If this is the new normal . . .

August 19, 2020

Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern wants the politics taken out of the Covid-19 response:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for politics to be taken out of the Government’s COVID-19 response as Opposition leader Judith Collins grilled her on the lack of testing of border workers.

The Prime Minister acknowledged in Parliament on Tuesday that the Opposition has contributed to constructive criticism of the Government’s response, paying tribute to National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

“I have to concede that in my view that at these times I absolutely expect as a Government we should be held to account. That is why we are here,” Ardern said.  . .

That criticism has included valid questions over shortcomings which have put Auckland in level 3 lockdown and the rest of the country at level 2.

But the Prime Minister hit out at the Opposition over criticism of the Government’s testing regime and previous calls to ease lockdown restrictions.

When the testing regime hasn’t even met the government’s own expectations it is absolutely in order for the Opposition to question it. It is also valid to ask for an easing of lockdown restrictions so that exceptions are based on what can be done safely rather than the arbitrary definition of what’s essential.

“There are areas where I think it would be useful if we took the politics out of the response.”

That might have more sway had she not declared this will be a Covid election which put politics firmly into anything to do with the response.

“We have always prepared for this scenario because no one has managed to get themselves to a situation where they haven’t experienced a second wave – no one.”

If not testing all frontline workers, having so few testing stations people have to queue for hours, and forcing essential workers to queue for hours to get out of Auckland is being prepared they need to seriously reassess what is adequate preparation.

Even if she hadn’t said it was a Covid election and that they were prepared, the Opposition should be questioning the Government’s handling of the response which, as Kate Hawkesby points out has shown a marked lack of competence:

If we’re weighing up competence, what’s our most recent example of it? The border. The testing, the lack of testing, the failure to check things are being done that they say are being done.

That sheets back to the lack of commercial and private business experience in this Government. It is not used to the measures, checks and balances that a robust business in the private sector would have in place. It is not used to demanding higher standards, or running things efficiently.

Health Minister Chris HIpkins has followed his predecessor’s example of blaming the DG of Health.

Hipkins may have some grounds for that but not sufficient to excuse his own failure to check that what the government had requested to happen was happening, especially when there had been similar failings so recently.

If, as the government has told us, this is the new normal, they need to urgently address their preparation for, and ability to cope with, it and to accept that the Opposition’s criticism, political or not, is valid.


Leadership failure fosters fear

August 7, 2020

Why have we become a nation of scaredy cats?

Most Kiwis want New Zealand’s borders to stay shut to non-residents, despite high-powered calls to soften restrictions to ease economic pain.

That’s according to the NZ Herald-Kantar Vote 2020 poll, suggesting 68 per cent of people think our border policy should be kept as is.

About 29 per cent thought the ban could be relaxed to allow in non-New Zealand residents and citizens, so long as they quarantined for two weeks and paid for it. . . 

People weren’t  asked if they favoured laxer border controls or imposing more costs on the taxpayer for non- New Zealand citizens and residents.

They were asked if foreigners could come in if they underwent two weeks quarantine and paid for it and more than two thirds said no.

Had the poll asked if people wanted less stringent border controls and more costs for the taxpayer I’d have been surprised if anyone said yes.

But what’s the problem with letting in people who aren’t citizens or residents providing they are quarantined at their own cost?

Why would so many people be frightened of that?

Kate Hawkesby has the answer:

. . . Labour has seen what Covid has done for them, and they’re running with it.

Forget policy, forget issues, forget future plans, as long as they can keep reminding us to wash our hands, it keeps us in a state of fear. It keeps people on the back foot and it yields a sense of gratitude. It makes an inexperienced disorganised government look like saviours. We focus less on what they haven’t done, and how many ill conceived bills they’re rushing through, and more on the fact the international press said Ardern is eloquent. Are we really that shallow?  

And is anyone questioning why new Covid advertising is coming out now? After months of Level 1, we need to start some more advertising on how to wash your hands, now? Aside from what that must be costing us the taxpayer in advertising, isn’t it essentially politically motivated? What worked well for us – Covid. What should we do in the lead up to the election? Policy messaging? Nope, more Covid. . . 

Labour wants us in a state of fear and is stoking it in what must be the most cynical election strategy it could come up with.

Even former Prime Minister Helen Clark says there’s no reason not to open to border door a little more providing it’s done safely:

The current border arrangements would need to change, soon, to help the city and country’s economic fortunes.

“Even with a two week quarantine, there is so much more we can do. It will need major private sector partnerships to gear up the quarantine system.

“There’s no reason in principle why the [international] students could not come back with effective quarantine. There’s no reason in principle why tourists who are prepared to pay for two weeks’ quarantine can’t come back, there’s no reason in principle why you can’t have Covid-free travel channels with others, or that working holiday makers couldn’t come back if they are prepared to pay for quarantine … certainly the skilled workers, the global visa people who could drive the economy.

“If, post-election, the thinking can go to how to try to remove this chokepoint which is existing quarantine, that would help even within the existing two week quarantine setting. We need a national conversation and buy-in to this… from let’s get this done to how do we get the next stage done.” . . 

The current Labour leader Jacinda Ardern could use her popularity to reassure the public that more people could come in safely.

That wouldn’t mean doing anything to encourage reckless behaviour, but it would mean stopping the political manipulation of Covid-19 strategy and fostering fear.

That she isn’t is a failure of leadership and it’s showing anything but the kindness she preaches we all should be practising.


If they don’t trust & respect each other . . .

July 27, 2020

The three-headed labour, New Zealand First, Green government was always going to be a difficult one.

It would be hard to find any two parties more mutually incompatible than the two smaller ones.

That they sit in parliament on either side of Labour rather than beside each other which was the normal arrangement for parties in government says a lot.

That the government has held together this long has surprised many.

Could it be the Greens have come to like the diet of dead rats they’ve been forced to swallow? Could it be that Labour got so used to having its policies vetoed by NZ First, that it was prepared to accept no progress as business as usual? Could it be that Winston Peters was so determined to last in government for the first time, staying in became more important than accomplishing much?

Whatever the reason that’s kept the parties together, the cracks in the government are turning into crevasses with the end of term in sight.

Last week the antipathy between the Greens and NZ First got vocal:

. . . Green Party co-leader James Shaw has described New Zealand First as a force of chaos, while Winston Peters has warned any future Labour-Greens government would be a nightmare. . . 

It was Peters who started the war of words at a breakfast speech in Wellington this morning.

“If you want to take out some insurance in this campaign to ensure you don’t get the nightmare government I know you’re going to get, then I suggest you party vote New Zealand First,” he said. . . 

Has he forgotten it was he who gave us this government? To use Andy Thompson’s metaphor, he’s the arsonist who lit the fire, why reward him for helping to put it out?

Shaw was happy to respond.

“Well, I think that the nightmare that he’s got is that he’s not going to be back in Parliament.”

