KiwiSpray

09/08/2022

Nicola Willis had a name for the government’s bungled cost of living payment in her speech to National’s conference – KiwiSpray.

That could be applied to far too many of Labour’s policies that show they don’t understand that spending more is very different from doing more effectively.

There were plenty of other gems in her speech:

. . . And thank you to our Leader, Christopher Luxon, for driving that mission. For uniting our team, for growing our support, for bringing his immense work ethic, integrity and enthusiasm to the leadership of our Party.

I’ve so enjoyed getting to know Chris better these past few months, seeing his deep care for people, his commitment to get the best out of every player in the team, his depth of knowledge and his global perspective. His pride in New Zealand and his optimism for what we can achieve.

Together, we’re going to turn this country around.

Our first task is to win an election, that’s true, but our ultimate task is to take New Zealand forward.

Now more than ever, New Zealand needs a National Government with a positive vision for the future.

Because as resilient and tenacious as we Kiwis are, and as great as this country of ours is, there’s no denying how tough things have become.

New Zealand is facing the most challenging economic conditions many of you will have experienced in your lifetime.

The cost of living crisis is making everything more expensive.
Prices are growing faster than wages, meaning your pay gets you less this month than it did the month before.

Interest rates are climbing fast, rents have exploded, and mortgage payments are costing more.

Businesses can’t find workers, so they’re letting down customers, compromising quality and giving up on growth ambitions.

The hotel I stayed in at the weekend had a sign at reception explaining they didn’t have enough staff to service rooms every day.

The people covering the vacancies feel exhausted, like the small business owner I spoke to recently who’d worked 152 days in a row without a break, like the nurses in our hospital doubling down on overtime and the farmers who can’t remember the last time they did less than a ten-hour day.

With Labour in Government many hardworking people can’t see a way out of these tough economic times. They are despondent about the future and fear it’s only going to get worse.

My message today is simple: National has a better way. We will get the economy working for you once more.

The Cost of Living Crisis: How did we get here?

To get out of our economic malaise we must first understand how we got in it.

Yes, COVID-19 has a lot to answer for.

And yes, New Zealand wasn’t the only country that responded to the pandemic with large amounts of borrowing, spending and money-printing.

But let’s be clear: New Zealand did a lot more of it than most. While all countries put their foot on the accelerator to some extent, our Government put its pedal to the metal.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 spend-up, relative to the size of our economy, was second to only one other country: the United States.

Meanwhile, our Reserve Bank’s monetary response to COVID was the fifth largest in the world, relative to the size of our economy.

We simultaneously had our Finance Minister pumping the accelerator while our Reserve Bank reached for over-drive.

No car can drive that fast without a moment of reckoning, and no economy can either.

Today, we are living with the consequences: Prices are rising faster than they have in 32 years, inflation has got a grip on our economy and its eating a hole in every pocket.

Reality bites. Inflation, like a debt collector in the night, is extracting a price from all of us.

National, along with every other Party in Parliament, is calling for an independent inquiry into the economic response to COVID-19. Labour says no.

I simply say this: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

The Cost of Living Crisis

Labour’s first approach to managing the cost of living crisis was denial. Now its magical thinking.

Instead of presenting a plan to restore productive growth to our economy and to address the underlying drivers of inflation, it has dialled up its spending, choked access to new workers, and lurched from one temporary band-aid policy to another.

Its signature move, the ‘cost-of-living payment’ has been a spectacular failure, resulting in taxpayer dollars going to ex-pats in London, French backpackers and dead people.
It’s so bad I think it’s earned itself a nickname: I’m going to call it KiwiSpray.

It’s like KiwiBuild only instead of being 99,000 houses short, it’s 800,000 payments short.

National on the other hand has a sensible, common-sense plan to beat inflation.

We will bring an end to Labour’s failed policies of high-taxing, big spending, big Government, with no accountability for failure and no focus on results.

We will restore careful economic management to this country so that prices stop rising so fast, Kiwis can get ahead and businesses can grow.

• We will reduce the tax burden on New Zealanders.
• We will restore discipline to Government spending
• We will reduce the regulation and costs imposed by Government
• We will ensure New Zealand has the workers needed to deliver services and grow businesses
• We will return the Reserve Bank to a single mandate

Tax

I want to make a few comments about why tax reduction is important to us.

As our first Leader Adam Hamilton said when National was founded: “[National stands] for a reduction of taxation so that enterprise may be encouraged, industries established and living costs reduced.”

National wants to leave as much spending power as possible in the hands of those earning the money. We want New Zealanders to keep more of their pay so that they can save for that first house, invest in that start-up, expand that small business, hire that new worker, take the kids to the movies or have the security of money put aside for a rainy day.

This highlights an important difference between National and Labour – one trusts us with our own money, the other thinks it knows how to spend our money better than we do.

Labour on the other hand believes bigger Government is the solution to every problem. Despite failing to deliver time and time again, they think things will miraculously get better if only they could spend more of your money. Like a gambler at the track, they throw good money after bad, and take no accountability for the results.

The result is that Government is now collecting $41 billion more a year in tax than when Labour first came to office.

It’s gone too far, and National will ensure a fairer deal.

• We will scrap the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax. It’s hurting Aucklanders every time they fill up at the pump. It has to go.
• We will scrap Labour’s plans for an Auckland Light Rail Tax.
• We will scrap the Ute-Tax. It’s nothing but a punishment to farmers and tradies and you deserve better.
• National will scrap the 39 per cent top tax rate. It’s an envy tax.
• National will scrap the 10 year Brightline test extension. It’s a capital gains tax by stealth. Labour didn’t campaign on it, didn’t have a mandate for it, and did it anyway.
• National will scrap the rent-hiking Tenant Tax. We will bring back interest deductibility for rental properties.

National will also deal to Labour’s stealth tax: inflation-driven bracket-creep.

Inflation has helped fund Labour’s tax and spend binge.

You see, when inflation increases, people’s wages go up on paper. In theory you may be earning more, but in reality the pay rise isn’t helping much because prices are gobbling it up. You’re probably going backwards.

But the IRD doesn’t care. It just sees a higher pay rate, and if you find yourself in a higher tax bracket, you get taxed at the higher rate.

National will index tax thresholds to inflation. We detailed our plan for doing this in March. We will deliver those tax reductions in our first term of Government. It’s our commitment to you.

You can expect to hear more from us on tax reduction next year. Our vision is to go further still.

National is committed to providing as much tax relief to working New Zealanders as we responsibly can.

Labour on Tax

Labour meanwhile is busy designing new taxes.

The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, is quietly setting up a new unit in the ACC for his latest pet project, a social insurance scheme. He has a plan to pay for it too – a Jobs Tax. That’s right, the Finance Minister is planning a new tax on every single employer and every single employee.

National will scrap Labour’s Jobs Tax.

The Revenue Minister, David Parker, is also up to mischief.

Like many of his Labour colleagues, he fantasises about a capital gains tax.

He’s created his own new unit at the IRD. Sometimes referred to as the “Piketty Unit” after his idol, the socialist economist and wealth-tax advocate Thomas Piketty. The Piketty unit is working at pace, collecting data about New Zealanders assets and incomes, their taxes and business arrangements.

It’s not clear exactly what this will lead to but I do know this:

More tax is in Labour’s DNA, and they’re dreaming up new ways to take it.

Mark my words, Labour will put a capital gains tax back on the table. The name may change, it might be in disguise, but it’s coming.

Disciplined Government Spending

The more Labour spends, the more tax it needs.

And Labour is on a spending spree.

In December, the Government forecast it would spend $120 billion in the 2023 financial year.

Then the Budget rolled around and Labour just couldn’t bring itself to stick to its spending limit.

Instead of spending $120 billion this year, its spending $127 billion. That’s 70 per cent more per year than when it first came to office.

Ask yourself this: Are you spending 70 per cent more today than you were five years ago? I doubt it. Well, the Government is. Are they getting 70 per cent better results? Of course they aren’t.

They’re simply addicted to spending.

National will bring discipline to spending by stopping Labour’s worst projects, reducing backroom bureaucracy, eliminating waste and driving better results from existing Budgets.

Let me give you some examples of poor projects that Labour has been splashing the cash on.

-Three Waters Reform: Labour’s Three Waters plan to do a mega-merger of council owned water assets is undemocratic state centralisation at its worst. It also comes with a $3 billion price tag. National will repeal and replace Three Waters.
– The TVNZ-RNZ Merger: Labour has inexplicably decided to embark on a mega-merger of the two state broadcasters. It comes with a $370 million price tag. National opposes it.
– Labour have also ploughed $200 million into the creation of Te Pukenga, the mega-merger of New Zealand’s polytechnics and institutes of technology. National opposes it.

National will not pour billions of dollars into centralisation and bureaucracy.

National will instead focus on doing the basics better.

We value the vital role Government spending plays in delivering essential public services: providing healthcare and education, ensuring support for the vulnerable, keeping our communities safe, building and maintaining the physical and social infrastructure we all rely on.

That’s why National has committed to increasing health and education spending every year we are in office, matching increases to the rate of inflation at a minimum, but allowing also for population growth and other pressures.

But we know spending more will not in itself deliver better results. If it were that easy, then why is Labour overseeing an explosion in truancy, declining literacy achievement, and a health system in crisis?

National will set public service targets for the better health and education services New Zealanders deserve, drive better delivery, and demand accountability for results.

We will push for more value from every buck. We will ask every Minister to examine spending in their agencies line-by-line with a focus on eliminating waste.

Just as households are having to carefully evaluate their budgets to cope with rising costs, so too should public agencies.

National is wary of the insatiable appetite Government has for growing itself.

We will stop the explosive growth in the backroom bureaucracy and move more resources to the frontline, away from Departments and into communities.

National won’t tolerate a New Zealand where inter-generational poverty is normalised, where Government Departments service misery but repeatedly fail to solve it and where good intentions are seen as a substitute for good results.

National will revive Sir Bill English’s social investment work. We will use his social investment approach to solve our deepest social problems, getting Government agencies out of the way, investing not for narrow outputs tomorrow but for long-term impact, measuring results and changing lives.

We are determined to do better for the New Zealanders whose lives are complex, but whose potential is great. Social investment’s time has come.

National will stop the tide of Government costs and regulations.

As Sidney Holland, National’s first Prime Minister said in 1943 “National believes in individual freedom, a competitive economy, and the minimum of bureaucratic intervention, restriction and regulation”, “ less red tape”.

Our vision is to reduce red tape to ensure Kiwi firms can spend less time and money on compliance and form-filling and more time innovating and growing.

We will restore the right of employers and employees to negotiate freely and not to be bound by new compulsory, nationwide, sector-wide collective agreements.

The 1970s have called and they want their policy back. So-called Fair Pay Agreements have no place in 2022, and no future under National.

There’s nothing fair about the imposition of pay and conditions nationwide.

National will ensure New Zealand has the workers needed to deliver services and grow businesses

We will stop Labour’s experiment of seeing what happens when you starve an economy of migrant workers. We know what happens – fruit rots on the vines, hotel sheets go unchanged, manufacturers cancel orders, exporters leave value on the table and new customers go elsewhere: all for lack of people to do the job.

National will fix our immigration service. We will take it from the bureaucratic Police Force its become and turn it into the Recruitment Agency New Zealand needs it to be.

Finally, National will return the Reserve Bank to economic orthodoxy with a singular mandate to manage inflation

Ladies and gentlemen, the commitments I have outlined to you this morning will ensure our economy works better for you and all New Zealanders.

National is ambitious for this country, and our sights are raised high, so you can be sure we will work relentlessly on the long-time drivers of economic growth:

• unlocking the potential of our people through better education;
• delivering growth-enhancing infrastructure; including the infrastructure New Zealand will need to adapt to climate change
• attracting new sources of capital;
• embracing science and technology, including to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and
• growing our connections with the world;

Conclusion

National has what it take to get this economy off its knees. We can bring hope back to every Kiwi slogging it out day after day, paying the bills, not asking for favours but desperate for a fair go; some reward for your efforts.

