made is the latest turn in a chain of events whose origins lie in actions and inactions long before the mine exploded eight years ago. It is unarguable that the mine operator, Pike River Coal, bears primary culpability because no agency had more knowledge, more ability to affect the workplace culture and more responsibility for the safety of the men underground than the company. It abjectly failed its workers, contractors and their families.

Statutory health and safety provisions that should have been a back-up had been eroding under the previous Labour Government and continued to do so under National. One of the findings of the royal commission into the tragedy was that mining inspectorate services had been so run down that by the time of the disaster, New Zealand had just two mines inspectors, and their travel budget was so constrained that their invigilation was patchy. 

There were so many failings that “accident” is hardly the right word to describe the disaster that occurred on November 19, 2010. This tragedy could have happened at any time to any shift of miners.

It was a disgrace that when Pike River Coal, then in receivership, was convicted of charges relating to the explosion, the company went under leaving more than $3 million in reparations unpaid. WorkSafe New Zealand then laid 12 health and safety charges against mine boss Peter Whittall. Yet they were dropped in return for his insurance company providing the reparations the mine company failed to make. The Supreme Court last year ruled that the deal was “an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution”. However, it may still never be possible to hold any person or entity to account. As with the collapse of the Canterbury Television building, the denial of even an attempt at justice rankles with New Zealanders.

It was a further disgrace that New Zealand First and Labour chose to politicise the tragedy at the last election, with Winston Peters promising to be one of the first to re-enter the mine. His swagger implied that cowardice, not caution, was the problem. Never fear, Peters would go where Mines Rescue had not been allowed to tread. This determination to re-enter the mine flies in the face of the only positive development to have come out of the disaster – a new zeal for health and safety.

To unnecessarily risk more lives in the same mine, however much some of the families want it to happen, undermines the very principle this tragedy so firmly established: that safety is paramount.

Through all this, some of the victims’ families have heroically battled on, determined to see responsibility sheeted home somewhere, somehow. Their efforts have been laudable. The idea, however, that a team will be able to find in the devastated, burnt mine evidence that will lead to a prosecution seems illusory and the recovery of human remains sadly unlikely. Regardless, politicians have for years kept the families’ hopes dangling. This seems more cruelty than kindness. The closure the families seek might be further advanced had it been given more of a chance.

The $36 million cost of re-entry would not be worth mentioning, even to those who think the money could be better spent on reducing the rising road toll or child poverty, if the chances were higher that it will serve any purpose except political triumphalism. Little has spoken of “knowing when to call it quits”.

Arguably, and regrettably, that point has probably passed. There must be no more lives put at risk.

John Roughen also argues against any attempt at re-entry and makes the point, the announcement so far isn’t to go very far at all:

Just as in 2013, they don’t propose to go further than the point where the tunnel has collapsed about 2km in. The only difference is that five years ago this plan was reportedly estimated to cost $7.2 million. Last week we were told it will cost $36m. This is madness. . .

But it’s not just the dollar cost, it’s the potential cost in more lives that really matters.

“Safety is paramount,” they all say. If you listened closely last week, they’re not definitely going further than a second chamber, a trifling 170m into the 2km tunnel. Beyond that, they say, it might not be safe. In other words, nothing has changed but the bill.

The company, successive governments, the union and even workers themselves who didn’t act on justifiable fears about safety, are to a greater and lesser extent culpable.

The only good thing to have come out of this disaster is much stricter legislation that makes everyone involved responsible for health and safety.

Even without that, to risk further lives for the very, very slight hope there will be evidence that could be used, or bodies to be returned, can not be justified.


Risking living to find dead

November 19, 2018

The decision to attempt to re-enter the Pike River mine drift has been widely praised.

The families deserve justice, the families deserve closure, and the families want their men back are among the reasons for the praise.

I can’t argue with the need for justice.

Twenty nine men lost their lives at work and that’s unjust but I doubt that any evidence that could result in justice for them could be found in the drift.