Shaw is known to be quite measured when New Zealand First pulls the pin on policies or puts a spanner in the works, but with the campaign unofficially under way he’s ramping up his own rhetoric.

“My experience of working with New Zealand First as a party in government is that rather than a force of moderation, they’re a force of chaos,” he said. . . 

Anyone who has taken even passing note of NZ First’s history would agree with that.

Peters also admitted stopping an announcement of a $100m Southland rescue package:

. . .He did, however, reveal he told Ardern she was travelling to Southland on behalf of the Labour Party, not the coalition government.

“The prime minister was going down with MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] and other ministers to talk about the future of Tiwai Point.

“We had a discussion the night before as to the positions the various parties might take,” he told RNZ.

“The prime minister was very well aware that she could speak on behalf of the Labour Party, but on this matter, not on behalf of the coalition because there was no paper, no agreement, no Treasury analytics to go behind it.” . . 

This is another reminder that in spite of being the minor partner, NZ First, has wielded power far beyond that granted by its voter support.

Apropos of misusing power, last week Peters faced questions over pressuring Antarctica New Zealand to take two of his friends to the continent:

. . .Foreign Minister Winston Peters directed Antarctica New Zealand to give two highly-prized spots on a trip to the icy continent to two women closely linked to one of South East Asia’s richest families. . . 

While denying any impropriety, Peters followed his usual modus operandi by attempting to deflect attention with a rant in parliament accusing several people of leaking information on his superannuation overpayments as a result of his  inability to fill in the application for superannuation properly.

He declined to repeat the accusations outside the protection of parliamentary privilege and all the people named by him denied the accusations.

It is no wonder the other parties in government are showing they neither trust and respect him and his party, feelings that are obviously mutual.

But if they don’t trust and respect each other how can they expect us to?


Better medicinal cannabis Bill

July 24, 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.


Media release ready not shovel ready

July 23, 2020

The delay in releasing the list of shovel-ready projects is putting jobs at risk while playing politics:

National Leader Judith Collins is demanding Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern release the list of the shovel-ready projects her Government has agreed to fund but is keeping secret for political reasons.

Ms Ardern told Parliament today that the list of projects was signed off by her Government nearly a month ago, on 29 June.

Her Deputy, Winston Peters, told the Wellington Chamber of Commerce yesterday that “I have the list; the whole lot”.

“This is not a game, Ms Ardern and Mr Peters,” Ms Collins said.

“The livelihoods of more than 200,000 construction workers and their families depend on getting the shovels out of the shed, the diggers on the roads and hundreds of new projects underway.

“The construction industry needs to see the list to keep those people employed.

“Stop playing games with Kiwis’ jobs, Ms Ardern and Mr Peters, and release the list today.”

Why won’t the government release the list?

Could it be they want to drip feed it milking opportunities for photo opportunities?

Or is the problem that the list is not of shovel-ready projects but media release ready ones, perpetuating grounds to accuse the government of being much better at making announcements than delivering on them?

Even if there is a far better reason than either of these, it would be difficult for it to be good enough to justify the delays that are putting jobs and even businesses at risk.


Fair? Right?

July 18, 2020

Two opinion pieces.

The first on Labour leader Jacinda Ardern from Kerre McIvor:

“She is creating a climate of terror designed to keep people cowed and bowed. 

“It’s cynical, and I believe she was acting in the best interest of the country in the beginning, and now it’s become almost a mania.”

The second on National leader Judith Collins from Josh Van Veen:

 While Collins and Muldoon are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to economic management, they share the same philosophic outlook. Collins, like Muldoon, speaks to a New Zealand that sees itself above class and race. She imagines a country where the language of political correctness has no place and anyone who works hard can get ahead. Don’t underestimate how many New Zealanders share that vision.

Is the first fair?

Is the second right?


Rural round-up

July 17, 2020

Government’s food and fibre reset lacks a core – Keith Woodford:

The Government’s new food and fibre reset document is PR aspirational fluff. The hard work remains to be done

On July 7 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released the Government’s document “Fit for a Better World – Accelerating our Economic Potential”. The associated  press release  from the Beehive says that it provides a 10-year roadmap for the food and fibre industries’.

At the same function where this report was released, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor released a companion document from his Primary Sector Council of chosen industry leaders.  That document is also titled “Fit for a Better World” but lacks the title extension about ‘accelerating our economic potential’.   This second document is indeed a different document, singing from the same song-sheet, but with considerably different material. Very confusing indeed!

My focus here is on the Government’s version of the report because this is the one that has been signed off by Cabinet. Minsters in attendance at the release also included Stuart Nash and Shane Jones. . . 

Concerns for shearing as overseas workers can’t get in – Susan Murray:

New Zealand’s traditional shearing routines could be thrown into disarray this summer if overseas shearers can’t get into the country.

The New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association said, nationally, at least two million sheep are shorn by international shearers.

The vice president, Carolyn Clegg, said farmers may have to re-design their shearing plans to avoid animal welfare issues, and it could have business implications too.

She said some lambs may not get shorn, or ewes may just get crutched, rather than fully shorn.

Taste Pure Nature one year on – Allan Barber:

A little over a year since the launch of the Taste Pure Nature country of origin brand in California, Beef + Lamb’s GM Market Development, Nick Beeby, is thrilled with the evolution of the programme. At the start a small number of meat exporters were supportive of what Beeby concedes was initially seen as a B+LNZ initiative, but 15 months later success in targeting specific consumer groups and expansion of the scheme into China have brought increased industry commitment. TPN is now viewed positively as a sector-led strategy and the meat exporters have injected huge momentum and drive in support.

Original participants included Lamb Company shareholders, Alliance, ANZCO and Silver Fern Farms, and Atkins Ranch and First Light, two exporters which stood to benefit from the tightly targeted digital strategy directed at the Conscious Foodie consumer segment in California. The initial strategy was to raise awareness and increase the preference for New Zealand grass fed, naturally raised and anti-biotic free red meat, and importantly to point consumers to where they can buy it. These strategic objectives remain the same. . . 

Craggy Range Winery staff celebrate being among World’s Best Vineyards – Shannon Johnstone:

Craggy Range Winery staff celebrated with, well, a glass of lunchtime wine, as they found they were sitting at number 17 among the World’s Best Vineyards.

This year, the winery placed among some of the world’s most respected wineries such as France’s Mouton Rothschild & Château Margaux, Italy’s Antinori, the United States Opus One and Australia’s Penfold.

It is one of two New Zealand wineries to make the list alongside Rippon in Central Otago.

Craggy Range director Mary-Jeanne Peabody said they were “thrilled” to have been recognised. Last year they placed 11th. . . 

HoneyLab does licensing deal with US company:–  Andrew McRae:

Health product company HoneyLab is to sell seven of its products in North America through a licensing agreement with American company Taro Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.

The agreement covers the sale of its kanuka honey products for the treatment of cold-sores, rosacea and acne, a bee venom-based cosmetic range and a product for joint and muscle pain.