We hear the pleas of struggling Kiwis and we say: National has your back.

We won’t sit back and let inflation fleece you every time you open your wallet.

We will back you to get ahead, we will back your family with the better public services you deserve and we will back New Zealand businesses with the freedom and workers you need to succeed.

As Sidney Holland once said: the essence of the National Party philosophy is “fewer restrictions and greater opportunities”, “greater freedom to follow one’s own star”.

National will lift New Zealanders sights to those stars once more. We’ll get the country moving in the right direction again.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring some aspiration back to New Zealand. With Christopher Luxon as our Leader, and the people in this room as our support, come next year’s election, that is exactly what National will do.

Last night’s poll showed the country is ready for change and National is working to ensure it’s change for the better.


Award for most incompetent Minister goes to . . .

07/04/2022

Who is the government’s most incompetent Minister? There’s plenty to choose from.

Transport Minister Michael Woods is a contender for the $50 million spent on the Auckland bike bridge to nowhere and for continuing to work on the far too expensive light rail project:

While New Zealanders are in a cost of living crisis with record inflation, it is unjustifiable and irresponsible for the Government to steam ahead with their plans to build their light rail vanity project, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Documents released by Treasury today show Michael Wood’s commitment to light rail could explode to an eye watering $29.2 billion – nearly double the cost of what was announced in January, which was already a staggering amount of money at almost $15 billion.

“Treasury’s advice was scathing of the project, saying the Government should not pick a preferred option for light rail until further analysis could be undertaken – advice the Government has clearly ignored.

“Labour’s commitment to this vanity project will cost taxpayers a whopping $100 million before the next election, with no guarantee of spades being in the ground.

“The cost for this project is entirely unjustifiable and the Government needs to accept that this project is simply not worth it. Especially when New Zealanders are dealing with a cost of living crisis, which will only get worse if the Government doesn’t rein in its wasteful spending.

Kris Faafoi is a contender for the way Immigration treated families of essential workers stuck overseas and for failing to fast track residency for essential workers already here.

Immigration policies are also likely to lead to job losses in the tertiary sector:

The Government urgently needs to get international students into the country to prevent looming job losses in the tertiary sector, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Universities and polytechnics are currently considering staff redundancies as a way of coping with declining enrolments this year.

“Labour is allowing 5000 international students into the country next month – but universities and polytechnics can only access 2150 students, or 43 per cent, with the remainder of students heading to high schools, Private Training Establishments and English language schools.

“This will do little to ease the urgent staffing issues facing the sector.

“Given that student visas are currently taking Immigration New Zealand three months to process, students applying in April won’t be processed in time for semester two, putting further stress on our valuable tertiary teaching staff.

On top of that, international research now shows New Zealand is falling out of favour with international students, being ranked last among the major English-speaking education destinations in a survey of more than 10,000 people from 93 countries.

“And the effects are obvious – according to the Ministry of Education in 2019, New Zealand had about 22,000 fulltime international students paying total tuition fees of $562 million. The figures for 2021 and 2022 are estimated to be 70 per cent of that 2019 figure.

“The Government must explain what the rational is for limiting international student numbers, our fourth biggest export earner, when the border is reopening.

“It is appalling that this Government has allowed international education in this country to decline to this level. We must act urgently to prevent further deterioration in this sector and that means not restricting international student numbers coming here.” . .

He’s also fallen short as Justice Minister:

Victims of crime missed out on support they were entitled to because Justice Minister Kris Faafoi failed to sign off the criteria for a $3 million victim support fund for more than five months after the fund was announced, National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Earlier this month it was revealed that zero victims were supported by the fund announced in Budget 2021, despite applications being open since July 2021.

“Labour was content to let Victim Support take the blame for this lack of delivery, but it turns out Minister Faafoi didn’t bother to sign off the eligibility criteria until November 2021 – more than five months after the fund was announced and four months after applications opened.

Rather than letting Victim Support take the rap, Minister Faafoi should have fessed up that his incompetence is the real reason why victims are missing out on support the Government promised them.

“Governments spend months finalising the Budget every year so he would have known well in advance that this fund would be open for applications from July. What is his excuse for doing nothing for over five months to ensure victims could access the support? 

“Even worse, the Police Minister has conceded agencies who are meant to advise victims of support they are entitled to were not provided information about the fund until February 2022. . .

That Police Minister Potu Williams is another contender for the silence when police were facing the protesters at parliament, silence over repeated examples of policing by consent that let gangs disregard lockdown rules and terrorise the law abiding while doing it; and her refusal to allow National police spokesman Mark Mitchell to meet the Commissioner or district commanders:

. . . He said: “I don’t think she’s [Williams is] very good at her job and I don’t think she’s across her portfolio, but for her now to use her political power and position in government to start blocking me from meetings – that’s Third World stuff … she may as well go and join the Cabinet in Somalia.” . . 

Trumping that is her denial of an increase in gang violence:

. . .Mitchell asked Williams in Parliament on Wednesday if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, to which she replied: “I reject the premise of that question.”  . . .

And this:

Then there’s waste in health with expired vaccines:

Thousands of meningococcal vaccines have been left to expire instead of being given to those most at risk, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“It has been revealed that 17,122 meningococcal vaccines have expired in the last two years, at a cost of $1.6 million, and who knows how many lives.

“The Ministry of Health has a strict eligibility criteria for the meningococcal vaccine, but these vaccines that were left unused could have been made available to those most at risk, to help protect them from this deathly disease.

“The lost opportunity to protect people is a tragedy and that $1.6 million that ended up being wasted could have been spent on other areas of health that desperately need it.

“Last week a meningitis petition was presented to Parliament, pleading to the Government to fund vaccines against the disease. This news will be a cold comfort to those petition supporters.

“This is becoming a concerning pattern of behaviour from Health Minister Andrew Little who has already wasted $8 million worth of measles vaccines in a botched catch-up campaign, and now he can add this one to the growing list.

“Minister Little needs to commit to making expiring meningococcal vaccines available to primary care for use inside and outside of the strict criteria to avoid a tragedy like this happening again.” . .

And the botched measles programme costing $1900 per person:

The botched $20 million measles vaccine catch-up programme is worse than it appears, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The other week it was revealed that $8 million of measles vaccines were left unused and had expired.

“However, information shows that only 11,206 people of the targeted 300,000 received the vaccine – representing a cost of nearly $1900 per person and reaching only 3 per cent of the targeted population.

“It was also revealed that Labour spent $1.8 million on public relations to frame a campaign ‘with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific people’, yet only 1181 Māori received the vaccine – a PR cost of $1,500 per person.

“Worse still, to date the programme costs show that $2.2 million has been spent on public relations while only $1.61 million was spent on actually delivering the vaccine to Māori.

“Andrew Little seems more interested in PR and spin than actually delivering measles vaccinations to Māori.

“The list of health failures is mounting under Andrew Little’s watch. He failed to deliver any extra ICU beds during a global pandemic, has completely missed every health target set and now he can add a botched measles campaign to his growing list.”

The government put so much effort, and spent so much money, justifying locking us down and persuading us to get vaccinated so that the health system wasn’t over whelmed yet did little or nothing to retain existing staff and recruit more.

That’s left  hospitals understaffed and health professionals overworked :

Their employers have warned them not to speak out but nurses say they won’t be silenced. Overworked and understaffed, they’ve told Sunday that they’ve had enough of a health system under real pressure.

The Omicron surge hasn’t helped, but there was a serious nursing shortage long before Covid struck, and now burnout and resignations are high while the pandemic shut off the supply of overseas nurses.

Nurses still on the job worry patient safety may suffer because they are so short-staffed.

Is the government listening?

No it’s not. Instead it’s going ahead with the complete restructure of the health system that will do nothing to improve pay and conditions for health professionals and nothing to improve services, and outcomes, for patients.

That would be bad enough at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic it’s a complete waste of scarce funds and people’s focus.

While on health and the pandemic lets not forget the shortage of PPE, the delay in securing vaccines which left the rollout starting late and the RATs debacle.

Then there’s paying more and getting less in several areas.

Carmel Sepuloni has overseen an increase in MSD staff and deterioration in performance:

Our welfare system is less responsive than ever as phone wait times for the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) surge, National’s Social Development and Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Whether it’s superannuitants, students, people out of work, or a family who needs help to cope with soaring living costs, New Zealander’s deserve timely answers from the department responsible of administering the welfare system.

“Since 2017, the number of MSD staff answering calls has increased from 650 to 1220 people, yet the average wait time has also increased from 4 to 18 minutes, even reaching close to 40 minutes some weeks this year.

“That’s an 88 per cent increase in staff numbers, a large deterioration in performance and no better outcomes for Kiwis.  

“Appallingly, some people have waited longer than three hours while others have reported it took weeks to receive a call back.

“The cost of living crisis has increased demand for hardship grants and there is almost an extra 50,000 people on the unemployment benefit, which means preparations should have been made to cope with more inquiries.

“New Zealander’s deserve a better service given the substantial taxpayer dollars poured into MSD. Simply increasing staff numbers is not going to cut it.

“Minister Sepuloni needs to hold MSD accountable for their plummeting performance and ensures it fulfils its core responsibility to answer New Zealander’s questions and help people access their entitlements.”

Corrections is spending more money on prisoners with worse outcomes:

Taxpayers are spending more money on prisoners, yet violent crime continues to go up, National’s Corrections spokesperson Simon O’Connor says.

“New Zealand taxpayers are now spending $151,000 per prisoner, per year – an increase of over $30,000 per prisoner from 2018/19.

“Overall, there has been an increase of $139 million poured into the Corrections system over the period between 2018/19 and 2020/21, despite fewer prisoners.

“At the same time, there has been a steep decline in the number of prisoners accessing rehabilitation services. Prisoners accessing alcohol and drug programmes alone has dropped from 6311 in 2015/16 to 1065 in 2019/20 – a decrease greater than the drop in prisoner numbers.

“More money is being spent, but we’re getting worse outcomes.

“Rehabilitation is a key way for prisoners to turn their lives around, but in 2019/20 the number of prisoners taking part in rehabilitation programmes plummeted to 2399, from 5845 in 2015/16.

“It can hardly be a surprise then that violent crime is up 21 per cent since 2017, as reported by the Salvation Army, and that we have one of the highest recidivism rates in the OECD.

“This is typical for a Government who are experts at spending taxpayer money with no expectation of results.

“On top of this, Labour is taking soft-on-crime approach which is clearly not working.

“Without effective rehabilitation, re-imprisonment rates and violence will only keep climbing.”

And more is being spent on mental health for no positive results:

The mental health monitoring report out today shows that the Government’s $1.9 billion investment in mental health has delivered no benefit to Kiwis, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.

“This is emblematic of a Government that is all spin and no delivery. Labour’s only measure of success is how much it spends on things. But it needs to be about the outcomes that we achieve for New Zealanders.

“The report released today by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission reinforces what many mental health groups and services have been telling me for some time – that they’re not seeing any of the money promised for mental health and can’t point to where it’s gone.

“They have been raising these concerns with the Government for months about staff shortages and growing waiting lists, but have not received a response.

“The findings in the report also show that our specialist services are facing increased demand since the beginning of the pandemic, especially from younger people seeking mental health support.

“The Government says it has invested in the sector, yet services are harder to access. They must explain where the money has gone and why it hasn’t made a difference to improving people’s mental health.

“Making announcements with good intentions isn’t going to solve the growing mental health problems that New Zealand is facing, but strong leadership and a well-managed plan to execute change will. We need targeted spending that delivers outcomes for Kiwis.”

Then there are virtue signalling environmental policies that are nothing more than taxes that increase costs but do nothing at all for the environment:

The Government’s car tax comes into force today, piling on yet another cost for Kiwis facing a cost of living crisis, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Hardworking Kiwis will be hoping that this is just an April Fool’s joke, but sadly they will still have to live with Labour’s new car tax after today.        