The families deserve closure.

There is no closure with grief, you just learn to live with it. Had Labour and NZ First not played politics by disagreeing with the previous government’s decision that the risks of re-entry were too great, the families would have been learning to live with it for years instead of stuck in limbo, pinning their hopes on re-entry.

They have been strung along by politicians and some media. If there’s no evidence and little if anything to be found of anyone whose life was lost, they will be further still from learning to live with their grief and there will be more agitation to go beyond the drift.

The families want their men back.

Some do, but not all. Marion Curtin, the mother of one victims says the attempt to re-enter is disgraceful.

Her son, Richard Holling, never came home after the November 2010 tragedy, but she wanted it to stay that way.

Some people might assume that all 29 affected families considered yesterday’s news as a “victory,” she said, but she was one of the silent many who disagreed.

Almost all reports since the disaster make it appear as if all the families support the re-entry. The ‘silent many’ are rarely mentioned.

She said the plan was an “appalling” waste of $36 million.

“I’m just so disappointed. I couldn’t believe that cabinet would sign this off,” she said.

Ms Curtin was deeply grateful for the money already spent at the site, but at the same time wondered how others can’t see “all the other important things in the country that the money could be spent on”.

Especially given the lack of certainty, she said, with nobody able to tell her exactly what the mine recovery experts would be looking for.

“I see it as sacrilege, really. To go in fossicking around for remains… to go in just to see what they find – I think it’s just disgraceful,” she said.

Ms Curtin loathed the fact it had become so political. She said the months leading up to last year’s election were especially challenging. “Some people liked that… the politicians climbing on board. I certainly didn’t. That was my son’s death they were playing with.” she said. . . 

It’s also playing with the lives of the people who will re-enter the mine.

Stacey Kirk writes of the high risks for re-entry:

But the biggest concern might be that the word “safety” appears to be becoming more subjective by the day.

“Safety is paramount” Little repeated ad nauseum. 

It’s hard to understand that if that were the case, why more people would be sent down there.

A mine filled with explosive gases, no matter how much are pumped out, surrounded by rock of variable stability and the simple fact it’s a coal mine – which in the best of situations are hazardous sites – there is no way it’s objectively safe.

The previous Government decided the danger threshold was more than it could stomach, on the back of technical advice. This Government has decided it’s comfortable with whatever risk is still there, on the basis of a different set of technical advice.

Without a very specific type of engineering degree, the differences between the two sets of advice are unlikely to be translatable to the wider public. Still, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the venture is far from risk-free. It’s debatable, but perhaps at least partially irrelevant, whether $30m dedicated to 29 families is a worthwhile cost.

But it’s without question that the risk of one more life, definitely isn’t.  

No employer should ask anyone to undertake the work and no politician should ask it of anyone either.

Health and Safety laws were changed as a result of the Pike River disaster and any Person in Charge of a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is now liable if a life is lost or someone injured.

Nothing can be done to make no risk at all for anyone going into the drift and it makes it worse that one of the motivations for putting lives at risk is to bring back bodies, or what remains of them.

The living should never be asked to put their lives at risk to rescue the dead.


She said, he said

September 6, 2018

Government policy is to increase the refugee quote to 1500, or is it?

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said:

. . . there was only an agreement to take the refugee quota to 1000, not the 1500 wanted by Labour.

“We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota,” Peters said when questioned by reporters.

When it was suggested Labour had, Peters said: “Labour’s not the government.”. .

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:

. . .The Government remained committed to doubling the refugee quota, Ardern said.

“That is a commitment that we’ve made. It hasn’t come through Cabinet yet. What we have had to make sure that we can do is ensure that all of those refugees at this point can be resettled appropriately, and that we have the facilities to do that.

Increasing the quota to 1500 is policy of one part of government but not the other.

Whatever the number is, doesn’t matter nearly as much as what the difference between the PM and deputy say about the government.