Taro will be able to make and sell these licenced products in the US, Canada and Israel and they will be on shelves in stores sometime in 2021. . .

ASB appoints Ben Speedy as Rural General Manager:

ASB is pleased to announce that Ben Speedy has been appointed to the bank’s leadership team in the role of general manager, Rural.

Speedy joins ASB from his previous role as New Zealand Country Manager for Core Logic International.

Speedy grew up on a farm and started his career with BNZ after graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Farm Management and Rural Valuation, and Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (Marketing).

As an Agribusiness Graduate he worked his way up to become Senior Agribusiness Manager in Hawke’s Bay. . . 


Feeding on fear no substitute for policy

July 16, 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a press conference yesterday morning.

A quick look at main New Zealand news websites had several, by and large positive, stories about Judith Collins the new leader of the Opposition but I had to look hard to find anything about the PM’s speech.

That was a good thing because if you go to the Beehive website and read the speech you’ll find it was a cynical attempt to feed fear about Covid-19.

It speaks about the risk of the disease spreading in the community and what will be done should that happen.

That didn’t tell us anything new.

Anyone who follows international news doesn’t have to look far to understand that in spite of more than 70 days with no cases of community spread, it could still happen when New Zealanders who are infected are coming home and what the response would have to be.

So why make that speech and why yesterday?

It was a cynical and deliberately timed attempt to take media attention away from new National leader Judith Collins, feed the fear many still have of an outbreak of Covid-19 and distract from Labour’s lack of policy.

Then Ardern had the gall to pretend she wasn’t politicking:

After a speech setting out how New Zealand would respond if another Covid-19 outbreak was to occur, the Prime Minister was asked about the front-page news of the day: Judith Collins.

Jacinda Ardern demurred, offering neither congratulations nor commiserations for the National Party and its new leader.

“I’m spending more time about New Zealand’s response and economic recovery from Covid-19,” Ardern said.

“I accept there will be politicking this year. I accept we have an election. But if I’m being brutally honest, my mind hasn’t been focused on that to date.”

Honest? That is anything but.

“I absolutely accept that there is an election this year – and there is no avoiding that – but at the moment it’s taking up a bare minimum of my attention.”

Is this an admission that she can deal with only one thing at a time?

It’s also quite an odd way of putting it. Ardern doesn’t have the choice to “accept” whether there is an election this year. Elections are the means by which the Government has legitimacy and power; not minor inconveniences on the path to Covid-19 recovery.

This kind of language plays into a wider strategy that is emerging from Ardern and Labour to basically pretend there isn’t an election. With the global pandemic continuing to dominate the news cycle it makes total sense to stick to governing, or at least look like you are. “Politicking” is something other parties who are in trouble do, what with their leadership changes and leaking drama, you just get to govern. After all, people like Prime Minister Ardern much more than Labour leader Ardern, and the best campaign is a well-governed country. . . 

The response to the pandemic, particularly the claim about going hard and early, can be debated but the result that allows most of us to live life as normal, bar international travel, can not. However, government’s success in many other areas, in particular Labour flagship policies such as KiwiBuild and reducing child poverty, are open to attack.

That’s why Ardern wants to keep the attention on Covid-19 and away from other issues which she and her largely lacklustre team are ill-equipped to handle.

Thus far Labour has released a single election policy, which deals with afforestation of farmland and seems mostly engineered to give Kieran McAnulty a good shot in Wairarapa. When you ask about other policy areas, MPs either say “maybe soon” or point to wider government policy on an issue. But the Government is not the Labour Party, it is a set of compromises between Labour and two parties with wildly different views. Kiwis can’t vote for “the Government” – much like they can’t vote for Ardern herself. They can vote for a party, and they deserve a coherent set of values and promises to make that decision on. . .

A coherent set of values and promises to make a decision on would only remind voters that three years ago Labour campaigned on let’s do this and has been much better at speeches and media releases than actually doing anything.

Collins promised to not underestimate Ardern as a foe. Ardern is unlikely to be underestimating Collins in return. But she can only float above the partisan fray for so long. At some point she will need to dig in and fight a real ideological battle with the National Party – especially as its leader is now making promises to “take our country back”. That’s what elections are for.

They are, and National’s chances of winning have been greatly enhanced by the leadership change. Heather du Plessis-Allan says Collins nailed her first day as leader:

You can see the strategy. Collins is going to try to show Ardern how the job should be done.

And if she pulls it off, it could well look like the grownups have finally arrived.

That would be grown ups who understand there’s a lot more to governing than good communication, it takes a lot more than three or four people to run a country and feeding fear of a pandemic is no substitute for robust policy and the ability to deliver it.


Need to get NZ working

July 10, 2020

National has a plan to get New Zealand working:

National Party Leader Todd Muller has revealed the framework for the party’s Plan to create more jobs and a better economy.

At a speech to the Christchurch Employers’ Chamber of Commerce today, Mr Muller outlined the five elements of National’s Plan.

“All the components of the framework are designed to grow our economy and create more jobs,” Mr Muller says.

“The framework comprises five components: responsible economic management; delivering infrastructure; reskilling and retraining our workforce; a greener, smarter future; and building stronger communities.

“National will be releasing each of these components in a series of major speeches through this month and into early August to give New Zealanders time to scrutinise each element.”

The full plan will not be finalised until after the Government releases the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU) in August. It will be available by September 2 when overseas voting begins, to be followed by early voting, which starts on September 5.

It’s sensible to await the PREFU and good to know the timetable.

“National has a plan to rebuild our communities, get Kiwis back to work and deal with the economic and jobs crisis,” Mr Muller says.

“With Labour not having anything to offer except ‘borrow, spend and tax’, National understands that responsible government is about creating a deliberate and considered plan – and then following it.” 

Labour and its coalition partners are very good at spending but bad at good spending. In focusing on the quantity of the spend they forget the importance of the quality.

They are also very good at announcements although as Jane Clifton points out, a lot of these policies aren’t shovel-ready, many are only press release ready:

In the full speech here,  Todd outlines National’s commitment to:

  • An open and competitive economy;
  • A broad-based, low-rate tax system;
  • An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability;
  • The Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act; and
  • A flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.

Our concern is that that basic macroeconomic framework is being diluted by the current Government – mainly through incompetence than the result of any plan. . .

Jacinda Ardern has admitted her party wasn’t prepared for government and it shows in all the over-promising and under-delivering before Covid-19 hit.

That failure to deliver then was bad enough, it is even worse now with their determination to borrow so much which is likely to deliver far more debt without the financial rigour necessary to ensure the quality of the spend and determination to get back to surplus as soon as possible.

Todd says National won’t panic.

Nor will National cut family incomes. National has already announced that, whatever lies ahead of us through the crisis, we will not raise the taxes you pay or cut the benefits paid to those who need help. We would like Labour to make the same commitment to New Zealand families too.

