Mediocre media management not for media to mind

25/06/2009

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 . . .

16/05/2009

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?

28/01/2009

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

14/10/2008

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

15/07/2008

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

15/07/2008

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

04/07/2008

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.


Politicising the Apolitical

03/07/2008

Some policy areas are supposed to be kept clear of party politics.

Labour trampled all over the convention that consitutional matters were in that category with the Electoral Finance Act. Now they look set to do it again with monetary policy. 

The Government is signalling a change in the way the Reserve Bank fights inflation in what could mark the first major shift away from the bank’s focus on interest rates as its sole weapon.

 It is understood the Government has decided to give up on seeking consensus with National over possible changes and will go it alone.

That could see it campaigning on changes to the policy targets agreement between the finance minister and the governor of the bank – or even changes as radical as amendments to the Reserve Bank Act itself.

I am concerned because Labour: 

          * is abandoning a bi-partisan approach to monetary policy;

           * has not learned from the EFA debacle that they should not play politics with matters which need to have at least bipartisan and preferably cross-party support.

           * has made no effort to cut back their own profligate spending of taxpayers’ money which has made  a significant contribution to inflation.

           * is prepared to put short term politics before the long term interest of the country by abandoning the fight against inflation.

Inflation is theft which hits the poorest hardest.

There may be better ways to fight it than interest rates – but that should be determined by cross-party concensus not by petty party politics in a desperate bid to turn the polls around.

The Visible Hand In Ecnomics is troubled by this and is calling for submissions on it.

Hat Tip: Adam Smith


Govt Buys Rail – Road User Charges Rise

02/07/2008

Is it just a conincidence that road user charges  went up on the day the Government is congratulating itself on buying back the railways and putting Jim Bolger, the man who presided over the “failed policies of the 90s” in charge of it?

Trucking companies are furious after the increase was announced on Monday night and came into effect yesterday.

Road Transport Forum New Zealand chief executive Tony Friedlander said the group, which represents about 80% of the country’s commercial road transport operators, last year sought assurances from Transport Minister Annette King that operators would be notified of increased charges.

The forum received written confirmation members would be informed of changes.

“It is not just the increase. It’s that it came without notice having received assurances. On top of the highest fuel prices in history, increases to the accident compensation levy and wage interest costs, it will do extreme damage to industry.

“Members have said they will have to pass costs as soon as they can.

Producers, processors and consumers are already suffering from steep rises in fuel prices. The increased tax on diesel powered vheicles and others weighing more than 3.5 tonnes  increases the cost of business and living.

The increase was announced in a statement posted on the Government’s website on Monday night. No media statements were issued.

“The timing of this increase and the way it has been done mean the minister could not have done more damage to our industry if she had deliberately tried,” Mr Friedlander said.

“She should not underestimate how angry our members and the industry are.”

Mr Friedlander said the increase would inevitably mean higher costs for businesses and higher prices in supermarkets.

However, Ms King said the impact would be “relatively insignificant” and she did not expect any noticeable effect on consumer prices.

Is Labour trying to self-destruct or are Ministers so out of touch they don’t understand the financial strain businesses and households are facing? When your budget is already overstretched you notice every cent.

Ms King said the increases were introduced to defray costs of the national land transport programme. Under the programme, $2.7 billion was allocated for transport activities in 2008-09. This included about $791 million for state highway construction, $325 million for passenger transport services and infrastructure and $273 million for road policing.

“Without all road users paying their fair share, this level of investment cannot continue to be sustained,” she said.

Does any of that passenger transport component include the trains and ferries her Government just bought? Does it matter that in the provinces we don’t have passenger trains and only cities have buses?

Charges for a 44-tonne truck and trailer unit which travelled 100,000km a year would increase to about $56,000, about $4000 more for operators, Mr Friedlander said.

Road user charges for transport operators in New Zealand were already 200% higher than those paid by Australian businesses using comparable trucks, he said.

Another day, another tax increase, another reason why living or doing business in Australia becomes more attractive.

Bus and Coach Association chief executive Raewyn Bleakley said members were “shocked and angry”. The “highest level of feedback” about the charges had been from tourism operators, she said. “Tourist operators negotiate rates for services months in advance, and this increase will leave them screaming. This will be noticeable in places like Queenstown.”

You can’t take a train or ferry to Queenstown. But this wouldn’t have anything at all to do with the fact that the Government spent $690m buying the railways, would it?