This is the second time Peters has pulled the rug out from under Labour.

The first was when he ruled out striking out the three-strikes law just as Justice Minister Andrew Little was about to introduce legislation to parliament.

This is his second strike.

It’s unlikely to be his last and it’s very unlikely to be three strikes and he’s out because it was he who put Labour into government and they can’t stay there without him.

That’s what happens when you’re in government but not in power.


If Cabinet counts . . .

June 12, 2018

Labour’s attempt to repeal the three-strikes legislation has been struck out by New Zealand First:

. . . Justice Minister Andrew Little was forced to backtrack on the proposed repeal that he was planning to take to Cabinet on Monday after NZ First indicated it wouldn’t support it.

In a press conference on Monday morning Little tried to leave the door open on three strikes being repealed in the future, saying NZ First didn’t support a “piecemeal” approach and wanted to see the total justice reform package. 

However, it’s understood NZ First MPs have been working on this issue for weeks. The caucus has no plans to budge on its long-held view of being tough on law and order after seeking feedback from its voter base. . . 

Little might have thought he could get the legislation past NZ First’s tough law and order stance because the party has managed to support other policies to which it is supposedly opposed but he was very silly not to have had a water-tight commitment of support well before this.

That wasn’t his only mistake.

. . . On Justice Minister Andrew Little’s backtrack today on the Three Strikes law repeal, Ardern said it would have been better to wait until a Cabinet decision had been made. . . 

Yes indeed.

But if Cabinet is supposed to count in this decision why didn’t it count in the decision to ban oil and gas exploration?


Bending branches

February 7, 2018

Government ministers are bending the branches of government to breaking point, Helensville, and lawyer, MP Christopher Penk says.

By constitutional convention, respective roles played by our three branches of government are deliberately distinct. The “executive” (which is led by cabinet but includes all the civil service) basically runs the country. The “legislature”, aka parliament, passes laws defining the limits of that executive power, among other things. And the “judiciary” (our court system, more or less) applies the law, deciding each case on its individual merits in accordance with existing legal norms – without fear or favour and free from political pressure.

The doctrine demanding a separation of powers is a sacrosanct safeguard within our partly written, partly unwritten constitution. Its importance lies in preventing any one individual or group from gaining an outsized portion of power.

Taken together, constitutional safeguards have helped to keep New Zealand blessedly free of corruption in our short but proud history. Enjoying such stability and certainty is an international advantage that we should guard jealously and zealously. . .

He gives four examples where ministers’ behavior has weakened the constitutional framework:

* Andrew Little’s comments on a perceived problem with bail

* Little’s comment on the decision not to prosecute over the CCTV collapse.

* Clare Curran’s tweet on a police prosecution.

* Grant Roberston’s threat to make an example of landlords illegally raising rents.

In this country it’s pretty hard to hold a government to account when it bends, or even breaks, constitutional convention. That’s the thing about conventions, of course: for better and worse, they’re almost impossible to enforce. The flexibility of our constitutional arrangements is actually a real strength most of the time (whatever advocates of a comprehensive written constitution may say), so this is not a criticism but an observation.

That said, with few firm legal constraints in the form of “black letter law”, political accountability becomes all the more important. As Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, that is where we come in. And take note, ministers: we will.

The transition from opposition, where there is greater leeway for criticism, to government and cabinet where much more circumspection is required, isn’t always easy.

But that’s no excuse for bending the branches of government as these ministers have.

Adam Smith writes on this at Inquiring Mind.

 

 


For the sake of the other families

December 5, 2017

Each time I read or hear reports about Pike River families agitating for a retrieval of the bodies of the men who were killed there I wonder about the other families.

You’d not know it from most reports, but some of the bereaved families have accepted that their men are dead and the mine where they died will be their grave.

How hard it must be for them to get on with their lives when time and time again the disaster and the ongoing saga of re-entry hit the headlines.

The latest news is that the liability for anything that goes wrong in a re-entry will like with the Pike River chief executive, not the Minister for Pike River, Andrew Little.