Nevertheless, National will work to keep borrowing as low as possible. Out of the $80 billion plus they spend each year, all governments have wasteful spending that needs to be trimmed. All finance ministers review all spending each time they bring together a Budget. And we will do the same.

Since the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the economic and political debate in New Zealand has tended to be on the quantity of borrowing or debt repayment each year. These remain critically important. Getting back to fiscal surplus and then paying down debt to 20 per cent of GDP is necessary, not least because New Zealand will inevitably confront another natural, economic or health disaster in the next couple of decades or beyond. But just as important is to focus on the quality of spending.

Labour forecasts net core debt will reach 53.6 per cent of GDP in 2024 under their policies. That’s an eye-wateringly high level. We will work hard to try to keep it lower than that, which would put New Zealand in a better position to recover. But of far greater longer-term importance is that Labour projects that under its policies, but with a far stronger economic environment than we face today, net core debt will still be as high as 42 per cent by 2034. That means Labour intends a mere 11 per cent reduction in net core debt, over a decade. At that rate, we will not get back to the safe 20 per cent mark until perhaps the mid-2050s.

National does not regard Labour’s attitude as anything like prudent. It would leave an enormous debt, not so much to our children but to our grandchildren. And it would leave our children and grandchildren – and also ourselves – profoundly vulnerable were the global economic and strategic outlook anything other blissful for three successive decades. . . .

We learn two lessons from Labour’s economic and fiscal projections and their refusal to rule out higher taxes. First, they don’t have anything to offer except borrow, spend, hope and then tax. Second, and even more important, they don’t think any of their borrowing and spending will actually do anything useful to improve New Zealand’s productivity, economy or the overall wellbeing of every one of us.

I’m not hiding that my Government will borrow large amounts over the next three years, and in 2020/21 in particular. National will always be more disciplined in its spending than Labour. Yes, we will borrow what we need to, to support New Zealanders through the crisis – neither more nor less. But we will not just fling money around, the way the Labour Party is. Instead, we promise to spend it better and invest it better than Labour, in a way that does in fact improve New Zealand’s productivity, economy, the overall wellbeing of every one of us, and which, in turn, makes it easier to pay the debt off. . . .

Labour and its coalition partners have been flinging money round since they got into government.

National went out of office with the government’s books in surplus and forecasts of that to continue.

Even before Covid-19 hit, this government was taking us back to deficit.

If it couldn’t manage the economy well in reasonable times, it can’t be trusted to do it now we’re facing the worst of times.

That matters now more than ever.

It matters because we need a government that knows that taxing more in a recession is counter-productive – making it harder for people to look after themselves and making it harder for businesses to grow.

It matters because we need a government that understands that borrowing for hard times is only the start, it must also plan to pay back the debt, and have a plan that will work to do that.

It matters because we need a government that will get New Zealand working and the failures of this one to deliver on so many of its promises show we can’t trust it to do that.


Planning to fail

July 3, 2020

Ensuring Covid-19 doesn’t get past the border has widespread support, but it’s time for a plan that keeps it there and lets more people in:

The Prime Minister needs to stop misrepresenting the border issue and tell New Zealanders what her strategy is to protect the economy long-term, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Government’s clumsy and incompetent management of our quarantine procedures means it is impossible for New Zealand’s border to open tomorrow, next week or even next month.

“That simply would not be safe.

“However, New Zealanders also need to know how and when the border will progressively be reopened, because not doing that is untenable.

“New Zealanders deserve the highest standards to protect them from getting Covid-19, both at the border and when it comes to tracking and tracing in the event of cases in the community.

“We need to know when those standards will be in place so that New Zealanders have confidence to progressively and safely open the border and grow the economy.

“Locking down what’s left of the economy and waiting for a vaccine isn’t an option.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response ignores the issue:

 . . .”It is untenable to consider the idea of opening up New Zealand’s borders to Covid-19.

“In some parts of the world where we have had frequent movement of people they are not estimating that they will reach a peak for at least a month,” Ardern said.

“Any suggestion of borders opening at this point, frankly, is dangerous.” . . .

No-one is asking for the borders to open at this point.

A lot of people, businesses and organisations are asking for information on the plan for when and how the borders will open at some point in the future.

Farmers and contractors need experienced workers, principals facing teacher shortages are looking for staff, secondary schools and tertiary institutions want to be able to host foreign students again . . .

None of these is asking for anything that would risk Covid-19 getting past the border, but all want to know the government’s plan for safe entry of more than returning New Zealanders and the heavily restricted number and categories of people deemed essential workers so they can plan.

Any half competent government would have had people planning ahead months ago.

The omnishambles at the border that required the military and another minister to take over running it, shows that wasn’t done.

The current situation needs a strong focus but the inability for someone in government to look further ahead while others deal with immediate priorities reinforces Todd Muller’s observation there are three or four competent ministers and a whole lot of empty chairs in Cabinet.

Had there been anyone with more ability in any of those chairs, perhaps one of the three deputy Health Ministers for example, Chris Hipkins who already had a very heavy workload wouldn’t have been the only one capable of taking over as Health Minister yesterday after David Clark resigned.

That appointment highlights the shallowness of the Cabinet pond and explains why Muller’s request for details of the strategy for opening the border is being ignored.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the government with the time and ability to plan that far ahead which is a very serious problem because as the adage says, if you fail to plan then you’ll plan to fail.


Bridges & Reti up, Clark down

July 2, 2020

National leader Todd Muller has announced two promotions in the wake of Paula Bennett’s decision to retire from politics:

Dr Shane Reti will be ranked number 13 and will take on Associate Drug Reform. Shane has demonstrated a huge intellect and capacity for work, supporting Michael Woodhouse in our Covid-19 response, as well as achieving much in the Tertiary Education portfolio.

Simon Bridges will be picking up the Foreign Affairs portfolio and will be ranked at number 17. Simon has been leader and a minister for a number of years in the last National Government. He expressed a desire for this portfolio and his experience will be valuable in this important role.

Deputy Leader Nikki Kaye will pick up the portfolio of Women and will make several announcements associated with this portfolio in the coming months.

Amy Adams will take the portfolio of Drug Reform. She will work with Shane Reti in this area. . . 

These are all good moves, I am especially pleased that Simon’s experience and skill will be put to good use.

Gerry Brownlee did have the Foreign Affairs portfolio. I have no idea what negotiations went on, but Gerry stepped aside to allow Bill English to be John Key’s deputy when John became leader for the good of the caucus and party. It looks like he has done so again which shows commendable loyalty and grace.

Meanwhile, a mess has been tidied up for the government.

David Clark has resigned as Health Minister:

The embattled MP for Dunedin North said he had become a “distraction” and that the “time is right” for someone else to fill the role, but he will stand as an MP in the upcoming election. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement Dr Clark contacted her on Wednesday to “confirm his wish to resign as a minister” and that she had accepted his resignation. 

The Prime Minister has appointed Labour MP Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election. Hipkins is currently the Minister of Education.  . . 