“The so-called ‘Clean Car Discount’ gives a rebate for expensive electric vehicles while imposing fees of thousands of dollars on many other vehicles. For example, buyers of a Toyota Hilux* will face a $5175 tax when they first register the vehicle.  

“This will have a negative impact on our farmers and tradies who need utes to do their jobs and contribute to our economic recovery.   

“The Government is penalising farmers and tradies for their choice of vehicle despite there being no viable electric ute available. Even Toyota had to correct the Prime Minister last year that it has no plans to bring an electric ute to New Zealand within the next two years.

“LDV will have an electric alternative, the EV-T60, coming from China later this year. But it is two-wheel drive and can only haul a max of 1,000 kgs for 162km. This is not enough to meet farmers’ needs, who need strength and reliability.

“While the Government gives with one hand, by temporarily reducing fuel taxes, it takes with the other by imposing the Auckland regional fuel tax, a car tax, and is now proposing a biofuels mandate which will further increase the cost of fuel. 

“All of these policies drive up the cost of living for motorists struggling to get by under rapidly rising inflation and fuel prices.

An environmental and transport failure is the train from Hamilton to Auckland:

The Te Huia train today marks its first birthday with news that it has spent more time off the tracks than on them, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“There is not a lot to celebrate about this service which has failed from day one.

“Not only has the train spent more time off the tracks than on them over the past 12 months, taxpayers have poured $98 million into a service which very few people use and which takes much longer than driving between Hamilton and Auckland.

“Furthermore, research produced by the Waikato Chamber of Commerce shows that based on current passenger numbers the train actually emits more carbon emissions than someone who drives their petrol or diesel vehicle between these two cities.

“Patronage is significantly lower than what it was when the service started despite repeated calls to ‘build it and people will come’.

“This painfully slow train is simply not fit for purpose. It doesn’t achieve the outcomes that the Government claimed it would one year ago.

“The Transport Minister is so completely focussed on his legacy projects, he is prepared to waste almost $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a train that isn’t fit for purpose and hardly anyone wants to use.

“Quite frankly this is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money which would be better spent on extending the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere.”  

If all this isn’t bad enough, there’s the incompetence with funding the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) 

The Auditor General’s Report on the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) confirmed what many businesses have been saying – that this Labour Government has been biased and unfair, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says.

“Every tourism business in New Zealand has done it tough over the last two years and this report has shown that this Labour Government favoured some and left others to suffer.

“In May 2020 the Government and former Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis opened a $290M fund for struggling tourism businesses. When applications opened, some businesses were accepted without any evidence that they were in financial difficulty, and didn’t have to go through the same process as other businesses.

“The Government seems to believe that only Queenstown exists when it comes to tourism in New Zealand, when in reality there are tourism operators up and down the country who are suffering just as much.

“In typical Labour fashion, they simply threw money at a problem without having a well-managed plan. Current Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has blamed the uncertainty of Covid-19 for these mistakes, but the reality is they failed to think things through at a time when tourism businesses needed them most.

“New Zealanders deserve to have a Government who are responsible with their spending, but this Labour Government has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted to make wise or fair spending decisions.

“I am calling on Minister Nash to find those funds that were given out incorrectly, take them back and redistribute them to all Kiwi tourism operators so that they can open up quickly for international tourists.”

Bryce Edwards says the report raises questions of integrity:

Was political favouritism involved in the dishing out of millions of dollars by government ministers to tourism businesses? We can’t know, because the Government didn’t keep sufficient records or have proper processes for the handouts. That’s the obvious question arising from a scathing report released by the Auditor General on Thursday, which has received far too little attention.

The Auditor General’s report investigates a scheme set up by the Government early in the Covid crisis (May 2020), called the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme. The report is one of many that have criticised government procedures during Covid for their lack of integrity. . . 

Harman draws attention to the fact that there have been a number of other reports from the Auditor General’s office that have pinged the Government for poor processes in regard to government departments dealing with private vested interests during Covid – especially the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.

Of course, one of the most problematic has been the multi-billion-dollar Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was seen to be poorly designed and administered.

There’s a theme building up from these reports – that of crony corporate welfare getting out of hand in recent years. This is one of the blind spots in New Zealand politics and society. Recent governments are prone to giving generous subsidies to business interests, often without any great systems of integrity or best practice. And unfortunately, the public never seems to mind much when it becomes apparent.

It could well be that New Zealand is just too eager to believe the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index results that show this country to be the least corrupt nation on earth. In ignoring reports such as this latest from the Auditor General, the Government is undermining that status.

On the subject of Ministerial oversight of money wasted, there’s plenty to choose from :

So much incompetence, it’s hard to choose which is worse but there’s one person who is supposed to be on top of all the portfolios and those presiding over them. That’s Jacinda Ardern.

Would any other recent Prime Minister have tolerated this litany of laxness from Ministers? Bill English, John Key, Helen Clark? No.

There’s a lot more to leadership than announcing announcements and serving word salads no matter how caring they sound.

Ensuring Ministers are up to the jobs they’re supposed to be doing and holding them to account if  and when they fall short is a very important one by which measure of competence this PM falls short.


Simon Bridges resigning

15/03/2022

Tauranga MP SImon Bridges has announced he is resigning :

National Party MP Simon Bridges is quitting politics and will step down as an MP in the next few weeks.

Bridges announced his decision after telling fellow MPs in caucus this morning. . .

Bridges said it was not because of his failed attempt to secure the party leadership again last year and he believed the party stood a good chance of winning the election in 2023 under Christopher Luxon’s leadership.

“Life moves on. I leave National in great heart and with momentum for the first time in a while. I think Chris Luxon will make a great Prime Minister.” . . 

He said there was no scandal involved in his decision. He would be exploring commercial opportunities “and maybe a media project or two”.

“But first and foremost I’m a husband to Natalie, I’m a dad to Emlyn, Harry and Jemima and this week my oldest two turn 10 and 8. I am 45 years old and after 14 years in Parliament, I can give the best of me to them.” . . 

‘It’s been a great privilege being MP for Tauranga, a senior minister and Leader of the Opposition. I’ve had so many highlights. But it’s time. It’s a good time for National, for the first time in a long time National has got real momentum and I’m really proud to have played a significant role in getting it back in the hunt for election 2023.” . . .

Simon was badly treated by some of his colleagues when he was leader but, like Bill English before him, got up again.

This is obviously the right decision for him and his family but will be a loss to National and parliament.


Head and heart

07/03/2022

National leader Christopher Luxon delivered his state of the nation address yesterday.

He started with some of the background that shaped him:

My parents both left school early and were fantastic role models.

. . . Dad was a salesman, and when I was young we moved between Auckland and Christchurch for his work. From him I learned to have ambition and never settle for mediocrity, to work hard, to stay positive and to never let your circumstances define you.

Mum taught me about people, relationships and from her I got my sense of humour. When I went off to uni, Mum joined me to study social work. She established an Alzheimer’s and dementia carers’ support organisation and has gone on to become a respected psychotherapist and counsellor. Mum has helped thousands of people deal with difficulties and complexity in their lives. From her I learnt that life can be complicated, messy and hard – and that we all have a responsibility to support those that are doing it tough.

It’s too easy to judge people by our own experiences and standards. But life is messy, and hard and those of us who can do have a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves.

I’m proud of what I achieved before entering politics.

Yes in business. But my greatest achievement will always be convincing my wife Amanda that I was the person she should spend the rest of her life with, and then having two amazing children together. Children who we’ve had the privilege of watching grow into smart, confident young adults – and who aren’t afraid to give their mum and dad some advice these days!

Being a husband and a father will forever be the role that defines me. Nothing else comes close.

But I’ve been fortunate to have some other amazing roles too.

My first job was at McDonalds, where I had the privilege of running the drive-thru. And I’m still partial to a burger and fries when Amanda’s not around – it’s fair to say she’s a bit more into healthy lifestyles than I am.

After university I joined Unilever.

Living and working across the globe for 16 years I saw the good and bad of different political systems.

Recently, I watched as several Labour Party MPs enthusiastically declared that they were proud socialists.

Whatever you call it, Labour has time and again shown us that it thinks it alone knows what is best for Kiwis and their communities. They don’t trust us to make decisions for ourselves and our families – they insist more and more things should be dictated by politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington.

I simply do not agree.

Working for Unilever it was important to understand the lives of the people who were buying our products.

So, in most cities that I visited, the first thing I did was spend time with local people in their homes, understanding their lives before I met our management teams who often lived a different reality. 

I remember sitting in a modest Moscow flat with a couple in their late 40s on a dark and snowy afternoon. It couldn’t have been clearer that socialism – in terms of Government control of everyday life and lack of rewards for hard work – had abjectly failed and actually created misery.

After Unilever I returned to New Zealand and had the privilege of leading our most iconic company – Air New Zealand – and its team of 12,000 staff.

These experiences shaped my belief that business has a responsibility to engage on the economic, social and environmental issues that will ultimately strengthen our society.

A successful business means more jobs and higher wages – more opportunities for Kiwis to get ahead. . . 

This is a simple truth that far too many people don’t understand.

I entered politics because I care deeply about people.

I joined National because I want New Zealand to realise its maximum potential, and to help build a society where every Kiwi can flourish and get ahead.

Where communities aren’t dictated to by politicians in Wellington.

Where if you work hard you can afford to buy a house.

Where we support those who are doing it tough.

Where our public health and education systems are first class for all Kiwis.

Where we protect our natural environment and play our part on climate change.

That’s my vision for New Zealand – a society of opportunity – where if you put in an honest day’s work, you and your family can get ahead.

And it’s only possible if we have a strong economy to back it up.

A strong economy isn’t the end but it is the means for better services, better lives, a better country.

Unfortunately, right now we have a Government taking us backwards.

We have a Government that believes it alone has the answers and yet has demonstrated time and again a complete inability to deliver anything at all.

Just look at Three Waters – a deeply unpopular change being rammed down the throats of communities that don’t want it.

In too many other areas the Government thinks it’s sufficient to just talk about problems rather than fix them. It is all spin and no delivery.

We have a Government that is deeply suspicious of business, and yet leads a public sector that can’t build houses, can’t deliver better health care, and won’t do what’s needed to improve our education system, all while piling on debt for future generations to pay off.

It’s no wonder Kiwis I talk to up and down the country are frustrated.

They’re frustrated at working ever harder but not getting ahead, at being fed line after line of spin rather than real solutions, at being faced with a sea of bureaucrats and politicians who don’t listen and who don’t represent them.

It’s that frustration that ultimately drives social division.

Our young people are being locked out of the housing market, while rent is up $140 a week under Labour.

They are seeing climate change policies which are all about looking like you’re doing something, but not actually making a difference.

They are seeing falling real wages.

They are seeing the performance of our education system go backwards.

And they are seeing the Government’s approach to hardship actually increase child poverty.

These aren’t the signs of a nation at its best.

They’re signs of Labour’s low expectations and a lack of faith in people’s ability to succeed.

We’re missing trust.

Trust in communities to find solutions.

Trust in individuals to succeed and to make their own choices.

Trust in businesses to look after their workers and to create value that grows the pie for us all.

Trust in people to spend more of their own hard-earned money.

And as a result we’re seeing a lack of trust in our government to do anything other than constrain us.

This is a government characterised by control freakery. It doesn’t trust us and time and time again it’s proven we can’t trust it.

I want to rebuild that trust.

I get things done. It is what I built my career on, and it is what I bring to politics.

So my commitment to you is that you can trust me to do what I say I will do, and you can trust National under me to find solutions to our most challenging problems, and to implement them in a way which takes our country forward – together.

I’m a proud defender of free enterprise because of how much good the system has done creating opportunity and reducing poverty.

It was that system that attracted my ancestor, Thomas Leamy, a poor, uneducated Irishman to come to the West Coast. He was here for opportunity, to get ahead with hard work and merit.

Today, immigrants still come here to New Zealand because they want to be judged by what they can do, freed from being held down because of who they are.

Everyone should have access to that upward mobility just as Thomas Leamy experienced.