Documents on the Pike River Recovery Agency show that while the Minister will decide whether a re-entry goes ahead, it will be the agency’s chief executive who will be liable if any re-entry goes wrong, National Party Workplace Relations Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“This Government has continued to make entering Pike River a political decision but this is patently wrong. While there’s been lots of talk about how Mr Little will be responsible for his decisions, it will be some poor senior public servant who carries the can.

“It is wrong to put a Chief Executive in this position. He or she will have to carry out what their political masters decide in a very unsafe environment. Why would any sensible person put their hand up for that job?”

Sensible or not, a CE would have to resign rather than carry out a directive in the knowledge he or she was putting lives at risk.

Ms Adams says the Coalition went against official advice which was to make the final decision-maker independent of politicians.

“That would have been the responsible approach which fairly reflected the dangers of re-entering the mine. This undermines the very health and safety laws which were strengthened in the wake of the Pike River disaster to try and ensure it never happens again.”

The one good thing to come out of the disaster was the strengthening of health and safety laws. It would be a travesty if they were to be breached by order of a politician.

Ms Adams also notes that the mission of the agency has changed from the Government’s pre-election commitments.

“Up until now all their talk has been about manned re-entry into the mine. Now the papers tell us it’s about achieving manned re-entry of the drift only, all bar 400 metres of which has already been explored.”

The families’ quest for answers is understandable but that quest can’t risk more lives.

John Armstrong writes that Little’s real role as Minister is to let the families down gently:

Little will have to judge what level of risk is acceptable. The answer to that question has been staring Labour in the face. The answer is none.

It is both morally reprehensible and incomprehensibly stupid to place another human being in an environment where death and injury have already proved to be beyond human control.

Rather than humming the Red Flag in solidarity with the miners’ families, Little should be engaged in quiet persuasion that their wish to be reunited with their loved ones risks others’ loved ones suffering the same fate.

At most —and purely to save everyone’s face — a recovery team might be permitted to go part way up the drift.

For his own and Labour’s sake, the minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry needs to become the minister for No Re-Entry to Pike River, if not in name then most definitely in actions.

It is his job to gently puncture the over-inflated hopes of the families.

He needs to get the families to take ownership of the reality that re-entry cannot be a happening thing. He needs to lull them into believing they made the decision —not him nor a faceless bureaucrat chosen to run the Pike River Recovery Agency.

Executing what would be the Mother of All U-turns will require some very deft politics on Little’s part.

Thursday’s Supreme Court’s ruling that WorkSafe’s decision to withdraw its prosecution of Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall, in exchange for payments to the victims’ families, was unlawful provides an unexpected opportunity for everyone to come to their senses.

The families should rejoice in at last receiving the justice so long denied them. They should view it as a cue to drop their demand for re-entry.

That won’t happen. The families are victims alright. They are victims of politicians who have exploited their emotions without caring one jot for the consequences.

There can be no sympathy for Little even if he has deluded himself into believing he is doing the right thing by the families. . . 

The right thing by all the families is to accept, as some of them have, that the risks of re-entry are too high.

A former union head, in what’s supposed to be the workers’ party should know that safety is paramount and each new announcement is a move in that direction.

Each new announcement from the government is a step away from the original irresponsible rhetoric of unconditional re-entry.

Each new announcement includes ifs, buts and acknowledgements that safety must come first.

The honourable and sensible course of action now would be to admit that no-one can guarantee that re-entry would be safe and in doing so to help those families still stuck in the early stages of grief to accept, as the others have, that the mine where their men died is their grave.

When my first son died we waited months for the post mortem results. He’d been dead for longer than he’d lived when they finally arrived and they were somewhat of an anti-climax.

That was partly because we’d hoped the post-mortem might uncover some clues to the condition which killed him that the numerous tests during his life had not and it didn’t.  But it was also because it made me realise that regardless of what the report said, he was still dead and nothing could make that better.