Clark is the third of Ardern’s Ministers to lose his warrant – Clare Curran resigned, and Meka Whaitiri who was sacked.

It has taken a while, had Ardern had more steel the resignation would have been accepted weeks ago when Clark first offered it.


Let’s not blame the messenger

June 24, 2020

Jack Vowles thinks some in the media are overreacting in their coverage of the isolation omnishambles:

In the wake of a scattering of new cases from overseas, Stuff journalist Andrea Vance has slammed the Government for setting “allegedly unrealistic expectations” that Covid-19 would be eliminated in New Zealand. She believes the public feel they have been lied to.

Fellow Stuff journalist Tracy Watkins says the “border fiasco” has caused “incalculable damage” and “a massive breach of trust”. John Armstrong, in a column for the 1 News website, describes the situation as “calamitous”.

All are over-reacting. . . 

Social media also has plenty of posts mistakenly blaming the messengers and trying to dampen down the message too.

It must come as a shock to those who are used to a very soft approach, sometimes bordering on adulation, of Jacinda Ardern that the shine has come off her halo and her clay feet are showing.

But if the media and opposition MPs hadn’t been telling us about the omnishambles, she and her government wouldn’t have taken any action to deal with it.

The fourth estate and opposition are doing what they’re supposed to – showing us that the government has not been doing nearly as well as it should be in isolating incoming travellers to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t spread beyond those who have it when they get here.

In spite of protestations that everything is under control, there are obvious shortcomings in systems and processes:

No hold ups, oversights or obstruction. It actually takes this long – over a week – to find out how many of the 55 people granted compassionate leave weren’t tested when they should have been.

Since June 9, a negative test and at least a week in isolation were meant to be mandatory before compassionate leave from managed isolation could be granted. But that has only been the practice since June 16.

Both of those rules were bent for two Covid-infected sisters who drove from Auckland to Wellington , but who weren’t tested until after they arrived in Wellington.

The subsequent outrage was understandable, given what should have happened, the sacrifices everyone has already made, and the obvious risk of one case quickly turning into dozens.

That outrage then heightened as stories of broken protocols came forward. Mixing and mingling at isolation facilities. Testing being voluntary when it should have been compulsory. Leave for a funeral when that was meant to be banned . Even runaways .

The case of the two sisters begged the obvious question: How many others have been let out early without a test? Each of them could pose a risk of a second wave.

That question has been asked everyday – by journalists, the Opposition, even Ministers’ offices – since June 16, when the sisters’ positive results were revealed.

The answer isn’t just about giving us a better sense of the health risk. It’s also about the depth of failure that has occurred at the border, which feeds into the level of confidence in the ministry, health chief Ashley Bloomfield, the Government and the Prime Minister.

Those border measures are critical. With no signs of community transmission, the greatest Covid danger to New Zealand are the thousands of people returning home from overseas.

You’d think it would be essential to collect their information and put it all into a single database or an integrated system – contact details, symptoms, daily health check results, test results, if any.

That hasn’t happened.

Bloomfield was clear today that there hasn’t been a cock-up. It has taken so long because health officials have had to match names and dates of birth from their systems with information at isolation facilities.

Does this mean there was no proper record of who was in isolation, who was tested and when?

There was another simple way to find out that appears to have been overlooked.

All of the 55 people granted compassionate leave have been tracked down and referred for testing. Yet Bloomfield had no answer when questioned why they hadn’t been asked, when contacted: “Were you tested before you left managed isolation?”

This isn’t the first information failure for the ministry. They don’t know how many healthcare workers were infected in the workplace . Their regional public health units all used different IT systems . . . 

News of the omnishambles has led in a spike of people seeking tests for Covid-19 which isn’t surprising.

People who’ve lost trust in the government to contain Covid-19 at the border are taking responsibility for themselves. Although there is no evidence of community spread that appears to be due to good luck rather than good management, and anyone with possible symptoms will want to make sure a cold is only a cold.

It’s better to be tested as a precaution than to harbour the virus in the belief that it is no longer here and we have the media and opposition MPs to thank for giving us the information to make that call.

Contrary to what the critics are saying, they’re not overreacting, they’re simply holding the government and the ministry to account.


From bad to worse

June 18, 2020

National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was right: the two latest confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand did have contact with someone after getting lost on their drive from Auckland to Wellington.

After leaving quarantine in a car provided by friends, the two women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

The friends who lent them the car met with them and guided them to the right motorway, and were in physical contact for about five minutes.

The National Party’s health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, told Parliament this afternoon that the pair had hugged and kissed someone on their travels.

That was after Dr Ashley Bloomfield said they had no contact with anyone.

The ministry didn’t confirm if they hugged or kissed their friend, and said it received the update this afternoon.

Woodhouse told Parliament a “reliable but confidential source” had informed him that story was “not all as it seems”.

“They did become disorientated and lost their way coming out of Auckland and needed help to get on the right road,” Woodhouse said.

“They called on acquaintances who they were in close contact with and that was rewarded with even more close contact – a kiss and a cuddle.” . . 

The announcement that the women had Covid-19 and hadn’t been tested before being granted compassionate leave from isolation was bad, the new information makes it worse and  this shows things can get even more worse:

Former police commissioner Mike Bush has admitted one person who should have returned to managed isolation after a funeral, is still at large.

The 18-year-old was part of a family allowed a compassionate exemption to attend a funeral. The five other family members are now in quarantine after avoiding their return to managed isolation “for some time”.

Initially all six were evading managed isolation. Then four family members returned and just two – an eight-year-old and 18-year-old were missing. 

The child has since been brought back to managed isolation and the teenager remains at a family property in Hamilton in self-isolation. . . 

Does the fact that it was a gang funeral give confidence that the teenager will self-isolating as required?

But wait, there’s more:

Newshub can reveal another serious blunder by health officials who have failed to follow their own rules.

A group of around 10 people, who were in quarantine in Christchurch, were allowed out early to attend a burial with more than 150 people on Tuesday. 

That’s despite the Ministry of Health announcing nine days ago that such exemptions were no longer permitted – leaving a funeral director and his team thoroughly perplexed. . . 

And more:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is furious that his staff were forced to mix at a hotel with people who were being put into quarantine.

Boshier told the governance and administration committee this morning that his staff had arranged to stay at a hotel in Auckland before inspecting a prison the next day a few weeks ago.

“Suddenly in the evening, all these people arrived from overseas to be put into quarantine and we weren’t told. So we were all mixed up with everyone else and I was livid.

“I had to cancel the prison visit the next day.” . . 

And in spite of the sacrifices we’ve all made and the dangers of importing new cases,  Covid-19 tests for people in managed isolation are voluntary:

As two new confirmed Covid-19 cases broke an almost month-long streak of no infections, people in mandatory quarantine have been told that swab testing is voluntary.

It goes against what many people believed was a compulsory test for those entering New Zealand – particularly those coming in from countries where Covid-19 has run rife.

