Why so glum?

August 8, 2019

The quarterly unemployment rate is down to 3.9%; and the official cash rate is at an historic low of 1%.

Yesterday’s GlobalDairyTrade was down 2.6%, the fifth drop in the last six auctions but no-one’s suggesting the milk payout will be lower than $6.

Horticulture and wine are getting healthy returns, arable incomes are reasonable, wool is dismal but the outlook for sheep meat and beef is positive.

But Business confidence is down to -44.3% :

. . .That was the worst reading since August last year, when the index was at -50.3. Employment intentions slumped (-5.5 vs 0) as firms sought to cut jobs, capacity utilization weakened to its lowest since 2009 (0.4 vs 5.3), and activity outlook (5.0 vs 8.0) and export expectations (1.4 vs 5.3) deteriorated. In addition, profit expectations fell further(-16.3 vs -12.5), while investment intentions turned to negative (-0.3 vs 2.5). . . 

And consumer confidence is also gloomy:

The Westpac-McDermott Miller consumer confidence index in New Zealand fell to 103.5 in the second quarter of 2019 from 103.5 in the previous period. Households became increasingly worried about conditions in the global economy over the next five years (-3.5 points to 11.9); and the number of households who think now is a good time to purchase a major item has fallen to a two-year low (-5.5 points to 17.9).  . . 

Why are we so glum?

Today’s historic cut to the Official Cash Rate down to just one per cent sounds a dramatic warning that the New Zealand economy is slowing and the Government needs to get serious about growth, National’s Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The Reserve Bank’s cut came with the message, ‘Indicators of growth remained weak or weakened further over the past few months’.

“The only time in the history of the OCR there has been a cut of this magnitude have been after the 9/11 terrorist attack, during the Global Financial Crisis, and after the Christchurch earthquake.

“Of greatest concern is the absence of any clear growth plan from this Government.

“Budget 2019 was devoted almost exclusively to spreading national wealth, with very few policies to grow the economy. The most expensive Budget commitment to transform the economy was a $1 billion subsidy for rail. There was little else.

“Instead of ramping up infrastructure investment, the Government has stopped or postponed a dozen roading projects which were ready to get underway, and replaced them with projects that aren’t ready to go, and won’t be for a lot time yet’.

“We need to move beyond policies that add costs to the business and drive down business confidence.

“National would revive the economy by having a plan for growth which would see confidence bounce back and the economy gain the strength it’s lost under this Government.”

There is no doubt what the government is doing and not doing are a large part of the problem.

In spite of at least reasonable returns for almost all primary products farmers feel under-siege with very real concerns about the costs and restrictions the government will impose on them.

Other businesses have similar worries, not helped by the latest confidence-sapping message sent by the Prime Minister’s ordering Fletchers to not build anything until the Ihumātao dispute is settled.

Then there’s the on-going argument over the letter Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter is refusing to release and the questions that raises over the part she played in delaying Wellington transport plans.

Concerns over this aren’t helped by claims from Wellington City Councilors that the Green Party confidence and supply agreement would have been put in jeopardy if a watered down Let’s Get Wellington Moving wasn’t accepted.

All of this points to government instability and is compounded by Winston Peters’ latest game playing over requiring a referendum on changes to abortion law.

When interest rates were already so low, it is unlikely the larger than expected drop in the OCR will have much impact on the productive economy when there are so many reasons pointing to the need for caution.

And while low interest rates help borrowers they punish savers.

All in all there is little to give anyone confidence anything is going to get better soon and plenty of reasons to doubt the government has the plans and policies to help.

And now the Reserve Bank has dropped the OCR, it raises the question of what happens when, as is likely, economic conditions get worse.


Stardust dulls in sunlight

August 7, 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.


Police complaint over Ardern’s interference

July 30, 2019

A senior member of Te Kawerau a Maki, David Rankin, plans to lay a complaint with the Police this week over Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s interference in the current land dispute at Ihumatao.

The complaint will allege that the Prime Minister used her position to interfere in a legal transaction and as a consequence, will deprive the iwi of dozens of homes which Fletchers has contracted to provide to the mana whenua of Ihumatao.