The death of a baby as a result of illness for which no-one was to blame, is different in many ways from deaths in an unsafe workplace for which someone should have, but has not, been held responsible.

But no matter how it happens, death is death and it only compounds the loss if those who survive are stuck, focusing on what they’ve lost and in doing so losing what they’ve got.

Continuing to pretend that a re-entry would be possible is continuing to perpetuate a lie and it’s helping to keep some of the families stuck.

For their sakes and the sakes of the other fmailies who are no longer stuck, the government needs to be honest, stop wasting money and prolonging the inevitable announcement that any risk of life is too high.


Mining personal grief for political ends

November 19, 2017

When politicians make promises do you take them at their word?

Under MMP that’s harder because they can always use the excuse, that was their policy but had to let it go during coalition negotiations.

But if it was a promise made by the two parties in government and their coalition partner outside government that one can’t be used.

In August, leaders of Labour, United Future, the Maori Party and the Green Party signed a commitment to reenter Pike River mine.

National, rightly, put lives before politics:

Environment Minister Nick Smith responded to the commitment and said the parties were either making empty promises to the families or proposing to water down a law intended to prevent future workplace tragedies. 

“It is a hollow political stunt for parties to promise manned re-entry of the mine by the end of 2018,” he said.  

“It would be reckless for politicians to override the 800-page detailed assessment that concluded that manned entry deep into this drift was too risky to life.

“There is no cover-up. There is no conspiracy. Pike River was a horrible industrial accident that unnecessarily killed 29 men.

“The greatest duty we owe the memory of these men is to take the risks of explosions in gassy coalmines seriously and to comply with the new workplace safety laws that stemmed from the Royal Commission of Inquiry [into the Pike River Mine Tragedy].”

Winston Peters said he’d be one of the first to go back into Pike River and manned entry was one of New Zealand First’s bottom lines.

Such promises are oh so easy in opposition, but what happens when the reality of government bites?

Pike River Mine minister Andrew Little says he cannot guarantee a re-entry of the mine and has told family members that he will do what he can but safety is the top priority. . . 

“Ultimately, and the families are very clear, the first principle of the set of principles that are governing what we do is safety, the safety of anybody involved in the re-entry project. I’m not going to put anybody at undue risk. I’m simply not going to.”

He did not intend to legislate for any exemption to the health and safety laws or immunity from liability for the Pike River Agency.

Safety was the priority of the previous government in the face of harsh criticism from the Pike River families and then-opposition parties supporting them.

That was the right position.

The Pike River disaster was a tragedy. There are many unanswered questions on how it happened and the shortcoming that led to it happening.

Some of the answers to those questions might be found if it was possible to safely reenter the mine.

But safely is and must always be the operative word.

The bottom line that National and the mine owners stuck to still stands: no lives must be endangered, no lives must be lost, to retrieve the dead.

Some families have accepted this.

Some have not and put their faith in the politicians who promised them manned entry would be undertaken.

Little will be criticised for his safety-first stance, but this time it’s the right one.

The wrong one was making a promise that he and the other politicians, including his leader, Jacinda Ardern, should never have made.

Those politicians were mining personal grief for political ends.

It was despicable behaviour.

 


Organisation matters

November 7, 2017

Until just a few weeks ago, one of the big questions over Labour’s suitability for government was its inability to organise itself.

Those questions quietened when Andrew Little resigned and was replaced by Jacinda Ardern.

But Labour still hasn’t got it all together:

Ceremonies to open New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament have kicked off with National threatening to gatecrash Labour’s party over the election of new Speaker Trevor Mallard.

The election is normally straightforward and comes straight after all MPs swear an oath of allegiance.

However, things threatened to go pear-shaped when National MP and shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges asked whether MPs who were not present today and therefore not sworn-in could vote. . . 

However – in what is an embarrassing oversight for the new Government – at least five of its MPs were absent.

