Mediocre media management not for media to mind

June 25, 2009

Should the media mind if the government’s media management is mediocre?

Trans-Tasman doesn’t think so. In today’s issue (subscribe here) it says:

There’s been a lot of head shaking and tut tutting from the political commentariat about the Govt’s media management of late. . .  What is striking is how much of the commentary is basically saying the Govt – and John Key’s office in particular – is bad at spin.

It seems odd, to say the least, for journalists to write articles and broadcast lengthy pieces to camera saying the Govt is making a lousy job of manipulating journalists.

. . . we’re telling them how to even better use this machine to “spin” journalists and the wider public. Why?

More importantly, this growing trend of commentary serves the public very badly.  Firstly, because an analysis of Govt spin is pretty much irrelevant to most people.  But most importantly, the concern is the underlying attitude it betrays. Inherent in this kind of critique is a worship of power.  It basically says journalists will only write good things about you if you are good at “spin”, manipulation, and the general dark arts of power.

Which seems in itself a fairly major betrayal of what political journalism, is supposed to do, which is to expose such dark arts and hold politicians to account.

 I don’t think the government’s media management is bad. It’s just a change of style from that of the previous administration which micro-managed everything. This one tends to leave people to think for themselves.

But even if the media management wasn’t up to scratch, I agree with Trans-Tasman that that shouldn’t be the issue.

The media shouldn’t be complaining about the quality or otherwise of government, or any other, spin. It should be looking behind the spin for the facts and reporting on them.


Meanwhile back in the real world . . .

May 16, 2009

The oppposition is filibustering over two bills  to establish the Auckland supercity.

Down here on the right side of the Waitaki we might regard supercity as an oxymoron with or without Auckland attached, but that is a debate for another post.

The opposition is filibustering because that’s what they do when they know the government has the numbers and all they can do to pretend they’re not impotent, is to delay the inevitable. No doubt if the boot was on the other foot, at least some of those those complaining about the waste of time and money would be squandering it and defending it as a valid weapon in their democratic armoury.

Meanwhile back in the real world how many constituents have been at best inconvenienced  because the appointments made to see their MPs yesterday and today have had to be cancelled? How many functions at which MPs would have played an integral role will now have to go on without them?

All because their elected representatives aren’t working in their electorates as they normally do for a good part of the time from Friday to Monday inclusive. They’re stuck in Wellington, petending it’s still Thursday, while the farce which democracy becomes in such circumstances grinds slowly to its inevitable conclusion.

UPDATE: With a hat tip to Macdoctor I see that Tariana Turia walked out of the debating chamber  yesterday because while she opposes the bills she is unimpressed by Labour’s behaviour.

Mrs Turia said her party was strongly opposed to the legislation, but said Labour had taken it too far and was wasting taxpayers’ money and valuable constituency time.

“But for the first time ever, I walked out of the House totally disgusted with this behaviour, which Labour thought was very amusing.”

She understands the importance of constituency time and once again the Maori Party shows it’s more concerned about people, and shows Labour up for concentrating on politics.

This is why they lost the Maori seats, why there was a bluewash through the provincical seats and why they lost the election.

Politics might matter in Wellington but here in the real world they should come a very distant second to people.


What’s a view worth?

January 28, 2009

What is the value of a view and how much should you pay for it?

 

If you are a tramper or climber it is priceless and you pay little or nothing for it. If you are involved in tourism or film making it is worth a lot and what you pay for it depends on negotiation. If you want a scenic hideaway it is worth even more and the market generally ensures you pay what it’s worth to you when buying it. If, however, you are grazing sheep, cattle or deer on crown pastoral leasehold property it is not worth much.

 

That is not to say that farmers do not appreciate the often spectacular views on and from their properties, but the average pastoral lease allows a leaseholder to do nothing else but farm. While a grand vista might make advertising fodder it does not feed animals; and a sheep or cattle beast is going to be worth no more if it grazed in beautiful surroundings.

 

This was the reasoning which has governed rent reviews for pastoral leases. They are based on land exclusive of improvements and until now that has been taken to be the land as it was before it was settled.