But if we’re really honest, I don’t think we’re living up to the deal in New Zealand that no matter where you start out, if you work hard you can get ahead.

The ladder of opportunity seems to be losing its lowest rungs. And that’s not right.

Most New Zealanders I’ve met share a pretty sensible view of how society should work. They want to know that if they work hard, they can get ahead.

But they also want to know that if they or someone they love – or someone they’ve never met before – falls on hard times, that society will be there to help pick them back up.

Labour’s approach is to spend billions on welfare payments that only succeed in making poverty marginally less painful. They’re reinforcing learned helplessness, not supporting Kiwis to become self-sufficient.

It is the subtle prejudice of low expectations.

It’s why the number of people stuck on the Jobseeker benefit for longer than a year has grown by 50,000 under Labour. In fact the number of people on a Jobseeker long-term is now has the equivalent of everyone – both adults and children – from Napier and Nelson combined.

How can low unemployment be something worthy of praise when the number of people on long term Jobseeker benefits has grown?

This is appalling at a time when unemployment is so low. If this Government can’t help people off welfare and into work now, then when on earth can they do it?

It’s not caring or kind. It’s crippling.

National know people can do more for themselves – if they are backed, encouraged, and supported on a path to independence.

We need to replace those rungs on the ladder of social mobility.

In seeing Mum’s social work, I learned how challenging life can be. And the role that we all need to play to support people when they are struggling. A safety net is vital.

Welfare’s ultimate purpose cannot be to make poverty a slightly less miserable experience. Our goal must be to give everyone the opportunity to lead lives of dignity, independence and self-reliance, and above all, work.

A government that truly cares about people must make powerful and targeted interventions on behalf of those with the most complex and challenged lives. With the right resources at the right time in the right place, the State can help people make positive and sustained changes that enable them to rise up and realise their potential. That takes more than just writing a bigger cheque. It takes a good Government.

Being prepared to invest in the right places to secure better long-term results for the most vulnerable New Zealanders, and save taxpayers money in the long run, is what Bill English called “social investment”.

This will be back under National.

Social investment was expensive but it was based on the need to spend more in the short term so less would be needed in the long term and it was working.

But instead of improving lives, Labour’s economic mismanagement is actively making things worse for everyone.

Their only economic tool is to spend more money, with Government expenditure up a staggering 68 per cent since the 2017 election, while the national debt has doubled.

It’s borrowing more and taking more from us in tax but achieving less.

They’re addicted to spending, but it isn’t delivering results. Far too much is being wasted.

Almost a billion dollars has been allocated for the Three Waters Asset grab, 500 million dollars to restructure the entire health care system in the middle of a pandemic, at least 15 billion dollars going towards an underground tram vanity project – yes that’s right 15 billion dollars!

All this poor quality, unfocussed spending is having serious consequences for the economy.

The facts are stark – we have a cost of living crisis in New Zealand.

Inflation is at a three decade high.

With prices rising twice as fast as wages, Kiwi families are worse off than they were 12 months ago.

Food price rises are the highest in a decade, petrol has hit more than $3 a litre, and rents are through the roof.

And if you want to buy your first home, forget about it. The average house price is up almost $400,000 under Labour. Rising interest rates mean interest costs on a $600,000 mortgage are up $7,200 in the last 12 months, and they’re only going up from here.

Increasing spending to support the economy made sense back in 2020.

Times have changed, but Labour’s only solution is to spend up large. Instead of pulling back on the fiscal stimulus, as the OECD has called for urgently, the Government has inexplicably decided to turn the fiscal firehose up to full pressure.

Grant Robertson has given himself a $6 billion allowance for new spending at this years’ Budget. This is the largest budget spend-up New Zealand has ever seen.

Far from trying to make the load lighter for Kiwis, Labour’s approach has been to tax, tax, tax.

The last four years have been a massive tax grab.

There’s the Regional Fuel Tax – extracting hundreds of millions of dollars more from Aucklanders than is actually being spent to fix Auckland’s transport challenges.

There’s the proposed Light Rail Tax – on Aucklanders privileged enough to live near the underground tram.

There’s the 10 year bright line test extension – a capital gains tax by stealth.

There’s the removal of interest deductibility on rental properties – a tax on Kiwi’s who’ve worked hard and put their life savings into a rental.

There’s the new 39 per cent top income tax rate, which is a boon for tax lawyers and accountants, but betrays this Government’s attitude to ambition and will make it harder to attract top talent to our shores.

And perhaps worst of all there’s the latest jobs tax proposal, which would see everyone forced to pay for a scheme that will incentivise those who lose their job not to re-enter the workforce for more than half a year.

We should be encouraging work – not taxing it more and paying people to take six months off.

It’s classic Labour – spend, spend, spend, and then they tax you to pay for it.

Now is not the time to be adding costs on individuals and businesses. We should be letting people keep their hard earned money, not forcing them to hand over more and more to Grant Robertson to spend.

So here’s my commitment to you. When I become PM, I’ll reverse Labour’s tax grab.

National will repeal each of these new taxes implemented by Labour.

One of the other consequences of skyrocketing inflation is that, even as families can afford less and less, their nominal income increases and so income tax goes up.

Labour is using inflation as another tax grab by stealth.

The increase in the tax take through inflation is a perverse disincentive for the government to act to reduce it.

We’ve got the perverse situation where someone on the average wage now has a marginal tax rate of 33 percent. And someone on the minimum wage only has to work a 44 hour week to face a tax rate of 30 cents on the dollar.

That’s ridiculous.

So I’m calling on the Prime Minister and Grant Robertson to give Kiwis a break, and return the extra tax they are grabbing through inflation.

At the upcoming Budget in May, the Finance Minister should use a portion of his $6 billion dollars to adjust income tax thresholds to account for the inflation we’ve seen under Labour.

This would see each of the first three tax thresholds immediately increase by around eleven and a half percent.

This is a policy Simon Bridges has been very passionate about for some time – and I want to particularly acknowledge his leadership on this issue. It was a good idea then, but it’s an even better idea now because of skyrocketing inflation and the massive operating allowance Grant Robertson has given himself for new spending at the upcoming Budget.

Simon has driven a lot of this work, but unfortunately isn’t able to be here today as he’s isolating with his family.

The change would mean the 10.5% tax rate would apply to the first $15,600 of income, not $14,000 as it is currently.

The 17.5% rate would extend to $53,500 rather than $48,000.

And rather than the 33% tax rate kicking in at $70,000 – less than the average wage – it would increase to $78,100.

Someone on $55,000 a year would get $800 in tax relief this year.

Someone on the average wage would be better off by $870 a year.

And anyone earning $78,100 or above would be better off by over $1,000 a year.

We aren’t calling on Labour to change the 39% threshold because it only came into effect recently.

Because Super is indexed to the average after-tax wage, over-65s would also benefit, with the couple rate increasing by around $540 a year.

These changes aren’t going to make anyone rich.

But that’s not the point – they will make things a little easier for Kiwis who are struggling to get ahead under the weight of the cost of living crisis.

Indexing tax thresholds to 2017 would cost just under $1.7 billion – which is relatively modest when you consider Kiwis will be paying an extra $12.5 billion in income tax this year compared to when Labour took office.

These changes would not put further pressure on inflation or require spending cuts in areas like health and education. They wouldn’t mean austerity or a Budget with no new spending. 

They would be met from Grant Robertson’s record $6 billion new spending allowance, and so would simply require Labour to be slightly less profligate with its new spending in Budget 2022.

Even after accounting for the $1.7 billion cost of these tax cuts, the remaining $4.3 billion would still be the biggest allowance for new spending initiatives ever. Or Robertson could even use some of it to pay down debt – but that’s not really in Labour’s DNA.

National would do things differently.

I want New Zealand to be world-leading. A place where good enough isn’t good enough for us.

Our ability to become more prosperous, to enjoy a higher quality of life, depends on the size of our economic engine. And right now, that engine needs serious upgrading.

For too long, Kiwis have been of the mindset that the only way to get ahead is to work longer hours. The average Kiwi works 370 hours a year more than someone in the UK – the equivalent of more than nine extra weeks – but still our incomes lag.

We’re suffering from a productivity disease – the average Kiwi works for an hour to earn what an Australian earns in 45 minutes.

I’m not going to stand here and tell you there is one big bang solution to lifting growing the economy and helping kiwis get ahead – it will take lots of small changes across the economy.

But we do need one major change – mindset.

We need to move away from Labour’s view that the politicians control the economy, and realise that it is Kiwis and businesses all over New Zealand that hold the keys to our success.

It’s the mums and dads who get up early to get the kids ready for school and then head to work to provide for their family.

It’s the tens of thousands of small business owners who risk everything to have a go, to create opportunities for their communities.

It’s our entrepreneurs and innovators like Rocket Lab and Xero, which are building whole industries here in New Zealand.

It’s the kiwifruit pickers and the Uber drivers, the nurses and the teachers, the builders and the farmers, the business owners and their employees.

It is the hard work and innovation of our communities up and down the country that will drive us forward.

We need to back small businesses up and down the country – because National knows that it is business, not government that helps Kiwis get ahead by lifting wages and hiring more people.

In closing, let me say the last two years have been unprecedented, with the shadow of Covid hanging over everything we do. But we need to be careful that we don’t focus so much on Covid that we neglect the society we are trying to build, together.

There’s a big difference between activity and achievement, between talk and action, spin and results. That’s why I’ve come to political life – to get things done.

New Zealanders will have a stark choice at the election next year.

I believe that practical, modern centre-right political principles can help us navigate the social, environmental and economic challenges we face as a country.

That’s why I’m proud to lead National as we work relentlessly to build a society of opportunity for all New Zealanders.

Good leadership and good government require a balance between head and heart.

Former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English achieved that balance and were rewarded with voter support for it.

For too long since then, voters haven’t been able to see National’s heart and too often couldn’t see the party’s head. That must change.

In an interview before his speech, Luxon showed he recognised that:

We are the people who can run the economy well … but I also want them to understand we care deeply about people.

Yesterday’s state of the nation speech gave some ideas on how National would do that, and show that it has both a good head and a good heart.


Finance & Infrastructure for Bridges

02/12/2021

National leader Chris Luxon has appointed Simon Bridges as spokesman for Finance and Infrastructure.

. . . “Simon has prodigious skills, incredible talent and the intellectual heft needed to excel as National’s Finance spokesperson,” Mr Luxon says.

“He is ideally suited to prosecute the wasteful spending decisions, spiralling debt and rising costs of living occurring under the Labour Government.

“New Zealand needs a strong economy so we can invest in better core services like healthcare, education and police.

“Growing our economy and raising productivity are the biggest things we can do to improve the lives of all New Zealanders.

“For the last 30 years, our economy has been suffering from a productivity disease.

“Lifting productivity means raising people’s incomes, which in turn gives New Zealanders more choices and better lifestyles.

“It’s important that our economy is sustainable, and that means ensuring that we spend effectively and with discipline.

“Investing in hospitals and roads is important – blowing cash on nice-to-haves is quite another thing.

“As an example, this Labour Government borrowed $57 billion for the COVID-19 Response fund, yet has managed to end up with fewer ICU beds 18 months into the pandemic than at the start.

“High inflation is like a thief in your pocket, making it harder to live. That’s why public spending must be brought under control – otherwise we will keep seeing costs rising faster than wages.

“It’s also critical that we reset New Zealand’s approach to infrastructure and take a genuine long-term, intergenerational view. We need an overarching vision for New Zealand’s infrastructure and new funding and financing mechanisms that can drive us into the coming decades.

“Simon will play a central and critical role in our leadership team, and he and I will work closely together.

“Simon will be an exceptional Finance and Infrastructure Minister in the next National Government come 2023.”

This is good use of Simon’s undoubted skills and also good politics.

Comparisons with John Key who gave Finance to Bill English are inevitable and that’s positive, given how successful that partnership was.


A freeze by any other name . . .