That meant it lacked the numbers to have Mallard elected, and things threatened to go pear-shaped when National MP and shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges raised a point of order.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker are on their way to Manila for APEC. Green MP Gareth Hughes was also absent.

“Where’s Winston when you need him?” Bridges taunted the Labour benches.

“Get used to it,” another National MP commented.

After hurried discussions between Bridges and Labour’s leader of the House Chris Hipkins, Mallard was finally confirmed as the new Speaker. . . 

National’s delaying proceedings can open it up to accusations of pettiness.

Probably only political tragics will take any notice.

But the government has a wafer-thin majority and it can’t afford to be sloppy over process.

Organisation matters for a party and even more for a government.

UPDATE: In discussion over Labour’s lack of a majority, National got Labour to agree to increase the number of select committees from 96 to 108.

UPDATE 2: Counting and calmness matter too – Labour did have the numbers but panicked when challenged.


Rural round-up

August 14, 2017

“Parallel Parker” Needs to Do A Better Job of Lining Up Labour’s Water Policy:

Federated Farmers wants Labour to honour the commitment it made to only look at charging overseas-owned water bottlers and to permanently park its discriminatory tax on water that will divide communities and undermine regional economies.

On 21 June this year, then Labour leader Andrew Little told the Federated Farmers national conference, in front of the media, that they were not going to tax water across the board – just look at water bottling. When news reports on this started to come out, Labour changed its tune.

At the beginning of this week Mr Parker was telling us it would apply to “large commercial users”, but now, and the end of the week, we hear it won’t apply to the very large companies putting water in bottled products right now in central Auckland. . . 

Labour could have knocked the water debate out of the park; But the economics of its royalties policy just don’t work; Let’s hope they get some nationalistic headlines out of it before questions are asked – Alex Tarrant:

Labour this election had the opportunity to knock the water pricing debate out of the park. Jacinda Ardern’s announcement Wednesday was instead a nod to politics over policy.

On the face it, the headline announcement that all commercial water users would be charged based on usage was a welcome addition to the water allocation and pricing debate in New Zealand this year.

But going beneath the surface throws up more questions than answers. These mainly stem from the policy’s central theme of different royalty rates applying to different water users, and depending on the quality of water used.

I made my views clear on this issue back in March. Let’s have a proper water pricing debate that encompasses all water use. We also need clarification on who owns water before we go about charging for it. . . 

Govt sets out path to better freshwater:

The Government’s new National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater Management will deliver cleaner lakes and rivers with ambitious new targets for improving their recreational and ecological health, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“The new policy confirms the Government’s national target of 90 per cent of rivers and lakes being swimmable by 2040. The policy has been strengthened following consultation by requiring regional councils to set regional targets and regularly reporting on achieving these. This ambitious plan will require 1000km of waterways be improved to a higher grading each year. It is being supported by new national environmental regulations governing activities like fencing stock out of waterways and forestry. . . 

Farmers welcome support to improve environment:

The Government’s announcement of $44 million to support freshwater improvement projects is welcomed by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).

B+LNZ Chief Executive Sam McIvor says that over the past two years, in particular, the organisation has responded to farmer demand for support in the environment space. “Through this work, we’ve identified that – while farmers want to take action – knowing where to start and what to prioritise can be a barrier.

“This government funding is timely and will help us better support farmers to deliver on their water quality ambitions.” . . 

California crops rot as immigration crackdown creates farm worker shortage – Chris Morris:

Vegetable prices may be going up soon, as a shortage of migrant workers is resulting in lost crops in California.

Farmers say they’re having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in two California counties alone, according to NBC News.

The ongoing battle about U.S. immigration policies is blamed for the shortage. The vast majority of California’s farm workers are foreign born, with many coming from Mexico. However, the PEW Research Center reports more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than coming here. . .

Collaboration essential for sustainable dairy farming:

If a future in sustainable farming is to be achieved in the coming years, companies in both the private and public sector need to be working both faster and more collaboratively, says dairy farm investment company Fortuna Group.