“I don’t take this action lightly,” says Mr Rankin, “but the Prime Minister has directly interfered in a legally valid arrangement, and at great cost to the iwi. First, she destroyed kiwi-build, and now she is destroying iwi-build. Fletchers have agreed to provide 40 houses to our people, which is exactly 40 more houses than the Labour Government has managed to provide to us.”

Gerry Brownlee quipped at the National Party conference that Kiwibuild was aptly named because it can’t fly.

Now Ardern has grounded iwi-build.

Mr Rankin admits that the complaint to Police will make him unpopular, but he says that there is a bigger issue at stake. “Ms Ardern has breached the kawa of our hapu, and her actions will leave some of our old people without houses. This is intolerable, and also breaches the law.”

Whether or not it’s a matter for police, it threatens the whole Treaty process, as Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare pointed out:

. . .But I want to be very clear and put a word of caution here. If the government steps in to buy this land back, we undermine every treaty settlement that’s been done to date. We then allow re-litigation of settlements that have been done in the past, and are we prepared for that? . . .

For many of the protesters the issue is bigger than Ihumatao. 

The PM’s interference has made it even bigger.

She has given way to protesters in what is a fraught family disagreement.

In doing so she has trampled over Fletcher Building’s property rights and an agreement between he company and Mana Whenua, and is delaying the building of much-needed houses.

She has also sent a message to businesses that they can’t rely on the government to back them, even though the law is on their side.


Open and transparent

July 30, 2019

Is this how you do the  open and transparent government you promised?:

Jacinda Ardern has personally tried to prevent media from asking about the Ihumātao dispute while on a charm offensive in the Pacific.

Her staff threatened journalists with restricted access to the PM if they did, forcing her Beehive team to intervene from Wellington. 

After crisis calls from the capital, media were allowed a second shot.  . . 

In the video at the link Tova O’Brien calls it an appalling move by the PM and says (2:40):

. . .A Prime Minister should be able to answer questions without an army of officials feeding them lines and it really plays into the narrative from her critics, from National that she’s this kind of celebrity-style politician more interested in garnering positive international headlines than dealing with the substance at home. . .

Openness and transparency join the growing list of government fails.


Property rights crisis

July 27, 2019

Yesterday morning Labour Maori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson said government would find itself in serious trouble if it started disregarding iwi mandates when it came to Māori land:

Mr Jackson said he sympathised with those on the frontline, but the government had to respect the settlement. . . 

Mr Jackson said he understood that some felt ripped off, but warned that siding with anyone other than those with the mandate was a dangerous path.

“The day we walk away from mana whenua is the day we might find ourselves in real trouble. Right now we’re committed to supporting to what they’ve signed up for – as hard as that might be,” he said. . . 

Mr Jackson said there were people on the frontline who felt a strong sense of injustice but when those who have rights over land make a decision – like the deal done with Fletcher – the government had to support that.

“We understand the hurt but sometimes people, particularly our mana whenua, have got the right to make these decisions and we’re not going to say you’re wrong and get out of there. I know others are doing that but we wouldn’t be so bold or so arrogant,” he said. . .

Just a few hours later the Prime Minister was, by that definition being bold and arrogant:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed that no building will take place at Ihumātao while the government and other parties try to broker a solution. . . 

“We have heard, here, the strong voice of young people,” Ms Ardern said.

“At the same time we hear the perspective of mana whenua.

She said the government had to address that there had been an escalation and that’s why the call was made to hold off on building work.

“That activity cannot take place while there is such a large gathering there. . .

Not only is this putting the angst of protesters ahead of what mana whenua have agreed with Fletchers,  it’s a u-turn on her previous position:

Earlier this week, Ms Ardern said the government would not intervene in the issue.

“Ultimately we are falling on the side of the local iwi [who support the housing development] and their position. They are not the ones leading the protest here and so if we come in over the top, it really would be undermining the local iwi in this case,” she said on Wednesday.

By last night the show of force by protesters appears to have persuaded her to not only undermine the local iwi, but to trample all over Fletcher’s property rights.

It is also poking its nose into what is essentially a family dispute.

This was a point made by former Labour MP and  former Minister of Māori Affairs Samuel Dovers Dover Samuels who called Magic Afternoons with Sean Plunket with a stark message to politicians and media regarding Ihumātao: Stay out.

He told Sean that this is an internal matter for the family to figure out for themselves. Interference form the media and politicians has fanned the flames of this dispute, he says, “I just can’t see the involvement of any politician as being helpful.”