11/05/2021

The PM and Finance Minister are both trying to say the public wage freeze announced last week is not a freeze:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Deputy, Grant Robertson, were both forced on the defensive this morning over their public sector wage freeze decision.

They both rejected that the moves to restrain public sector wages was a “freeze”, as there is still some room for movement in pay scales.

Speaking to reporters at the post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern said she had no plans to reverse the Government’s decision.

But she has admitted that she thinks the Government should have put more emphasis on the fact that public servants earning more than $60,000 a year can still move up through their pay bands. . . 

Moving up through a pay band is not generally regarded as being the same as a pay rise and if people aren’t getting a pay rise it’s generally regarded as a pay freeze.

That the government realises the need to restrain its spending and is doing something about it ought to be a good thing but in targetting people nurses, police and teachers, most of whom are underpaid for the work they do and responsibilities they have, they’ve hit the wrong target.

It would have been far better to follow the example of John Key and BIll English during the GFC when total public service spending was frozen, excepting health and education and with the direction there was to be no reduction in front-line services.

That left the people paid to manage their departments and ministries to do so by cutting fat and showed the workers, and public that frontline staff were valued.

Instead the government has demonstrated its propensity for control freakery once again, upsetting public servants, unions and gaining no points from the public who generally don’t think the frontline staff in education, health and policing are overpaid.

The government was probably trying to show it can manage its finances well. It hasn’t done that and has also demonstrated political mismanagement in the process.

 


It’s us she’s not talking to

09/03/2021

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who communicates best of all?

I’m so good I pick and choose, to whom I grant my interviews.

Last week was hard, oh dearie me, someone wanted an apology.

I really need much more respect, so quick find a child so I can deflect.

There’s one in Ireland I believe, or let me tell you about mothering Neve.

I can nod and smile so sweetly to hide the fact hard questions beat me.

But I much prefer the softer asks, and wait for praise in which to bask.

The women’s mags give adoration and often global adulation.

That’s not what I get when I speak to Mike, that’s why I told him to take a hike.

 

We keep being told what a good communicator Jacinda Ardern is. That shouldn’t be a surprise when she has a degree in it.

But communication isn’t just about reading speeches and projecting warmth. It’s about being able to answer tough questions, to give firm and concrete replies not just waffle, and to deliver the message people need to hear and not just the one she wants to give.

She may have been lulled into a false sense of security by remarkable poll ratings and generally friendly, sometimes even sycophantic, reporting.

But it looks like she’s going to find out that if she bites the media, the media bites back.

Yesterday Mike Hosking told us she was no longer going to do a regular slot with him:

The Prime Minister has not been on the programme this morning, and there is a reason for that.

She is running for the hills.

She no longer wants to be on this programme each week. The somewhat tragic conclusion that is drawn is the questions she gets, the demand for a level of accountability, is a little bit tough.

Officially, her office will tell you they are re-arranging the media schedule this year and are maintaining the same number of interviews. This appears not to be true. . .Without being too unkind to some of the other players in this market, the reality is the Prime Minister enjoys a more cordial and compliant relationship. The questions are more softball. She favours a more benign pitch, where the delivery can be dispatched to the boundary more readily without the chance of an appeal. . . 

To be honest, I’m pleased. The management here, not quite as much. They argue accountability is important, and they’re right. But what I argue is the Prime Minister is a lightweight at answering tough questions. The number of times she’s fronted on this programme with no knowledge around the questions I’m asking is frightening. . . 

Those occasions are too many to be comfortable.

And then, your reaction. The two most often used lines post interview are “what was the point of that?” And “I don’t know why you bother.”

The reality is, too often it’s just noise. It’s waffle. It’s stalling. It’s filling. It’s obfuscation.

It’s a tricky scenario, she should be up for it. Any Prime Minister should be up for it. As a publicly elected official you are asked to be held to account. So, it stands to reason you, at least, put yourself up, even if you don’t enjoy it or at times struggle with the complexity or detail of the question line.

It speaks to a lack of backbone that she would want to bail and run. It also speaks to an increasingly apparent trait; they don’t handle pressure well. Last week was a very good display of that.

They say she’s willing to front on an issue-by-issue basis, so she isn’t gone forever.

As for the weekly bit, I lose no sleep. I’m just a bit disappointed she isn’t a more robust operator, or keener to defend her corner.

After all, it’s our country she’s running.

It is our country she’s running and while it’s the interviewers who are speaking to her, she’s not just speaking to them, she’s speaking to us.

They might ask questions she doesn’t want, or sometimes can’t, answer but they are asking the questions for us.

It’s called the fourth estate for a reason, it’s part of the democratic infrastructure and it’s got a job to  hold the powerful to account for us.

Heather du Plessis-Allan points out Ardern is turning her back on New Zealanders:

. . . Take out the characters involved. Take out Jacinda Ardern, take out Mike Hosking.   

This slot goes back 34 years.  Holmes, Lange, Palmer, Moore, Bolger, Shipley, Clarke, Key, English.  Those are a lot Prime Ministers prepared to front up and be held accountable.  It’s a long line of democratic history Jacinda Ardern has ended. 

I know that that it got combative between Hosking and Ardern but that’s how the big boys roll.  It’s tough at the top.  If you run the country, you should be able to take a few tough questions. 

I’ve been told a number of times that the prime minister finds the weekly round of interviews very stressful and she has herself admitted that she takes media criticism very hard.   

But it’s actually not Hosking that the PM is no longer speaking to weekly.  It’s voters: the biggest single catchment of voters listening to commercial radio in the morning.  It’s not the same to switch out NewstalkZB for a music radio station.  One is a news radio station – holding a democratic role – and the other is entertainment. 

But while I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised.  Ardern has shown a tendency to duck from tough interviews.  Recently, we’ve seen ample evidence that she’s happy to front the good stuff and make the big announcements, but when there are questions – like whether she started the pile on aimed at the KFC worker – she disappears and sends in her lieutenants. . . 

She has in the past cancelled media. I recall taking over ZB’s morning show in Wellignton.  John Key used to appear four times a year and take calls from voters.  Ardern cancelled that and appeared once in about 18 months, and refused to talk directly to voters.  

In 2018, she cancelled at the last minute her appearances on Newshub Nation and Q+A. But, she still made time to sit down with the New York Times for a soft interview in which the writer Maureen Dowd talked about her ‘fuzzy leopard slippers’.   . .  

People like to see the person behind the politician and a lot of will relate to her taking criticism hard, but she’s the Prime Minister and if she can’t take the hard questions and inevitable criticism she’s simply not up to the job.

Barry Soper calls her the accidental Prime Minister:

This rookie leader, plucked from obscurity in the lead-up to the 2017 election, was appointed by Winston Peters simply because she gave him much more than what Bill English was prepared to wear.

But she’s been confirmed by Covid, as the last election would attest to. Without Peters or Covid chances are she’d be leading the Opposition, although even that’s doubtful.

Having worked with the past 10 Prime Ministers, Jacinda Ardern would be the most removed from the media than any of them. This woman who has a Bachelor of Communications doesn’t communicate in the way any of her predecessors have.

She’s the master of soft, flattering interviews and television chat shows, blanching at tough questions.  She’s commanded the Covid pulpit to such an extent that the virus has become her security blanket; without it, she’d be forced to face the reality that her Government has been moribund.  

The Prime Minister’s press conferences usually begin with a sermon – it took eight minutes for her to get to the fact that she was moving the country down an alert level last Friday.  When it comes to question time her forearm stiffens and her hand flicks to those, she’ll take a question from.  Some of us are left barking from the side lines.

Ardern doesn’t relate to the messenger, the team of journalists who make up the parliamentary Press Gallery – they don’t know her.  

All of her predecessors got to know the parliamentary media by inviting them to their ninth floor Beehive office, at least a couple of times a year.  It puts a human face on the public performer.

Ardern has done it once, a few months after becoming the Prime Minister.     . . 

She’s a celebrity leader and she’s determined to keep it that way, which is why she’s turned her back on the Mike Hosking Breakfast Show. 

The questions were too direct, they got under her thin skin, but, more importantly, she didn’t know the answer to many of them. She was exposed on a weekly basis and it simply all became too much for her.    

In doing so she’s turned her back on the highest rating breakfast commercial radio show in the country by far and she has also turned her back of the many listeners who at the last Covid election (her description) switched their vote to her.

Leaders have in the past become exasperated with the media, and at times with good reason, but few, if any, have shied away from the tough questions.  The regular Newstalk ZB slot for Prime Ministers has been jealously guarded by them for the past 35 years.  This is the only regular slot she’s bowing out on. . .

Media 1 – Ardern 0.

Ardern’s fans will probably not be worried by this. Those who dislike her will be delighted that some of the shine has been taken off her glossy image.

It’s certainly not the end of her popularity but once you’ve got to the top there’s only one way to go, though not necessarily quickly.  When her time as Prime Minister has ended, historians and political analysts will look back at last week’s slip of the kindness mask and this serious media misstep as the time the downward slide began.


Better medicinal cannabis Bill

24/07/2020

National MP Shane Reti has had his Members’ Bill on medicinal cannabis drawn from the ballot:

My Member’s Bill to implement a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime that would widen access to medicinal cannabis and license high quality domestic production, has been drawn in Parliament, MP for Whangarei Shane Reti says.

“New Zealanders deserve greater access to high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their suffering, but we must have the right regulatory and legislative controls in place.

“My bill is a more comprehensive alternative to the Government’s cannabis bill. The Government has said it will increase access now and leave it to officials to think through the controls and the consequences later. That’s typical of this Government but it’s not acceptable.

“The Government declined the bill 18 months ago, if they hadn’t New Zealanders would have access to affordable medicinal cannabis right now.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (No 2) will achieve the following:

  • Medicinal cannabis products will be approved in the same way a medicine is approved by Medsafe. No loose leaf cannabis products will be approved.
  • Medical practitioners will decide who should have access to a Medicinal Cannabis Card, which will certify them to buy medicinal cannabis products.
  • Medicinal cannabis products will be pharmacist-only medicine.
  • Cultivators and manufacturers must be licenced for commercial production. Licence holders and staff will be vetted to ensure they are fit and proper persons.
  • A licensing regime that will create a safe market for medicinal cannabis products. Cultivators and manufacturers will not be able to be located within 5km of residential land, or 1km of sensitive sites such as schools and wahi tapu.
  • No advertising of medicinal cannabis products to the public will be permitted.
  • The Ministry of Health will review the legislation in five years.

“National is determined to be a constructive opposition working on new ideas and new policies. This bill is the result of significant work, including a study I conducted overseas and reflects a blend of international best practice, tailored to New Zealand.

“I recognise there is a delayed medicinal cannabis process underway by the Government, but I encourage them to pick up the enormous amount of work done by National in Opposition and implement our comprehensive reforms to ensure this is done once and done right. So that New Zealanders in need can access high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their suffering.”

During one of the leaders’ debates before the last election, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern were questioned on legalising medicinal question.

The former correctly answered that it wasn’t simple and needed to be based on good medical science. The latter said yes and in this government’s first 100 days legislation was rushed through that wasn’t based on good medical science.

It resulted in legislation that has created difficulties for doctors and  expensive and inferior medicine for patients.

Leading author Karen Oldfield, of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, said cost, special approval, and a lack of strong evidence put most doctors off.

“Those who have looked into prescribing it are coming up against some problems around access and the process, and those who aren’t necessarily prescribing it have issues around the evidence base for it and the products that are available in New Zealand.” . . .

“If it’s going to be treated as a medication it needs to be tested as a medication, trialled as a medication, then it would go into the pile of medications that can be trialled for people in specific medical conditions.” . .

These problems will not be solved if the referendum of legalising cannabis is passed.

Dr Reti’s Bill will rectify the shortcomings in existing legislation and result in patients who will benefit from medicinal cannabis being able to get what they need, safely and less expensively.


Power for the south

13/07/2020

Love many fat royal people today.

That’s the mnemonic by which I can still recall sixth form geography’s lesson on the six factors which affect the location of industry – labour, market, finance, raw materials, power and transport.