[Update: have just found a comment on Keeping Stock from getstaffed raising this issue]


Still No Crisis?

01/07/2008

Hawea people are losing patience  with the Government’s refusal to admit there’s a power crisis.

The Government must bite the bullet and tell the nation to make a 10% savings on power or endure public shame if it is not achieved, the Lake Hawea Community Association chairman Errol Carr says.

Lake Hawea residents are on high alert as Contact Energy begins this week to draw down Lake Hawea to the emergency level of 336m for the first time in 20 years.

Mr Carr said the lake level was stable at about 338.1, but a public demonstration was likely if residents’ concerns about low lake levels and environmental damage were not heeded.

“If told, I think the South Island would buckle in and do what they can. The Government is saying there is no crisis, but why are we going to emergency generation?”

Because it’s election year and Labour doesn’t want power cuts.

Lower South Island residents have saved the lowest percentage of electricity, recording 3.2%, according to Transpower statistics.

Upper South Island residents have saved the highest percentage nationally, at 4.1%, and the national average savings is 3.6%.

I don’t know how much power is the difference between 3.2%, 3.6% and 4.1%, nor why the Upper South Island beats the national average. – But it’s easy to explain why savings are lower in the lower south: it’s winter, and the further south you go the colder you get. Here,  around the 45th paraellel, yesterday’s frost still hasn’t thawed from shady places and it’s only .5 degrees outside right now.

Mr Carr said while he did not want older people and those with limited heating sources to suffer, the national average was “pretty mediocre” and there was a lot more that could be done.

He attributed the Government’s reluctance to take leadership to a desire to avoid bad news during an election year.

“We would like to see the Government telling the country there is a problem,” Mr Carr said.

And I’d like to see the Government explaining to the country why there is a problem.


If there’s no power crisis…

29/06/2008

… why is Lake Hawea  going to be taken below its minimum level to generate more electricity?

Contact Energy will lower Lake Hawea below its statutorily imposed minimum level of 338m above sea level in the next few days, and says it will use the extra water very carefully.

But that was questioned yesterday by the chairman of Lake Hawea Guardians, who said Hawea and its surrounds would suffer for years if the lake falls to 336m.

The company does have resource consent to take the extra two metres – but only when it’s in the national interest to have reserve capacity. Hawea locals are questioning how this condition can be met if there isn’t a crisis.

Guardians of Lake Hawea chairman Grant Fyfe called on the Government to acknowledge that New Zealand faced a power crisis and to take steps to protect the lake. He said an extra 2m would provide only 20 more days of draw-off.

The guardians vehemently opposed any reduction below 338m, he said.

“Hawea is going to suffer the consequences for months or years to come from having a lower lake, but the country as a whole isn’t making any sacrifice.”

Mr Fyfe said minimum operating levels were introduced in the 1970s when the lake fell to 327m, exposing river deltas and causing constant dust storms that carried as far as Ranfurly.

This wasn’t good for the environment or the people in the area. Nor for stock and the dust lowered the quality of wool on sheep which grazed near the lake.

Energy Minister David Parker said the situation at Lake Hawea was a reminder that the environmental consequences of electricity production were borne mostly by people in small, distant communities, rather than in cities.

We know that – but why is Lake Hawea being sacrificed with the consequent detrimental effect on the environment, people and stock, if there isn’t a crisis?


We’re Wearing Their Wool Here

18/06/2008

The New Zealand Merino Company is having to source wool from Australia to fill contracts because tenure review has reduced the number of sheep able to be run in the high country.

It is ironic that tenure review forces farmers to farm more intensively, sometimes with irrigation, and then they are criticised because of the change this has on the landscape.

If the Government wasn’t forcing farmers to relinquish so much of the tussock land requried for summer grazing there would be less need for intensification.

 


Increase for Doc weed & pest control

13/06/2008

The Government’s decision to boost spending on weed and pest control on public land is welcome, if overdue.

The extra $5.3m promised sounds good but it’s over four years and I don’t know if that’s enough. Neighbours of Doc land (and we are) have long compalined about the poor level of weed and pest control and the complaints have got louder as tenure review has increased the amount of land under Doc control.

Figures released last year show Doc manages 6.5 million ha, or 42%, of the South Island land mass, and two million ha of the North Island, or 17%.