(Click the link above if you want to listen to the full interview).

RNZ explains the history and why Ihumātao is being occupied by protestors.

It is complex but:

. . .Earlier this year, Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority & Settlement Trust, who support the housing development, put out a statement saying:

“This piece of land within the development area will be the first time since the land confiscations of 1863 that land will be returned to mana whenua. The agreement to have this land returned to mana whenua was negotiated between Fletchers, Makaurau Marae Māori Trust and Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority. Auckland City Council was consulted during this process.”

Fletcher’s have committed to returning 25 percent (eight hectares) of the land they own to the Kiingitanga.

“Returning the land is a first for a corporate like Fletcher Building,” said Fletcher Building Residential chief executive Steve Evans.

This isn’t a Māori versus Fletcher issue – on both sides are members of the same iwi, hapū and whānau. . . 

If the issue is complex, the underlying principle is not.  Everyone, not least the government, should be respecting property rights.

This point was made by Act leader David Seymour:

. . Jacinda Ardern has legitimised unlawful behaviour by capitulating to an illegal occupation as her opening move.”

“The PM has cultivated a brand of a kinder, more inclusive politics, but some things such as occupying private property are always wrong. She has just sent the message: ‘if you occupy private property, the Government will take your side instead of protecting property rights.'”

“It appears that the Prime Minister has prevented the legal owners of land from carrying out a consented development, and offered the protesters a seat at the table.  . .

Maori property rights were ignored when the land was originally taken. Redress for that was made under a Treaty settlement.

Fletcher Building has gone beyond what is legally required in returning  25 percent of its land to the iwi. It will be building nearly 400 much-needed houses on the rest, some of which will be sold to members of the iwi.

That some think this is not good enough is no justification for the government to interfere and, in doing so, undermine Fletcher’s property rights.

Private property has, for very good reasons, been exempt from Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

Government giving way to protestors like this sets a very, very dangerous precedent that is in danger of precipitating a property rights crisis.


A tale of two caucuses

June 26, 2019

National leader Simon Bridges announced a minor reshuffle of portfolios yesterday:

“Paul Goldsmith will become the spokesperson for Finance and Infrastructure following today’s announcement from Amy Adams that she will leave at the next election.

“Paul is the natural choice for the Finance role. He has done an outstanding job holding the Government to account in the Economic and Regional Development portfolio.

Shane Jones will be very happy with this change, though he shouldn’t relax, the two taking over Paul’s portfolios will be just as effective at holding the Minister to account.

“Regional and Economic Development will now be split across two spokespeople. Todd McClay will look after Economic Development, while Chris Bishop will take over the Regional Development and Transport portfolios.

“Chris has done a brilliant job as spokesperson for Police and deserves to take on more responsibility.

“Jo Hayes has been appointed the spokesperson for Māori Development and Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations following the departure of Nuk Korako. Jo is a passionate advocate for Māori.

“Gerry Brownlee will pick up the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Brett Hudson will take on the Police portfolio and Tim Macindoe will become the Shadow Attorney-General.

“Other changes include Michael Woodhouse as the Associate Finance spokesperson, Maggie Barry taking over the Disability Issues portfolio, Stuart Smith will be the spokesperson for Immigration, Todd Muller will be the spokesperson for Forestry, Nicola Willis will take on the Youth portfolio and our newest MP Paulo Garcia will become the Associate Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank both Amy Adams and Alastair Scott for their valuable contributions to the National Party and Parliament. Amy was a brilliant Minister across a range of portfolios. The changes she made to domestic violence laws as Justice Minister have made families in New Zealand safer. Amy has excelled as our Finance spokesperson and has been an outstanding member for Selwyn.

“Alastair should be proud of the work he has done to prevent drug driving, and for the way he has represented and advocated for the people of Wairarapa. I’m pleased they will be here for the rest of the term to help us form policies for the 2020 election.

“National is the largest and most effective Opposition this country has ever seen. I’m proud to lead such a talented and hardworking team.” 

There are no surprises there and there will probably be none in tomorrow’s reshuffle of Cabinet but there is a major difference between the two caucuses – there’s plenty of talent in National’s with many MPs capable of becoming Ministers.