When it comes to power, the market in New Zealand is distorted by averaging of transmission costs across the country. That is one of the major reasons Rio Tinto has decided to close the Tiwai aluminium smelter next year and Richard Harman points out it is Auckland votes that did the damage:

. . .Opposition from the city, and particularly its business community, to proposals, put up in 2016 to change the way consumers paid for the transmission component of power pricing killed off what could have been a $20 million cost-saving for the smelter.

That might have been enough to save it. Rio Tinto’s loss on the smelter last year was $46 million. . . 

NZAS has argued that it is forced to pay for investment in the country’s power supply network that has no relevance to it, such as upgrades in the North Island when it is based at Bluff.

In 2017 a company press statement said NZAS paid  around nine per cent of Transpower’s transmission charges to consumers, “including paying towards the $1.3 billion spent on upgrading the grid in the upper North Island since 2004 without receiving any additional benefit to its business.”

“When it comes to transmission charges, we believe you should pay for what you use,” said then-CEO   Gretta Stephens.

“This isn’t what is happening now, so we are committed to working with the Electricity Authority and Transpower to achieve a more sustainable method of pricing transmission services.”

Stephens was therefore ready to endorse an Electricity Authority proposal in May 2017 to radically overhaul the transmission pricing regime and essentially make it a user-pays system. The further a consumer was from their power generator; the more they would be likely to pay.

The smelter uses only about 40km of Transpower lines because the main transmission lines from Meridian’s Manapouri power station to the northern outskirts of Invercargill are owned by Meridian.

The total length of all transmission lines owned by Transpower is 12,000km.

So in proposing that this imbalance be addressed, NZAS, told the Electricity Authority in 2017 the smelter had been located in its current position to allow for port access and to minimise the need for transmission.

“Auckland, by comparison, grew organically because of the natural advantages the location has for residential living,” the company said. “These advantages did not include nearby economic energy resources.

“As a result, considerable expense has been, and continues to be, applied to transporting electricity to Auckland.

“Because of these characteristics, the economic cost of providing transmission services for NZAS is considerably lower than the economic cost of transmission to Auckland”.

Southern individuals and businesses have been and are continuing to subsidise those in the north.

The Electricity Authority then produced a new transmission pricing proposal which would have seen NZAS’s transmission costs drop by 34 per cent to $40 million a year. But to help pay for that, the Authority proposed increasing the transmission costs to Vector, the former Auckland Electric Power Board, by 44 per cent or $50 a household a year.

There was an immediate uproar. . . 

The uproar came from a much bigger voting block than the one in the south and the north won.

Steven Joyce is one northerner who understands this:

Nearly 5 per cent of the Southland workforce will likely lose their jobs — a massive body blow. For Aucklanders having difficulty comprehending what that means, a shock of a similar magnitude in that city would be 40,000 people losing their jobs at once.

The Finance Minister is conveniently trying to hide behind the skirts of Bill English, reminding everyone that Bill said “no more” to Rio Tinto after 2013, and as current minister he’s just sticking with the line. It’s weird how trapped he feels by an 8-year-old decision.

If it helps at all, the Bill English I know wouldn’t have handed out $10 million to a bungy jumping company in Queenstown. If desperate times warrant that much being handed to a single private tourism company, or a ludicrous $280m to support New Zealand Post, Southlanders will legitimately ask why not $30 or $50 million for 2600 jobs in their region?

A very good question and if the smelter was in Northland does anyone doubt that it would get the money?

The smelter has as good a case as the tourism or film sectors, and a considerably better case than what has become a glorified courier company. The international market for aluminium has crashed as a result of Covid-19 decimating the car- and plane-making industries.

More egregiously, the electricity for this and other Southland businesses comes from just up the road at Manapouri, yet Southland is made to pay to have power circulated around the rest of the country. The request for help is more a case for stopping an unfair levy than for a fresh subsidy. Southland is not the only region, and aluminium not the only regional industry that is up against it. . . 

Some people see a silver lining in the smelter closure in the potential for cheaper power. But the electricity the smelter uses is generated in Southland, upgrading transmission lines to get it to the northern North Island would cost many millions of dollars.

If those costs were averaged over the country it would be rubbing very expensive salt into the wounds the smelter closure will inflict on Southland, its labour force and economy.

But it’s not only Southland that is facing big jobs losses.

The Marsden Point refinery bankrolls a similar proportion of high-paying jobs in Northland, and the refining company is making near-identical noises about closure.

Meanwhile, Taranaki is continuing to come to grips with the Government’s pre-Covid oil and gas exploration ban placing an artificial sunset on its biggest industry, and associated companies like Methanex and the ammonia urea plant.

Outside of heavy industry, the Covid-19 border controls have put on ice a series of other sectors that normally contribute to New Zealand’s wealth and jobs.

The $5 billion we earn annually from international education is dwindling to nearly nothing — and that leaves schools, universities and other providers short $1b a year for tuition fees alone.

Tourism limps along on one domestic cylinder, which sparks up in the school holidays but is insufficient to sustain many of the companies reliant on it.

The tech companies that succeed in the world despite our isolated location are wondering how long they can operate from their New Zealand base while being physically cut off from their customers.

And the foresters are suffering from whiplash, feeling alternately loved and loathed, sometimes almost in the same press release, as the Government has somehow got itself to the point where it will decide when forests are planted and where they can be sold. No wonder politicians were belatedly cuddling up to the farmers this week. Food is in danger of becoming our only export sector, so let’s call a truce in the regulatory hostilities and pretend all that talk about the need to diversify away from agriculture was just a bad dream.

The more other export industries falter, the more important agriculture becomes.

Which brings us to the bigger problem that the smelter closure underlines. Exactly how do we plan to make money to pay off this huge debt the Government is running up on our behalf?

How will we fill the massive hole in our exports left by tourism, education, aluminium and oil and gas? And exactly how do we plan to magic up 2600 replacement high-paying jobs in Southland?

Our economic response to Covid-19 is looking ridiculously haphazard. If the Government likes you, you get a bucket of money. If they don’t, then tough luck.

We first need a level playing field, and then we need to focus on increasing the competitiveness of all our businesses. We also need, to paraphrase a certain Australian Prime Minister, to get out from under the duvet and start re-engaging with the safer parts of the world again.

Right now we are being way too cavalier with our whole economic fabric. We could wake up and find whole regions permanently crippled — the ultimate irony for a Government that claims to “champion the regions”.

And, given that our biggest power consumers will have gone, and taken with them their outsized contributions to the costs of the electricity grid, we may not even have cheap power to make us feel better.

Taking big electricity users out of the market won’t make power cheaper. If the big users who contribute most to the energy companies’ coffers go, the cost will be spread across fewer, smaller users including households.

Given the fall in the price of aluminum, even a lower power price probably wouldn’t save the smelter.

But the smelter’s closure should provide the impetus to stop the southern subsidising of the north’s power.

Finding new businesses to soak up the people left unemployed when the smelter closed won’t be easy.

But it could be less difficult if everyone paid the actual cost of getting power which would make Southland much more attractive than Auckland to any enterprises where electricity costs were significant.

Southland has the labour, a variety or raw materials, good transport options and finance is reasonably mobile. It might be further from many markets but much cheaper power could well compensate for that.

So much power is generated in the south, far less will be needed down here without the smelter. This is an opportunity to ensure it stays here and southerners get lower prices to benefit households and the businesses that could soak up at least some of the workers left jobless when the smelter closes.

But what’s the chances of cheaper electric power for the south when political power is in the north?


Don’t need panic, do need urgency

11/03/2020

The government has announced some details of assistance for businesses threatened by the impact of COVID-19  but is being criticised for not moving fast enough on the package:

Forest Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger said she had been warning about the potentially devastating impact of Covid-19 for weeks.

“You know, we’re another week in, we’re another week of our contractors with no substance to staying in business,” she said. . .

Businesses have costs every day, every week. These ones haven’t had income for weeks and each day’s delay makes their position more precarious.

Skyline Queenstown chief executive Geoff McDonald said he was pleased the government was working on an assistance package, but he would like more detail.

“Skyline is reasonably robust, it’s a fairly large, successful organisation so we’ve got some degree of resilience.

“But some of the smaller tourism operators out there are going to be hurting right now and so the challenge is looking to the future and having at least some sort of milestones to say ‘well, if I can make it there I can get access to X initiative and Y initiative’. That’s what we really need,” he said. . . 

Small businesses have little if any fat in their systems. If there’s little or no money coming in they can’t keep paying staff and covering overheads.

This is peak tourist season. Businesses servicing them have lost customers and are losing money. They will already be cutting staff hours, getting rid of casuals and weighing up whether they can afford to keep full time permanent staff.

McDonald said businesses were also being hit with the “double-whammy” of a minimum wage increase from next month.

“We’ve got this challenging environment and we’ve got this sort of ratcheting up of wage and salary bill, so it is difficult. Tourism industry is very labour intensive so your wage bill is such a large part of your overall expenses,” McDonald said. . .

Whether the benefits outweigh the costs of imposing higher and faster increases to the minimum wage is debatable at the best of times. The risk to jobs and businesses when the economic outlook is so uncertain is even greater.

If the government wants more in the pockets of people on low wages it should take less in tax or top up wages instead of forcing businesses to spend more of their own money. It could also pay people who are in self-isolation so they’re not tempted to keep working if they might be incubating the disease but can’t afford leave without pay.

The day the first Canterbury earthquake hit, then Finance Minister BIll English phoned business leaders and asked what was needed. They said money to keep paying staff.

That went straight to cabinet, was approved, and that afternoon the announcement was made that businesses could apply for money to cover wages.

The current situation is different from the earthquake but the need for assistance is just as urgent and the response should be too.

The government is talking about tailoring assistance to individual businesses. That would be complicated and take time.

It would be far better to use the earthquake assistance model. Businesses that needed help to pay wages applied, I think through Inland Revenue, and got it. That kept businesses afloat, workers in funds and money flowing through the economy.

Something similar would be much simpler and easier to implement faster than what the government appears to be planning.

There’s no need to panic but there is need for urgency.


Rural round-up

13/02/2020

Equity losses dog dairy farming – Hugh Stringleman:

Dairy analysts agree with the key factors of a Rabobank prediction of falling dairy land values over the next five years.

Rabobank dairy analyst Emma Higgins said land values have been in neutral for the past decade and are likely to drift downwards over the next five years.

In her report, Afloat but Drifting Backwards, she predicts an average $6.25/kg MS farmgate milk price, which will be barely break-even with low investor confidence, high farm debt, tighter Reserve Bank regulations, foreign capital restrictions and the costs of environmental compliance also factors. . .

Goodbye Britain again :

Those of us who have been around for quite a few years will remember the unhappy and heady days when Britain joined the then EEC on the January 1, 1973.

Up until then, NZ had enjoyed unlimited access to Britain for its agricultural products and at one stage there was even a law passed that said they had to be given priority for our exports.

When Britain joined the EEC, many NZer’s felt hurt and disappointed that the so called ‘mother country’ had deserted us and that we now had to find new markets for our agricultural exports. . .

Busy field days tenure comes to an end – Sally Rae:

Ask Sharon Paterson to recall the most memorable moments during her tenure as event manager-secretary of the Southern Field Days, and an unlikely response is forthcoming.

It was the day she and then organising committee chairman Logan Evans were chatting to Prime Minister John Key and deputy Prime Minister Bill English when they were “photo-bombed” by Road Safety Southland mascot Harry the Hippo.

“That was so hilarious,” Mrs Paterson recalled.

Thousands of people will converge on the small, rural settlement of Waimumu this week for the event, which is held every second year — this year from Wednesday to Friday. . . .

Are you up for the challenge? – Nigel Malthus:

A new event for the 2020 Southern Field Days will be an ‘Amazing Race’-style challenge.

The event is aimed at exciting and informing young people about employment opportunities across the agricultural sector.

Pitched at school pupils, school leavers and career changers, the “Food & Fibre Discovery Challenge” will have participants following clues and answering questions as they navigate around the grounds between participating exhibitors.  . . 