 

We have a very good idea of exactly what that is because our pastoral leasehold property boundaries a large tract of reserve which is owned by the crown and administered by DOC. On our side of the fence is pasture, tussock and some bush. We spend a lot on weed and pest control and it shows. On the other side of the fence there is tussock and bush too but there is also scrub and lots of weeds.

 

We run about 10 stock units to the hectare on our farm; the DOC land would struggle to support one sheep or cattle beast in many hectares and that poor animal would be competing with the rabbits, possums, pigs and deer.

 

A crown pastoral lease precludes the lessee from realising any potential for subdivision for building purposes or any commercial or industrial use. The leases also have restrictive land use controls so lessees who wanted to do anything else on their property except graze it require permission from the commissioner of crown lands and the rent would increase to take account of any diversification.

 

This has been regarded as fair to both lessees and the crown since the Land Act of 1948. But the Labour Government believed that amenity values were part of the unimproved value and rents should reflect that.

 

There is no doubting the beauty of the high country but it is subjective. One set of eyes might delight in the uninterrupted view of tussock; another will see weeds between the golden clumps and recognise fire danger in uncontrolled growth.

 

Beauty also changes with the weather. We love our leasehold property but it is at the end of the aptly named Mount Misery Road and the beauty is difficult to appreciate in a howling blizzard or when you can’t see past your nose because of fog.

 

The idea that anyone should pay more to lease farm land because of the views from which they earn nothing at all is ludicrous.

 

But the previous Government changed the rules which forced some leaseholders to pay more than they can possibly generate from pastoral farming because their properties have views from which they get no financial return. Labour thought a view was worth more than a livelihood so a group of pastoral lessees has taken a test case on the issue to the Land Valuation Tribunal.

 

It’s the final day of the hearing today but the change of government may make the judgement academic anyway because National’s agriculture policy stated that it would ensure the sertting of high country rents was tied to earning capacity so runholders could maintain their properties at an acceptable level.


Never good time to be in opposition

October 14, 2008

Colin James thinks the next term is not going to be a good time to be in government.

It will be a difficult time to be in government.

But there is never a good time to be in opposition.


Research centre funded but research misses out

July 15, 2008

The mullit-million dollar animal reproduction facility at Invermay isn’t even open yet and already there are questions over it’s long-term future because its application for $18m of public science funding failed.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Andy West said the Government was sending mixed messages. On the one hand, it had approved $17 million for the new animal reproduction and genetics building at the North Taieri Invermay campus, but the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) yesterday declined to fund the science.

The centre would open in December and its future was secure for the next three years.

But unless AgResearch was able to find more than $3.5 million a year after that, Dr West said he would have to look overseas for animal reproduction contracts”Overall, it’s not particularly good news for Invermay,” he said.

It does seem more than a little wasteful to build a research centre then not fund the research.

The FRST manager of investment strategy, Richard Templer, said in a statement AgResearch’s position was affected by “wider issues in the meat and wool sector”.

Of the 96 contested contracts awarded, AgResearch secured 14, worth a total of $67 million, including $7.5 million over three years for animal reproduction.

“While this might not have been all the funding AgResearch sought for it, it is the nature of a contestable process that not all proposals will get all the funding sought.”

When funds are limited there has to be an application process and not all applicactions will succeed. But Scientists often complain they spend more time and energy applying for funding than actually doing research.

Invermay’s new $17 million complex will house 49 people in a joint AgResearch-University of Otago genetics and animal reproduction team.

Nine of those relocated south from the Wallaceville campus, near Wellington.

Dr West said AgResearch had 45% of its contracts up for renewal in FRST’s latest round, but had funding cut by $18 million, a decision he accepted as “part of life”.

But, he said, there were mixed messages from the Government, which strengthened his view science funding was flawed.

“There is something seriously wrong with science funding when you can get sign-off from the Government for $17 million in funding to construct a new building, then the Government questions whether reproduction research is a priority.”

AgResearch has also had a cut to its textiles research, affecting a $21 million investment in a Lincoln textiles company, Canesis.