Overall, 31% of New Zealand is managed by Doc, an estate that was growing. Linz figures released last week reveal Doc had gained an extra 178,000ha of the South Island high country to manage as a result of tenure review of Crown pastoral lease land, or 48% of land that has gone through the process.

The argument over whether Doc would be better concentrating on current responsbilities rather than stretching shrinking resources – staff and capital – over more land is continuing.


Yes, Yes, Yes, No Crisis

11/06/2008

Is this the Clayton’s crisis – the one we have when we’re not having one?

 

Energy Minister David Parker  says we’re not having one:

 But Transpower CE Patrick Strange  says there is.

We as an industry are very concerned. We are risk averse, so things concern us….it is serious when we call on New Zealanders to be prudent with their [power] use. For the electricity industry, we call that serious.”

 

At a meet the candidates meeting when he was first seeking election in Otago in 2002 Parker said one of the reasons he was standing for Labour was because of Max Bradford’s power reforms.

 

When questioned at another meeting when he was an MP about why he hadn’t done anything to change the system he was so opposed to he said something to the effect that once something was entrenched it was too hard to change.

 

 He has a point there, sometimes when a policy is embedded it is difficult – for practical or political reasons – to do much about it and it becomes one of those dead rats MPs and their parties have to swallow. That is the reasoning National is giving for agreeing to continue with interest-free student loans – there would be no real practical impediment to changing the policy but it would do too much harm politically to even contemplate it.

 

 The power system is different – it was a very unpopular policy when it was introduced and if anything it’s even more unpopular now.

 

 The idea of competition might offer consumers choice in theory, but in practice it’s too much hassle to exercise that choice and change your energy supplier unless you’re really, really unhappy. Even there what do you gain when you get six from one and half a dozen from the other?

 

 The other flaw is that the companies are businesses which need to make profits which they do by selling power. There is nothing wrong with profits and a profit motive but power companies make a profit more easily when demand is high because the price goes up so there is absolutely no incentive for them to encourage conservation or alternative generation. The more profit they make, the better the dividend the Government receives from its SOEs so its desire to avoid the political consequences of power shortages conflicts with its desire/need to receive more money.

 

 And let’s not forget there’s an election soon.

 

The Government is understood to be concerned that the elderly in particular may panic and try to conserve power at the expense of their health. It also does not want to be responsible for telling voters in an election year that they must cut their consumption.

Parker yesterday denied downplaying the situation, saying the Government had been “absolutely transparent” about the hydro-lake levels.

He admitted politics did play a part. “I suppose politics is involved in everything in an election year.”

[Update: Truthseekernz opines that the marekt model isn’t working and points to energy consultant Bryan Leyland saying the market system has cost consumers $7b over 10 years.

 

And Keeping Stock comments on the irony of power companies campaigning for power savings.]


School boycott

10/06/2008

Fifteen North Shore Schools are boycotting the Government’s  School Plus initiative until their dire funding situation is recognised.

In an open letter to Education Minister Chris Carter, the principals detailed Government innovations they claimed were not fully funded and had increased pressure on already-stretched finances.

The list of 21 included pandemic planning, maintaining electronic student management systems and running the healthy lifestyle programme Mission On.

We respectfully suggest you provide for the current demands before introducing new and more underfunded priorities,” the principals wrote. They said more and more schools nationally were operating budget deficits.

“We are deeply concerned about the future of New Zealand’s schools,” the principals’ letter read. “We do not concur with your statements that current funding is enough to provide a quality basic education.”

There are two issues here: the underfunding of schools and the School Plus policy.

Last week a former Balclutha principal  was charged last week with tampering with roll figures so her school received more funding. Her actions can’t be condoned but they do show the financial pressure schools are facing.

As for School Plus, it would be better to put more money into helping much earlier with the basics so that those who choose to leave school at 16 or 17 are equipped for work and life rather than keeping unwilling pupils in the classroom for an other year or two.

Some kids don’t fit in at school, are not ready for training but would be happy in work so National’s Youth Guarantee  with its carrot and stick approach  – to fund 16 & 17 year olds in approved institutuions but not allow them access to the dole – is better. It supports them in school or training or allows them to work but doesn’t pay them to do nothing.

On farms we sometimes have young people who hated school and don’t want any formal training do well when they start work. When they get over their anti-school feelings and realise there are benefits from training they’re happy to enrol in AG ITO courses, but forcing them to do that training straight from school wouldn’t work.


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