Fiftieth year for New Zealand innovation – Richard Davison:

Fifty years ago, the spirit of “fair go” led to a new branch of rural competition in Balclutha, that has since spread worldwide.

The Otago Shearing and Woolhandling Championships take place in the South Otago town once more tomorrow, but it is only thanks to the self-described stubbornness of former Clinton farmer Don Moffat that the woolhandlers will be celebrating 50 years of competition this time round.

Otago Shears chairman in 1969-70, Mr Moffat believed the efforts and skill of the South’s woolhandlers were such that they deserved their own branch of competition. . . 

Share-farming and leasing properties enabled a Riverina couple to reduce risk – Olivia Calver:

Entering farming is becoming more and more restrictive as land prices surge, but Kendra and Brent Kerrisk, Ganmain found share-farming and leasing properties enabled them to get a foothold in the industry.

The Kerrisk’s, both from rural backgrounds in New Zealand, came out to Australia 14 years ago with the goal to buy a house with some acreage. . .

 


Chance for a change?

29/01/2020

One of John Key’s legacies is announcing the election date early in the year.

He did it, Bill English followed his good example and now Jacinda Ardern has done it too.

This year’s election will be on Saturday September 19th, which is the anniversary of New Zealand women gaining the vote.

Will that give the party with a woman leader an advantage?

Who knows? People vote for and against parties and people for a variety of reasons, many of which have little if anything to do with whether or not it will result in good governance.

If history is a guide, the advantage lies with Labour. We haven’t had a one-term government since MMP was introduced, and the last one under FPP was in 1975.

But history also tells us that this is the first time since MMP was introduced that the party with the most votes is in opposition. It also tells us that it is rare for that party to be polling at similar levels of support it got in the last election and more often than not, polling higher than the party leading the government.

So is National in with a chance to win?

Yes but it won’t be easy and it will depend not only on it at least maintaining its support, it will also depends on what happens to the other parties.

New Zealand First has been hovering below 5% in recent polls. If it doesn’t improve on that, it would be out of parliament, unless it wins a seat.

In spite of its vehement criticism of National’s accommodation with Act in Epsom, NZ First might welcome something similar in a seat with Labour that, if it won, would mean it wouldn’t have to get 5%.

Then there’s the Maori Party. A strong candidate could take a seat from Labour and, in spite of National inviting it into government when it didn’t need to, it might go left rather than right.

Nothing is certain, but In spite of Ardern’s vow to lead a positive campaign, she will find it’s very hard to defend the government’s record when so much of its achievements have fallen far short of its rhetoric.


Not so popular

03/12/2019

There is little doubt that Jacinda Ardern’s leadership enabled Labour to gain enough votes in the 2017 election to cobble together a coalition government.

Her fans among the commentariat would have us believe her popularity is unquestioned.

But over at Kiwiblog David Farrar has the numbers that tell a different story:

    • Governing Party – Clark Labour 45%, Key National 55%, Ardern Labour 39%
    • Opposition Party – English National 39%, Goff Labour 33%, Bridges National 46%
    • NZ First – 2001 2.7%, 2010 3.1%, 2019 4.0%
    • Greens – 2001 6%, 2010 4.5%, 2019 7.0%

And how is the PM as Preferred PM

    • Clark 2001 41%, Key 2010 56%, Ardern 2019 36%

Popular yes, but not as popular as her predecessors.


Stardust dulls in sunlight

07/08/2019

A Prime Minister who is well regarded overseas is good for a small country.

But being well regarded overseas isn’t good enough. A Prime Minister has to earn, and keep, approval at home and the stardust that settled on Jacinda Ardern early in her leadership is dulling under the sunlight of scrutiny.

There is no doubt she is a good communicator, compassionate and likable. As Matthew Hooton told Sky New Australia, she would be a good princess or president without power, but she is a hopeless Prime Minister.

But, but, but what about the way she handled the aftermath of the mosque shootings?

There is no question she did that well but that’s the New Zealand way. Other recent Prime Ministers, Bill English, John Key (who did at least as well after the Canterbury earthquakes) and Helen Clark would have reacted with similar compassion.

But those Prime Ministers also delivered, and this one is failing to. Matthew Hooton, again, on the year of delivery:

. . . For those still committed to reality-based politics, Ardern’s “year of delivery” is as credible as her earlier promise to be “transformational”.

KiwiBuild, the Billion Trees programme and the Provincial Growth Fund handing out only 3 per cent of the money Shane Jones has paraded are the most risible. . .

He goes on to list more failures and there are plenty of them.

He isn’t alone in his criticisms and that’s not surprising for people on the right of the political spectrum but even the very left blog The Standard is saying it’s time to ditch the default Jacindamania:

Despite the babies and the engagements, maybe it’s time to ditch the default Jacindamania.

Let’s not bother with the criminal waste of tax on hundreds of working groups, existing to successfully suppressing oppositional opinion through co-option.

Oranga Tamariki has got three investigations underway for removing children, and is being kicked all over the park by the media. Cue another year of paralysis by analysis. . . 

. . .  it’s a very partial leadership. It’s not ‘transformational’, it’s not the year of delivery. What is this government?

This is the weakest leadership on policy of any government since the last term of Holyoake, 60 years ago. That’s on Ardern.

It’s time, since we are now getting emails to volunteer and donate money on their behalf for the next election, to expect more from Jacinda Ardern.

Coming from the left that’s damning.

But wait there’s more. Her interview this morning with Mike Hosking was a train wreck which Steve Braunias dissects:

O the joys and woes of being Prime Minister! One minute you’re swaying your hips for the cameras in the lovely warmth of Tokelau while the world gazes with adoration at your picture on the cover of Vogue, as chosen and commissioned by Her Royal Highness Meghan Markle the Princess of Trans-Atlantica; the next minute you’re back in New Zealand, there’s a serious sex scandal rocking the Labour Party, the cops have gone feral at Ihumātao, the weather’s gone all to hell – and worst of all, you’re stuck on the phone for your regular Tuesday morning convo with Mike Hosking.

It’s paramount that the Prime Minister keeps her cool and shows every sign of being at ease and in control when she makes media appearances. There is but one emoji to maintain: the one with a smiley face, round and yellow and all good, expressing the optimum vibe of inane happiness. . . 

But good cheer and happiness was entirely absent during Ardern’s 10-minute interview with The Hosker on Newstalk ZB this morning. Her appearance was an emoji trainwreck, and it crashed every time that the Prime Minister called the ZB talkback host by his first name.

She said it 11 times. . .

He goes on to give an emojiological analysis of those 11 times.

It’s behind the paywall and it’s worth paying for, here’s a taste:

The interview which prompted this is here.

There was no stardust dazzling and personality sparkling there and even had there been it is no longer enough.

Stardust is no use without substance and personality doesn’t pay the bills.


Labour pains National delivers

31/07/2019

Is this how the National Party and its supporters are seen from the outside?

This is not the kind of stuff to you would expect to get the National Party faithful standing and applauding. It’s not a law and order policy or tax cut or a primary sector subsidy – it’s new health spending. This is the kind of thing Labour does.

Is it any wonder National is perceived as having a good head but too often not credited for having a heart if this is how a political commentator thinks?

Compassionate and effective social policy is what any good government does and it’s what motivates most members of any political party – making the country better for people.

National usually gets credit for economic management but, as the above comment show the reason that matters and what it is able to do and does do with the money it carefully manages, is lost.

A growing economy, and the policies that contribute to that are important not as an end but as the means to pay for the social policies and infrastructure that makes life better for people.

This government would have us believe it’s the first government to care about wellbeing.

Every New Zealand government in my memory has cared about wellbeing and done its best to improve it, albeit with varying success.

Making life better for people was the aim of Bill English’s social investment initiatives. They aimed to not only make life better for the people who were helped into independence, but better for us all by reducing the long term financial and social costs of benefit dependence.

Under this policy the number of people on benefits, and the long term cost of that, were dropping. Under this government both are increasing.

The big difference between this government and the last one, is that National understands the difference between the quality of spending and quantity and that sustainable wellbeing depends on a foundation of a strong and growing economy.

By contrast, the current government thinks more spending is better spending regardless of the results and the cost to those who pay.

National governs with head and heart, the Labour-led one puts feeling ahead of thinking.

That’s why National is able to deliver but in the long term Labour only pains.

National Finance Spokesman Paul Goldsmith explained the link between the economy and services in his speech to the party’s annual conference.

You will have noticed a strong economic theme to the start of the conference.

It’s true, we in the National Party do bang on a lot about the economy.

It makes me think of my old Nana, who always said, ‘money isn’t everything’.

Of course it isn’t.

As one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett, put it, ‘it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, if you’re not loved by the people you want to love you, life is a disaster’.

It’s similar with countries. Good government is just as much about preserving and enhancing what is special about this country.

That, to me, is the quality of our environment, our social cohesion, our relatively high trust and low corruption traditions, our commitment to the rule of law, freedom and tolerance of different views, our sense of security.

All these things are incredibly important and should never be taken for granted.

So the economy is not everything, but it is important.

Not because we revere the great machine for itself – it’s simply a means to an end.

The economy is about people. It’s about you, me, our families and our neighbourhoods.

To me, the point of a strong economy is to enable New Zealanders to do the most basic things in life well.

A strong economy improves our chances of finding satisfying and well-paying work so that we can look after ourselves and our families – the most fundamental task each of us have.

A society based on the assumption that its average citizen can’t or shouldn’t be expected to look after themselves and their families is doomed.   

That’s not what we believe.

Work itself, in its countless varieties, brings the opportunity to make a contribution to our world and the people in it, whether we’re providing someone with a new hip, a new app, or a cup of coffee with a smile.

And third, if we do well, we can afford to have some fun in our leisure time, and maybe if we have some energy left do something in the neighbourhood; on the barbecue for the school committee, or whatever.

That, to me, is the good life to which we aspire. 

As well as generating work and opportunities, good economic management and a strong economy enables the country to have better public services that improve our lives – a quality education, access to world-class healthcare when we need it, decent transport infrastructure so we can get home on time, the reassurance of superannuation when we’re old.

There are times in everyone’s life when we need help. At certain times of their lives some people can’t look after themselves and their families; the stronger our economy is, the more we can help.

Now, good economic management is not just about spending money, it’s about generating it. . . 

What’s the goal? To deliver a strong economy and world-class public services that enable Kiwis to look after themselves and their families, to find satisfying work, and to lead full lives.


It’s only words

31/05/2019

Has any government not put money into policies which aim to improve wellbeing?

I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t put considerable amounts into   health, education, welfare, infrastructure . . . any and all of the areas that impact on and contribute to wellbeing.

Just two years ago, then Finance Minister Steven Joyce said:

. . .This budget is about delivering more of the public services, the infrastructure, the resilience, and the incomes that New Zealanders need to get ahead and to provide for their families.

This budget is about the opportunity we have to build on the platform we have all created and deliver greater prosperity for New Zealanders. . .

This Government is focused on helping our most vulnerable people lead more successful lives. . . 

Initiatives included helping people move from benefits to work, improving safety of victims of family violence, investment in social housing, funding for caregiver support and social initiatives aimed at tackling long-term issues for the most vulnerable.

It included measures to help children get a better start in live and there was a significant increase in mental health funding..

Social investment is about tackling our most challenging social issues. The combination of these new initiatives and the Government’s decisions about family incomes will allow us to make serious headway with some of the longer-term challenges faced by the most vulnerable New Zealanders. . . 

He concluded:

This budget is all about “Delivering for New Zealanders”.

It takes four significant steps to bring the benefits of a stronger economy to all New Zealanders. It makes a big investment in public services, it makes a record investment in new infrastructure, it improves the resilience of our country to future shocks, and it strengthens families by lifting their incomes.

It’s important that we remember that the only reason we get to have this conversation is because we have a strong and growing economy built on a strong economic plan.

We must maintain our focus on growing the economy and sticking to the plan.