Since April, everyone arriving in the country has had to spend 14 days in managed isolation or a higher level of quarantine if they have symptoms.

The Ministry of Health earlier announced that from June 8, all travellers who arrive in the country would be tested for Covid-19 at their respective facilities. . . 

But some guests under mandatory quarantine in Auckland hotels have revealed that they have been told the Covid-19 swab tests are voluntary – not mandatory.

A woman staying at the Grand Millennium, in downtown Auckland, said a pamphlet guests had received said the choice was ultimately theirs.

“I’m worried that they’re not testing everyone,” she said.

“Isolation is so difficult, but this one thing is not compulsory. This country is doing such an incredible job, we can’t mess this up.” . . 

The country has been doing an incredible job but the government and the ministry are letting us down and innocent and grieving families who are paying the price:

The Government has refused to apologise for the strict quarantine protocols, despite leaving would-be compassionate exemption recipients heartbroken.

On Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern announced that compassionate exemptions from quarantine have been suspended after two women were allowed to leave isolation without being tested for COVID-19, and later tested positive. . . 

“The important thing is to fix this problem,” David Clark said. “The director-general [Ashley Bloonmfield] has owned this failing… I have every sympathy for those people, my expectation is it will be fixed.”

Ardern said the case is an  unacceptable failure of the system” that should never have happened and “cannot be repeated”.

“My job is to keep New Zealanders safe, I know the decision to suspend compassionate leave will not be a popular one, but it is the right one,” she said.  . . 

What does it say about the competence of the people running all this when  the military has been brought in to oversee the border?

As more than 300 close contacts linked to New Zealand’s two Covid-19 cases are “encouraged” to get tested, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is bringing in a military leader to oversee the country’s isolation and quarantine facilities.

Ardern addressed media on Wednesday, as the fallout from Tuesday’s revelations two women were able to leave mandatory isolation six days into their stay on compassionate grounds continues to intensify.

Assistant chief of defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, has now been called in to oversee border facilities, including how travellers depart from them. . . 

Most of us did as we were told in adhering to lockdown rules, at considerable personal and financial cost. Why hasn’t the government been doing what it should have been to ensure that the hard-won Covid-free status wasn’t squandered by slack systems and protocols with people coming in from other countries?

It took the detection of two new cases of Covid-19 for the government to take border security and isolation seriously yet the media has been reporting people complaining about lax standards at isolation facilities for at least a week.

As Todd Muller said:

“The sacrifice of the ‘team of five million’ cannot be put at risk by a clumsy and incompetent Government that allows bureaucrats to run the show by deciding which of the rules they are going to apply on any given day. . . 

Alex Braae echoes this in writing of an avalanche of incompetence:

It is staggering to see so many stories come out all at once, and many people will feel an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. I realise a lot has happened between then and now, but all of these stories feel deeply reminiscent of the incompetence shown at the border before lockdown started. Systems were theoretically in place, but weren’t being enforced with any sort of rigour or discipline, and it took media reports for those who were meant to be in charge to take notice. Readers might also remember that those blunders were arguably what necessitated lockdown in the first place. It’s not bloody good enough at all.

The government lost its social licence for keeping us at level 2 when nothing was said to deter protest marches.

It needs to get quarantine and managed isolation sorted because this week has shown how soon things can go from bad to worse and it won’t have the social licence to lock us up again.


Level 1 must be this week should be today

June 8, 2020

Jacinda Ardern will announce that we will be moving to level 1 alert level this week.

Her choice not to deter protest marches before they happened last weekend and the admission by Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield that protesters didn’t need to self isolate because there’s no community transmission of Covid-19 gives her and her government no choice.

That cost them the social licence to continue restricting what we can do and where and with whom we can do it.

If people can protest in their thousands the rest of us can operate businesses at capacity and have more than 100 people at weddings, funerals, worship and sporting and social events.

Many have already moved to level 1.

We flew to the North Island three weeks ago. Passengers were pretty good at maintaining distance from each other. We made the same flight last week, and passengers were far more relaxed about distancing.

We had to sign in to the farmers market yesterday but the supermarket had no queues, no-one at the door restricting entry and cleaning trolleys; and the two-metre dots to indicate social distancing spaces had gone.

The argument for keeping us at level 2 was growing weaker as day by day no new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed. It disappeared completely with the protest marches.

We should have dropped a level at least a week ago.

The only question about today’s announcement is, when will we get most of our freedom back?

It must be this week and it should be today.

If it’s not today, the political capital the government has built up will be eroded the way its social licence for continuing constraints has been.


Court rules against marches

June 6, 2020

In Australia police went to court to stop protests over the death of George Floyd:

The court heard NSW Police opposed the protest, which was expected to attract close to 5000 people, not only because it breached restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 but because of the risk of violence.

In a hearing that stretched for more than four hours, NSW Supreme Court Justice Desmond Fagan said the social distancing measures imposed to date have been “the key element” in stopping the spread of COVID-19, and allowing the protest to go ahead at this time was “an unreasonable proposition”.

An affidavit by NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant was tendered in court in support of the police application.

Justice Fagan did not make an order prohibiting the protest, but refused an order allowing it to go ahead, which had the same legal effect. Protesters may still attend the event, as organisers have foreshadowed, but may be exposed to criminal sanctions for doing so. . .

Politicians and Australia’s chief medical officer have also spoken out against the marches because of the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Contrast that with the deafening silence from politicians, police and health officials before the marches for the same cause here.

Muriel Newman says, the marches show the Covid-19 restrictions have become a farce:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is now looking foolish after thousands of people took to the streets in protest action on Monday, thumbing their nose at her Level 2 lockdown rules, while the Police watched on doing nothing. Nor was there any talk of prosecutions, despite the event being heavily broadcast on social media.

Penalties for breaching the Level 2 rules, which restrict public gatherings to 100 and private gatherings to 10, include six months in jail or a fine of up to $4,000.

The official non-response is typical of our politicians and their agencies, talking tough but when confronted, their authority often dissolving into nothing.

What the protesters have done is highlight the farcical nature of the current lockdown restrictions. Everyone knows it – apart from government politicians. The country needs to immediately go into level 1. Next week is another week too long. It’s another week of businesses bleeding money and laying off staff as they follow ridiculous rules. The restrictions killing small businesses are the same ones the protesters totally ignored and suffered no consequences whatsoever for doing so. . . 

The marchers all around the world not only show a total disregard for the health risks and sacrifices so many have made to stop the spread of Covid-19, they show a total complete lack of imagination.

New Zealanders managed to observe Anzac Day while adhering to social distancing requirements, there are myriad ways people could protest about George Floyd’s death without risking the health of themselves and others.

 


Contradictions and confusion

June 3, 2020

Police Minister Stuart Nash says the social distancing breaches at the weekend’s protest marches was irresponsible.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the marches breached the rules.