By contrast Labour’s is a shallow pool and, as Barry Soper noted:

. . .The reshuffle will be minor because most of those who should be in Cabinet are already there. And the amount of time Ardern’s taken getting around to shuffling the chairs just goes to show how hard leadership is for a person who clearly finds it hard to be hard. . . 

Ardern doesn’t have much to choose from and, if past form is a guide, will be reluctant to demote the poorest performers.


Rural round-up

May 1, 2019

Gas tax won’t cut farming emissions – Neal Wallace:

A capital gains tax is off the agenda but farming leaders are warning the imposition a suite of new taxes and regulations is pending.

In addition to farmers paying a greenhouse gas emissions tax of $50 million a year the Government is expected to impose tougher regulations on freshwater quality, aerial cropping, winter grazing and feedlots.

“When you look at everything else coming down the pipeline, if I was asked to pick one we were prepared to lose it would be this one, the one we have won,” Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said of the capital gains tax.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also ruled out water and fertiliser taxes as suggested by the Tax Working Group. . .

Top dairy title revealed tonight – Yvonne O’Hara:

Dairy farmer Emma Hammond, of East Limehills, felt honoured when she was nominated for this year’s prestigious Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award.

The only South Island-based finalist, she and the other three women will hear if they are winners during a dinner this evening at the Allflex Dairy Women’s Network’s conference in Christchurch.

”For us to be recognised for what we do and get that acknowledgement is humbling,” Mrs Hammond said. . .

Farm management whizz ‘well on track‘ – Sally Rae:

At 19, James Matheson set a goal of having $1 million equity by the time he was 30.

Now 26, the Gore farm manager is ”well on track” to achieve that, sitting at between $700,000 and $800,000.

It has been a meteoric rise for a young man who had never previously considered a career in the dairy industry.

Now he and farm owner Chris Lawlor were endeavouring to help other young people follow a similar path through an innovative initiative. . . 

Highlife on top of the world – Andrew Stewart:

Setting up a tourism venture on a farm not only provides a second income but also acts as a public relations exercise to help bridge the rural-urban divide. And when it includes luxury glamping and breathtaking views the visitors cannot fail to be impressed. Andrew Stewart took a look.

In terms of spectacular views, Angus and Sarah Gilbertson’s farm is up there with the best. 

Rising to 600 metres above sea level at the highest point, the panorama on a clear day encompasses all the mountain peaks of the central plateau, Mount Taranaki to the west and the clear blue waters of the Tasman Sea far to the south. 

Between these stunning landmarks are great swathes of some of the most productive farming country in New Zealand that connect the landscape in various shades of green. It’s the sort of view you can’t help but stop and enjoy and this is part of the reason the Gilbertsons created their glamping business five years ago. . . 

The 10 biggest stories in farming over the past 25 years – Jamie Mackay:

My final chat on Newstalk ZB with the laconic Larry Williams was a great excuse to take a trip down memory lane.

Larry was stepping down after 27 years at the drive helm on ZB, while I was blowing out the candles on an accidental radio career spanning a quarter century in rural broadcasting.

For our penultimate ZB cross the week earlier I’d turned the tables on Larry and, without warning, asked him some unscripted questions. Much like his metronomic golf swing, he’s sometimes hard to get off script, but on this occasion he took up the challenge with good humour. . . 

Hunt on for ‘M.bovis’ study project manager – Sally Rae:

The search for an assistant research fellow to project manage a study on the impacts of Mycoplasma bovis on farmers and their communities has attracted a high level of interest.

In January, it was announced the University of Otago would undertake a study on the emotional, social and psychological impacts of the bacterial cattle disease on southern farmers and farming communities.

The two-year study, due to start this month, will look at the impact of the eradication programme on farmers specifically and the wider community more generally. . . 

Medicinal cannabis firm Pure Cann New Zealand gets $6 million investment– Rebecca Howard:

Pure Cann New Zealand, which counts former Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe as its executive chair, has secured $6 million from Australia’s Cann Group for a 20 per cent stake in the local medicinal cannabis company.

The investment will be made over stages with the initial 10 per cent to be completed on or before August 30 and a further 10 per cent when New Zealand regulations come into force and Pure Cann’s board approves the construction of its commercial cultivation facility.

The New Zealand government anticipates introducing new regulations, licensing requirements and quality standards governing medicinal cannabis usage by the end of this calendar year. . . 

 


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