It is only by doing that, that we can provide for the prosperity of all New Zealanders.

What a contrast between the former government’s careful management and understanding that economic growth is essential to support social initiatives and the current one which is very good at soft words that seek to disguise a slowing economy.

The debate continued and then-PM BIll English spoke:

. . .We are unashamedly addressing the hard core of New Zealand’s longest-run social problems, and in this Budget there are 14 initiatives that do that. I want to pay tribute to public servants who, I know, find it difficult to fit the model. It creates a lot of tension and sometimes a bit of frustration, but we are making some progress because what is the point of having a Government if it cannot deal with the most complex, the most vulnerable, . . 

The previous government called it social investment. Its words were backed up by policies that were working to improve lives and sustainably funded by a growing economy. .

This government calls it wellbeing and so far it’s only words. If it’s going to be more than words and to make a significant and positive difference it will have to do a lot better on delivering, not just on its promises but on economic growth too, than it has to date.

The projected surplus next year is only $1.4 billion. That’s a big number but not in the context of government spending.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges points out:

. . . The Prime Minister boasts in her press release that growth is forecast to average 2.6 per cent over the next four years, under the National Government growth was 4 per cent. This Government simply can’t be trusted with the economy. 

“NZ First has once again shown that it holds the purse strings with today’s announcements of a billion on rail that nobody wants and even more for forestry. That’s on top of Shane Jones’ billion dollar slush fund and the billion dollars already promised for trees. The cost of this coalition is not worth it for New Zealanders with what they’re getting in return, and it certainly isn’t improving anyone’s wellbeing.

“It’s no wonder Grant Robertson has had to drop his self-imposed debt target and increase the spending limit by $17 billion so he can fund the Government’s bad spending decisions. Surpluses are forecast to be billions of dollars lower than they were just a few months ago. . . 

Changing the language doesn’t change the fact that wellbeing can only be built on a strong and growing economic foundation.

 


Personal or political?

01/05/2019

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?


Poverty stats government’s shame

03/04/2019

The nine child poverty statistics that will be used as the baseline for improvement show released yesterday by Stats NZ show all but one have got worse under the current government:

David Farrar compares the stats under National and Labour:

  1. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, before housing costs. 156,000 in June 2008 and 156,000 in June 2017 so no increase under National (rate dropped 0.3%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.3% for Labour’s first year.
  2. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, after housing costs. 329,000 in June 2009 (no data for 2008) and 247,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 82,000 under National (rate dropped 8.1%). In June 2018 increased by 7,000 and rate increased 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  3. Percentage of children in households in material hardship. 196,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 140,000 in June 2017 so dropped 56,000 under National (rate dropped 5.4%). In June 2018 increased by 8,000 and rate increased 0.6% for Labour’s first year.
  4. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, before housing costs. 252,000 in June 2008 and 243,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 9,000 under National (rate dropped 1.3%). In June 2018 increased by 38,000 and rate increased 3.2% for Labour’s first year.
  5. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, after housing costs. 355,000 in June 2008 and 314,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 41,000 under National (rate dropped 4.6%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.2% for Labour’s first year.
  6. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% housing costs for the base financial year. 258,000 in June 2008 and 236,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 22,000 under National (rate dropped 2.5%). In June 2018 increased by 18,000 and rate increased 1.4% for Labour’s first year.
  7. Percentage of children in households with income under 40% housing costs for the base financial year. 156,000 in June 2008 and 178,000 in June 2017 so an increase of 22,000 under National (rate increased 1.6%). In June 2018 dropped by 4,000 and rate dropped 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  8. Percentage of children in households in severe material hardship. 84,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 74,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.0%). In June 2018 dropped by 9,000 and rate dropped 0.9% for Labour’s first year.
  9. Percentage of children in households in material hardship and under 60% median income after housing costs. 96,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 86,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.1%). In June 2018 increased by 12,000 and rate increased 1.0% for Labour’s first year. . .

Who would have thought it? Seven of the child poverty measures dropped under National, one was static and one went up.

And under the Labour/NZ First/Green government that purports to be compassionate and set reducing child poverty as a priority?

Seven of the child poverty measures worsened and only two improved.

What’s behind the difference?

Former Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English was determined to search out the risk factors which lead to poverty and the disastrous social outcomes that usually accompany it.

Having found them he used the social investment approach – spending more upfront on helping those most at risk. The higher short-term cost was justified by the expected reduction in the long-term human, social and financial costs should those at risk not be helped.

The compassionate and intelligent response of the Labour/NZ First/Green government would have been to continue and build on what was working.

The failure to do so is this government’s shame.

Instead it sabotaged business confidence, wasted money on policies including fee-free tertiary education and winter heating subsidies for people who don’t need them, and got soft on policies that used both carrot and stick for those who could be working but don’t.

Early days is no excuse, this government is almost half way through it’s first term.

It can’t blame National for what’s going wrong when under it, seven of the measures were improving, one was static and just one was going the wrong way.

The government has only itself and its ideological blindness to blame which will be no comfort at all to the families whose situation has worsened.

Lindsay Mitchell blogs on the causes of poverty:

The Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Institute has just released a paper which suggests an elegantly simple framework in finding three causes of poverty: bad luck, bad choices and enablement. The first two need no explanation. The third is described thus:

We can say that poverty is “enabled” when systems and structures are in place to discourage the kinds of efforts that people would normally make to avoid poverty, i.e., find employment, find a partner (especially if children are present), improve one’s education and skill set, have a positive outlook, and take personal responsibility for your own actions. Ironically, it is government programs (welfare, in particular) that are intended to help the poor but end up actually enabling poverty.

In NZ, many of our current influencers (MPs and media) pooh,pooh the idea that bad choices are responsible for poverty despite this being self-evident. They base their disdain for the idea on a belief that greater systems, for example institutional racism, drive bad choices. Of course when they do this they excuse bad choices and even compensate the person making them. Undoubtedly, most of those sitting on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group would hold views of his nature. . . 

The soft bigotry of low expectations is not a cliche, it’s a fact.

This government’s low expectations are enabling poverty and turning around the improvements that National’s policy of social investment were making.


Politics changed, facts haven’t

28/03/2019

Sir Michael Cullen is being paid $1000 to sell the capital gains tax.

It’s a task made more difficult by records of his views on a CGT  which the parliamentary library holds from his time as an MP:

Stuff reported that although the chairman of the Tax Working Group once called a capital gains tax “extreme, socially unacceptable and economically unnecessary”, he has since changed his mind.

New documents compiled by the Parliamentary Library for the ACT party reveal just how far he shifted since leaving Government in 2008.

The 84 pages of research included every reference Cullen ever made in the House in reference to a CGT between 1987 and 2008. . . 

They include:

. . . “I think it is extremely hard to make that connection between a capital gains tax and the affordability of housing, insofar as there has never been a theoretical argument put forward about a capital gains tax on housing. It is more in the direction of a level playing field around investment; it is not around the notion that it will make houses cheaper. Indeed, it is very hard to see how it would necessarily make houses cheaper,” Cullen said at the time.

On June 20, 2007, when Bill English asked Cullen about explicitly ruling out a capital gains tax, he responded saying: “One of the problems with a capital gains tax – apart from the fact that if it were done, it should apply to all asset classes—is that countries overseas that have capital gains taxes have significant inflation in house prices on occasion”.

Then on June 21, 2007, he was asked about the possibility of combining ring-fencing with a capital gains tax on all investments except the family home, and more Government investment in low-cost rental housing.

He responded saying: “I think it is fair to say that, if one was looking at a capital gains tax, which I am certainly not, it would apply to all asset classes. I think the arguments in favour of such a tax, which probably 20 years ago were quite strong, become much, much less strong in the intervening period of time, for a whole host of reasons. So I think that that is actually not a very worthwhile avenue to explore, not least because it comes, in effect, at the end of a process, rather than trying to address the over-investment at the start of the process”. . . 

He says he was Finance Minister at the time and following the government line.

When asked why he changed his mind, he quoted John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind”.

What facts have changed? It wasn’t a good idea then and it still isn’t, for the same reasons.

As Robin Oliver, former deputy head of Inland Revenue, former Treasury advisor, an expert on the tax system, and one of three dissenters on the Tax Working Group said:

There’s a strong argument for taxing capital gains, as you put it, in theory, the problem is the practicality and of making it work. . .

Kathryn Ryan asked him if, all things being equal and as a tax expert would it be good to do it and her replied:

In the actuality of what you have to do to get such a tax in place, no.

Most of the arguments in favour of a CGT are theoretical ones based on a notion of fairness, whatever that is.

Most of the arguments against it are practical based on facts including that it has done nothing to rein in house prices elsewhere and has led to overinvestment in housing, underinvestment in business, and acts as a handbrake on succession.

The politics have changed but the facts haven’t.

A CGT with exceptions as recommended by the TWG would be expensive to administer, contain loopholes which would only provide work for lawyers and accountants, promote over-investment in housing, stifle investment in productive assets, and result in lower tax revenue in tough times when capital gains fall.


It’s only words

08/03/2019

Chris Trotter has seen through the conjuring :

WHAT IS IT? This weird, emotionally energetic style of politics that promises “transformational” change and then, mysteriously, fails to deliver it? . . .

Nameless though it may be, few would deny that Jacinda Ardern is its most brilliant local exponent. . . . So effective are “Jacinda’s” communication skills, that a great many New Zealanders have taken to confusing her declarations with actual achievements. Those who point out the discrepancy between the Prime Minister’s magnificent words and her government’s less-than-magnificent deeds are not well received. But, that does not mean they are wrong. . . 

 So richly evocative of selfless activism and against-all-odds success was her declaration that Ardern’s audience’s critical faculties were suspended. Almost as if the promise and the deed were one and the same. Some people might call what she did “casting a spell”. Others, even more provocatively, might call it “magic”.

But, magic of a certain kind. Ardern’s are not the sort of spells that begin with fantasy but end in reality. Jacinda is no Churchill. Rather than a magician, she is a conjurer. What Ardern weaves with her words are not the intentions that lead to actual deeds, but the dangerous illusion that what is being asked of her has already been accomplished – made real by the unmistakable sincerity and the power of her will. Once she has declared her determination to end child poverty, who could be so churlish as to point out that the children of the poor are still with us?

Ardern’s conjuring is perfectly suited to that crucial group of voters who detached themselves from the National Party in response to what they saw as the “awful” problems which John Key and Bill English had failed to address during their nine years in office. . . 

Ardern’s game-changing intuition was that all these voters really wanted to hear were different words. Commitments, promises, studies, working-groups, projects: policies filled with good intentions and promoted with powerful displays of empathy. The number of voters eager to focus on the fiscal mechanisms required to pay for Labour’s kinder, gentler New Zealand were considerably fewer. . . 

Every successful conjurer, however, must have their very own Jonathan Creek. Somebody to design and build the equipment that turns the conjurer’s masterful misdirection into a reality that baffles and delights. Ardern’s misfortune is to preside over a coalition government decidedly lacking in Jonathan Creeks. Thanks to Clare Curran, Phil Twyford, Iain Lees-Galloway, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, too many people in the audience are being distracted from Ardern’s magic spiel. Some are even beginning to work out how the tricks are done.

This is not how the story is supposed to end. Not with people wondering whether the Prime Minister’s promises are ultimately achievable.

It’s not that “Jacinda” has become less likeable. . .  It’s just that Ardern’s “Magic Politics”, as with all kinds of fiction, is absolutely dependent on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.

If (or should that be ‘as’) people discover that fighting climate change and ending child poverty will require the imposition of real and rising taxes, then Ardern’s illusions will begin to fade. The voters will start noticing the strings attached to her magical promises.

And the spell will be broken.

She’s very good with words, especially those that touch emotions, but it’s only words and empty words at that.

Change and progress require more than empty phrases. They require decisions and actions.

The government is nearly half way through it’s term and what has it done to make a positive and sustainable difference to New Zealand?

This government, and it’s leader have over-promised and failed to deliver.


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