Southland-based Fortuna Group, along with Dairy Green, are the innovators at the forefront of New Zealand’s methane recovery system.

While there are other methane recovery plants in New Zealand, the partnership’s plant at Glenarlea Farms in Otautau is the only one that is consistently and reliably generating electricity from methane.  . . 

Lower fruit prices bittersweet due to high vegetable prices:

Fruit prices fell 5.2 percent in July 2017, contributing to a 0.2 percent fall in food prices, Stats NZ said today.

Cheaper avocados and strawberries led the fall in fruit prices in July. Avocado prices fell 29 percent in July, coming off a near-record high in June, and strawberry prices fell 23 percent. The average price for a 250g punnet of strawberries was $5.92 in July 2017, compared with $7.71 in June.

“Strawberries are unseasonably cheap for this time of year,” consumer prices manager Matthew Haigh said. “They typically reach their lowest price in December, but are currently dropping in price due to more imports from Australia.” . . 

NZ wool sale volumes rise at double auction across North, South islands  – Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – A higher volume of wool was sold at auction in New Zealand this week after organisers skipped a week and held a double auction across both islands.

Some 80 percent of the 15,054 wool bales offered at auctions in Napier in the North Island and Christchurch in the South Island were sold yesterday, AgriHQ said. That’s ahead of the 72 percent clearance rate for the 2016/17 season which ended June 30, and the average 77 percent rate for the first six weeks of the current season. . . .

Sanity prevails over proposed animal manure imports says Feds:

Sanity based on sound science has prevailed says Federated Farmers after the Government confirmed it would no longer be permitting imports of products containing animal manure.

The decision follows a Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) investigation which discovered imported compost from the Netherlands, intended for mushroom growing, contained animal manure.

“This is the right decision and we are glad the Government has taken this step. Federated Farmers made a strong submission earlier in the year against these imports,” says Guy Wigley, Federated Farmers’ Biosecurity Spokesperson. . . 

Synlait Invests in Category Management to Target Growth:

Synlait Milk is investing in category management capability to support increased business development in existing and new categories.

“Building discipline in category management is a crucial step in our pursuit of profitable, and sustainable, growth opportunities,” says John Penno, Synlait’s Managing Director and CEO.

“We’re here to make the most from milk. Category management will allow us to continue planning our growth into the most profitable categories, products and customers, and to monitor our progress against those plans.” . . 

Fonterra hailed as top NZ co-op:

Fonterra has been judged New Zealand’s top co-operative business of the year, and praised for a “stunning financial turnaround, generous social responsibility programmes and a high profile campaign proudly proclaiming its Kiwi farmer-owned, co-operative status”. 

The sector’s peak body Cooperative Business New Zealand (CBNZ) made the award at a function in Auckland last night.

Shareholders’ Council Chair Duncan Coull, who collected the award, says our farmers should take real pride in this special recognition for their co-op.

“Our farmer shareholders set themselves high standards, and it’s their daily hard work and commitment that drives the success of the co-op. I also want to recognise the energy and contribution of our staff in helping build a co-op that returns such value to shareholders, local communities and the New Zealand economy.”  . . 


New face solves only one of Labour’s problems

August 1, 2017

Andrew Little has resigned and been replaced by Jacinda Arden.

Labour also has a new deputy in Kelvin Davis.

I don’t think this was the fresh approach the party’s now obsolete billboards were promising and it will solve only one of its problems.

The new face will get more, and more positive, publicity than the old one did, at least for a while. But she’s still leading the same party and has inherited all its other problems.

One of those is a lack of money which will be exacerbated by the expense of new hoardings and any other publicity already produced.

Another is confusion about what it stands for and poor policies which result from that.

And the big one is the memorandum of understanding with the Green Party.

The Green’s have been the only ones to gain from that and have shown contempt for both Labour and the MOU.