That was yesterday, after the event. Both were silent before the event when they might have been able to persuade people to protest in ways that didn’t breach the rules.

The PM gave us repeated warnings and guidelines for Anzac Day, why didn’t she speak up before the protests?

That she only voiced an opinion after the event is contradictory and confusing for those of us who thought we knew the rules and were keeping to the requirement to have no more than 100 people at an event and to maintain social distance.

But there’s more contradiction and confusion from DIrector General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield:

“There’s currently no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand so at this time, quarantine for 14 days after attending one of these outdoor events is not required.”

If that’s the case why are we still at Level 2 which is handicapping businesses which in turn is costing jobs and livelihoods?

But he says it’s still important that Kiwis remain “alert to symptoms and seek advice if they’re at all concerned”.

“Whatever the alert level in New Zealand, it’s clear COVID-19 will continue to be a global threat for some time and it’s important we remain vigilant – both as individuals and as a country,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“This means continuing to observe physical distancing to keep yourself and others safe, seeking appropriate heath advice, and most importantly staying at home if you’re unwell.”

Continuing to observe physical distancing – unless you’re at a protest or the PM or DG:

Photographs have emerged of the Prime Minister and director general of health posed for pictures close to wellwishers, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from a National Party MP warned by police for doing the same.

It has led to an admission from the Prime Minister it was a struggle to maintain “appropriate distancing” with people approaching wanting “handshakes and hugs”.

It’s been a struggle for the rest of us to maintain “appropriate distancing” at funerals and with family and friends but most of us have managed it.

Bloomfield also confirmed he was in a photograph with strangers but said it was only for a moment.

Northland MP Matt King produced the photographs after facing public criticism when he posted to Facebook photographs of himself with staff from a restaurant in Paihia where he had dined.

King told the Herald today coverage of the photograph led to a phone call from a senior Northland police officer who reminded him of social distancing rules.

“I felt sorry for the cop. He was a senior cop. He said: ‘This is not a formal warning – you’re standing too close‘.” . . .

It doesn’t help that there’s contradictory statements coming from the PM and her deputy:

With businesses hemorrhaging money by the day, the Government should be discussing the move to Level 1 now, not in a week, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and her Cabinet could have discussed the move to Level 1 today. It’s not good enough that all they did was agree to meet again next week to make a call.”

National is demanding the Government immediately release the secret Cabinet papers on which it decided last week to stay in Level 2.

“Divisions between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters are causing confusion about what the secret papers say about how safe it would be to move to Level 1,” Mr Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have both read the same Cabinet papers but one is telling us it is too dangerous to move to Level 1 while the other says it would be perfectly safe.

“Moving to Level 1 as soon as it is safe is of the greatest importance to small businesses and the thousands of Kiwis losing their jobs each week.

“The public deserves to see the same advice Ms Ardern and Mr Peters are publicly disagreeing about.”

We also need to know the criteria for moving to Level 1 because it obviously isn’t what is on the Ministry of Health’s website or we’d already be there.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

The disease is contained in New Zealand.

Risk assessment

    • COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.
    • Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand. . . 

Instead we’ve got confusion and contradiction over which gatherings can have more than 100 people and which can’t; between what the DG of Health says and what we’ve been told about Alert Level 2; and between the PM and her deputy and what’s on the website and what’s happening in practice.

The social and economic cost of this is far too high for anything but the clarity and certainty businesses need to make decisions and all of us deserve if the social licence the government lost at the weekend is to be regained.

Without it, more and more people are going to flout the rules in the certain knowledge that they, like the protesters, will be left to do as they will.

 


Pushing the economy off a cliff

May 29, 2020

New Zealand has achieved a new and most unwelcome record number of job losses:

Job numbers fell by a record 37,500 in April 2020, as COVID-19 effects and restricted trading began to impact on the economy, Stats NZ said today.

In seasonally adjusted terms, total filled jobs fell 1.7 percent in April 2020 compared with March 2020, when it was flat.

April’s fall is the largest in percentage terms and by number since the filled jobs series began more than 20 years ago, in 1999.

“With the country in lockdown throughout most of April 2020, the impact of COVID-19 is now being seen in falling job numbers,” economic statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

“Non-essential businesses closed during the lockdown, though some people were able to work from home.”

The government decreed what were essential businesses and permitted them to operate rather than allowing any that could operate safely to do so and this sharp number of job losses is the result.

Stats NZ calculates filled jobs by averaging weekly jobs paid during the month, based on tax data. Filled jobs include jobs paid by employers who are being subsidised by the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme.

“While a fall in filled jobs does not necessarily mean employment has ceased in all cases, we saw a rise of over 30,000 people claiming the government’s Jobseeker Support benefit in April,” Ms Chapman said. . .

This month’s figures could be even worse with more than 6,500 job losses this week.

The record number of job losses adds credence to Adam Creighton, writing in The Australian, who says no national leader has been as feted as Jacinda Ardern during this pandemic. But while she might have popular support, the facts are she is pushing the NZ economy off a cliff.

New Zealand’s economy is in strife. Without major change, our constitutional cousin is in decline. Its public finances are in tatters, its biggest export, tourism, has been obliterated — Air New Zealand announced 4000 job losses this week — and New Zealand police now can enter people’s homes without a warrant.

“New Zealand is going backwards, falling behind the vast ­majority of our OECD partners in virtually every social and economic measure that matters,” said Roger Douglas, a former New Zealand Labour treasurer and the famed architect of Rogernomics.

New Zealand ranks fourth last in the OECD for labour productivity growth, and last for multi-factor productivity growth, according to economist Michael Reddell, based on OECD data. Health and education are gobbling up more of the budget as the population ages, with less and less to show for it.

That was happening anyway and has been exacerbated by the harder by the lockdown that used the arbitrary criteria of necessary rather than safe in deeming what we can and can’t do.

The country’s Massey University reckons economic activity will tank 16 per cent in the second quarter, while government forecasts pencil in a 4.6 per cent decline this year ahead of an 8.2 per cent rebound in 2022.

“I doubt the economy will bounce back as the government hopes; and the Treasury forecasts, as bad as they are, will prove optimistic,” former NZ Treasury secretary Graham Scott said.

In one year, New Zealand has blown 30 years of hard-fought ­fiscal rectitude. Its public debt will explode from the equivalent of 19 per cent of gross domestic product last year to 54 per cent by 2022, on the government’s own figures.

Successive governments have been criticised for the 30 years of hard-fought fiscal rectitude. How much worse the current situation would be had they not followed that path,

Scott said expanding the deficit, expected to blow out to 10 per cent this year, was the right thing to do. “But looking further out, comparisons with other countries, such as the US and UK, are no basis to justify our large debt ratios; we’re a small, open economy with vulnerable export industries,” he said, noting the share of exports in GDP had been falling steadily for nine years.