The loss of $1 million a year meant AgResearch would now look overseas for wool research contracts in a bid to retain staff, effectively helping competing wool producers.

“There is only one future for textiles and that is we have to look for work from overseas industry or overseas governments. Either that or we make everyone redundant and close it down.”

Canesis was about to launch eight new woollen fabrics at New Zealand Fashion Week, including a lightweight, stab-resistant material, another that was heat resistant, and an environmentally friendly outdoor jacket fabric.

They sound like exactly the sort of thing we should be getting in to.

Dr West said the loss of funding raised serious concerns for the sheep industry, which relied on viable lamb and wool industries to compete with dairying.

“Without wool, we can’t make the numbers work for sheep to compete with dairying on our flat land.”

Farmers have been blaming low returns on the price they’re paid for meat, but prices for wool and pelts have also been depressed which makes dairying more attractive by comparison.

Dr West hoped to secure transitional funding so scientists could switch research projects. But he warned it could be hard to retain scientists, especially with AgResearch’s Irish equivalent actively recruiting 60 pastoral scientists.

Science, Research and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson said FRST was independent of the Government and he had no influence on its funding decisions.

FRST had 17% more money to allocate this year, including a large increase in the primary sector, and it was still to announce contested and transitional funding.

Has everyone forgotten the knowledge economy or isn’t agriculture part of it?


Higher Salaries Commission model for health workers

July 15, 2008

Health professionals’ salaries could be set by a body like the Higher Salaries Commission  Professor Donald Evans, the director of Otago Bioethics Centre, says.

He was commenting on recent coverage of two complaints investigated by the health and disability commissioner Ron Paterson relating to treatment of two Dunedin hospital patients during the medical radiologists strikes in 2006.

Mr Paterson said one of the cases highlighted the incontrovertible fact patient safety was jeopardised during strikes by health professionals and he called for the Health Minister to consider what could be done to ensure better patient protection during strikes.

Prof Evans said while health professionals ensured strikes were organised so few people suffered ill effects and said patients were not harmed, that was not always the perspective of the patients.

“If I’m diagnosed with cancer and I need imaging to be treated, I regard even a day’s delay as a disaster.”

Taking the confrontation out of wage rounds by putting the decision-making in the hands of a salary awarding body would protect professionals’ integrity, he said.

A very good point, health professionals should not be faced with a conflict between their duty of care and industrial action.

He did not expect this would be favoured by the Government, however, because it would mean paying people what they were worth.

Paying people what they’re worth – that would be a scarey thought for a Finance Minister.

Politicians were sheltered from the sort of confrontation health workers faced over wages, Prof Evans said.

He’s right and there’s a strong case for health professionals to have the same protection.

A call last week from Otago District Health Board chief medical officer Richard Bunton to ban strikes by health workers has been described as unnecessary by the Public Service Association, which says systems are in place to protect patients during industrial action.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff drew attention to the extensions in the life preserving service (LPS) arrangements during strikes since 2006 which now covered crisis intervention, therapeutic services and urgent diagnostic procedures in situations that could lead to permanent disability.

Mr Paterson was aware of extensions to the LPS provisions when he made his call for better protection as reference to them is made in footnotes in one of his complaints reports.

Unions Otago convener and New Zealand Nurses Organisation national industrial adviser Glenda Alexander said if people were paid what they were worth and there were balanced processes for getting a mutually satisfactory outcome then there might not be a need to strike, but that was not what happened.

She was in favour of the more positive interests- and issues-based approach used by the nurses union to negotiate its last collective agreement.

A change which protects workers’ rights and patient safety is needed, as is the political will to implement it.


Roadside Poll: People 1 – Labour 0

July 4, 2008

In her speech to a journalism conference  last year Helen Clark talked about seminal events.

Today’s truckers’ protest will be one in the life, or perhaps that should be death, of this Government.

Its significance is not in the protest itself, but in the widespread support for it by the general public.

The people watching and cheering provided a roadside poll which is saying loud and clear that they are mad and they’ll use the election to get even.


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