If they can’t be trusted in opposition, how on earth could they be trusted in government, especially if New Zealand First was also in the mix?

P.S. Echoing Nick at No Minister, spare a thought for the volunteers. It’s no fun when your party is in disarray and it will be the volunteers who will be doing most of the work taking down and replacing the hoardings.


Labour’s own poll low?

July 12, 2017

Last month Labour released results of its own polling to show it was doing better than public polls.

There’s been no release of its own since the 1 News Colmar Brunton poll:

Since the last poll in late May, Mr Little has dropped to fourth behind Bill English, Winston Peters and deputy Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

Mr Little’s popularity fell by three points to five per cent while Mr Peters jumped four points to 11 per cent.

It’s the lowest result for a leader of the opposition since 2009. . .

National dropped two points to 47 per cent, while Labour dropped three points to 27 per cent.

The Green Party and New Zealand First are both up two points to 11 per cent.

The Maori Party is up one point to 2 per cent and The Opportunities Party is steady on 1 per cent. . .

 

This isn’t an optimal poll for National but it’s far worse for Labour which would only get to 61 seats in a 122 seat parliament with the Green Party and NZ First.

It would only get a majority with Maori Party support as well and that wouldn’t be a recipe for the political equivalent of happy families.

This is only one poll but it continues the trend of low levels of support for Labour and its leader.

That the party hasn’t released its own polling suggests that those results are at least as dismal for it.


Why’s Labour picking on farmers?

June 28, 2017

Labour is still planning to pick on farmers:

Labour has vowed to charge a royalty on the use of water for farming.

At last week’s Federated Farmers annual conference, party leader Andrew Little appeared to change stance on its election policy held since 2011, which was to charge a resource rental on farmers who use water for irrigation and discharge too many nutrients.

After Little had delivered his speech to the conference, Feds environment spokesman Chris Allen praised him for saying farmers and politicians were “all in this together.”

“I’d like to congratulate you on your environmental policy where you’ve abandoned the idea of resource rentals. It’s not mentioned but I imagine you have actually abandoned it,” Allen said.

In response Little replied: “If you’re talking about the old water policy, yeah that’s not our policy. And we’re not standing on that and you shouldn’t expect to see that.”

On Sunday Labour clarified its position. Little said in a statement that cleaning up rivers so that they were clean enough to swim in was the most important freshwater issue for the election, but it was also fair that a royalty should be charged where public water was used in large quantities for private gain.

“It was reported following my speech to Federated Farmers last week that Labour has abandoned its policy of charging a royalty on farming uses of water. We haven’t.”

“At the conclusion of my speech I was asked about resource rentals which I thought was a  reference to our NZ Power policy of 2014. I replied that we were not continuing with that policy.  I confirmed we would impose a levy on bottled water.  This was in addition to our focus on water quality, which I had already spoken about.

The idea of charging a royalty on bottled water will be popular.

On the face of it, it’s like royalties on gold or oil. But minerals aren’t used by everyone the way water is and imposing a royalty for some users but not all might be problematic.

“The message of my speech was that we will work with farmers on regulatory change and that there is urgency to act on environmental quality and climate change. We remain committed to setting a resource rental for large water take for irrigation at a fair and affordable price,” Little said. . . .

Why pick on farmers?

What’s the difference between farming and other businesses which use water?

Councils use huge amounts of water which is ultimately for private benefit.

Why is using water to produce food and earn export income less of a public good than using water to process food or any other goods, drink, bathe or shower, wash cars, fill swimming pools or any of the myriad of other uses to which town and city water supplies are put?

If improving water quality is the aim, why not target storm water and other urban contaminants too?

Most farmers have put a considerable amount of effort and money into ensuring they are minimising their environmental footprints which includes cleaning up waterways degraded by poor practices in the past and ensuring they’re doing all they can to protect and enhance them.

Some still aren’t up to standard and water policy should focus on those who aren’t doing the right thing, not make the good pay because some are still bad.

 

 

 


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