That makes Labour’s ban on oil and gas exploration all the more bizarre. With 0.3 per cent of global GDP, New Zealand can only shoot itself in the foot by shunning fossil fuels. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister, who have not worked in the private sector, spruik the totems of modern left governments — renewable energy, trees, higher tax, equality — but without much to show for it. Plans for a billion trees and 100,000 houses have come close to almost naught, and a capital-gains tax was dumped. Labour made a song and dance about reducing child poverty too, but on six out of nine measures tracked by Statistics New Zealand it is unchanged or worse since 2017, including the share of children living in “material hardship”, which has risen to 13.4 per cent. . .

This column had attracted 102 comments when I read it, a couple of days ago including this gem from Alfred:

The world doesn’t need more examples of the progressive social direction of NZ so we can learn from their utter failure sad as it is. She’s all hat and no cattle, just a charismatic executioner of her country’s future prospects. 

Jacinda Ardern has unprecedented praise from around the world for her response to crisis but before the Covid-19 response the government she leads had made little or no headway on its key policy planks.

She, and they, have taken the praise for dealing with the health crisis and must take responsibility for the economic one we now face.

But given they didn’t manage to deliver on their promises in normal times they can’t be trusted to come up with, and deliver on, policies to reverse the economic catastrophe for which their insistence on a harder and more prolonger lockdown are partially responsible.


Only way from peak is down

May 25, 2020

Jacinda Ardern is the most popular Prime Minister in a century, Tova O’Brien told us in announcing the Newshub Reid Research poll last Monday.

The claim was repeated by other media. On Friday, RNZ told us Todd Muller had been given the job of taking on the most popular prime minister in history.

The Newshub claim might have been excused as hyperbole but RNZ’s one came days after the Herald fact-checked and put the poll result in perspective :

A poll last night revealed what most New Zealanders probably already knew: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a popular Prime Minister.

But for Newshub to call her the “most popular Prime Minister in a century” is “hasty and premature”, says a political historian.

In fact, there were no opinion polls before 1974 and the claim compares Ardern’s personal popularity to the last century of election results. . .

Though opinion polls don’t often match the votes and to compare them was “silly”, said Grant Duncan associate professor of politics at Massey University.

Ardern hasn’t had the longevity of the likes of Savage nor comfortably won an election. And the poll was taken in an unpredictable and extraordinary time, he said.

“It’s silly to say at this stage, let’s just wait for six years before we make that claim.

“Let’s hold the horses, please.” . . 

We’ll never know if Ardern is more popular than all the Prime Ministers before 1974, but even if the claim was about polls rather than leaders it’s wrong.

For example, then Prime Minister John Key’s preferred prime minister ranking reached as high as 73.3 per cent on a Herald-Digipoll in 2014.

In fact, Key consistently polled around 60 per cent in Herald-Digipolls during his tenure as prime minister and in September 2011 peaked at 59 per cent in the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll.

There’s no doubt 59.5% is high polling but it’s not in the 60s or 70s. Why did Tova O’Brien make the claim and why, days after it has been fact-checked did RNZ make a similar one?

Does it matter? Yes because as Steve Elers says news turns fake when facts are replaced with hyperbole:

. . . The definition of a century hasn’t changed. So, what has? The credibility of news media — that’s what. Reuters, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other news media outlets from around the world all ran reports of Ardern as the “most popular prime minister in a century”. That’s fake news, folks. Why? Because it isn’t true.

And if the news media are meant to hold the watchdog role of society by questioning and holding power to account, but instead fly the flag for power and spread fake news, who then holds the news media to account? 

Yes, it is meant to be the New Zealand Media Council. Sure, they’re the toothless self- regulatory body for New Zealand’s media but they have no influence over the global media organisations who have already spread this fiction particular to their audiences.

According to my students, those global news media feeds appear prominently in social media of New Zealanders — well, at least in their age bracket.

I would go so far to say that fake news is a real threat to the democracy of our country. In this case, the question needs to be asked: Why was Ardern promoted as the “most popular prime minister in a century” when she clearly wasn’t?

So not the most popular in a century, nor in history, but where to from here? Duncan noted:

“And what goes up, must come down.”

If Ardern’s popularity stopped short of 60% after weeks of positive media opportunities when the country was focused on dealing with Covid-19, how likely is it that it will be bettered as we adjust to the new normal where we’re still constrained in what we can do and with whom we can do it, and 1,000 people are losing their jobs every day?

It might be wishful thinking on my part, but this could be her peak.

The news is already changing from positive coverage of dealing with the health crisis to rising concern about handling the economic one and Ardern is now up against a new Opposition leader who will, at least for a while, be shining in the media spotlight.

That 59.5% didn’t make Ardern the most popular Prime Minister in a century and if that’s her peak, the only way from there is down. Conversely, National has almost certainly reached its nadir and the only way from there is up.


Behind in Wellbeing Bledisloe

May 22, 2020

Some influential people aren’t buying the prevailing view that New Zealand is doing better than Australia:

The Prime Minister’s powerful Business Advisory Council has delivered her a cutting message that Australia is “co-optimising” the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak better than New Zealand.

“Australia is currently co-optimising the wellbeing of the Covid outbreak and the wellbeing consequences of the economy better than New Zealand,” said council chair Fraser Whineray, who is chief operating officer at Fonterra. “If we don’t marshall the best possible team for both recovery and reform, we will exacerbate the slide against our greatest comparator and lose even more of our most precious asset, our people.”

“That risks a younger generation not only inheriting greater debt, but also makes Aotearoa a less desirable place to live with substantially less wellbeing.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s oft repeated claim we didn’t go hard and we didn’t go early.

The requirement on incoming passengers to self-isolate, was lax and mandatory quarantine was late.

The government then went from being too slack to being too hard.

Their insistence that only businesses they deemed essential to operate, rather than permitting any business that could operate safely to do so, was nothing short of economic sabotage and it’s people who will pay the price for that.

Whineray told the Herald that while New Zealand was tracking well on specific Covid medical matters, “in the ‘Wellbeing Bledisloe’ we are behind”. . . 

Remember last year’s Wellbeing Budget? Have you any idea how any measures on its impact are tracking? Do you believe that the eye-watering amount the government is borrowing will give value for money?

Since early April, the council has been pushing Ardern to setup an organisation to mirror Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s high-powered National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, informing her that it did not believe her advisory council was the best placed for that purpose. Instead, it recommended members’ capabilities – and that of many other business leaders – would be of most value to NZ’s future in a properly mandated Business Recovery Taskforce and a Reform Commission “each chaired by a senior business person with great mana.”

The Government had instead floated an Infrastructure group and a proposed entity comprising academics, unions, officials, NGOs and business.

In a not so subtle appeal to the Prime Minister’s tendency to burnish her international brand, Whineray’s letter said that putting in place a recovery taskforce and the reform commission would be a “courageous masterstroke for New Zealand’s ascendant international reputation”.

“With the likelihood of a year until a vaccine can take us out of our Pacific isolation, our approach would appear to be well short of the ‘public:private’ bench strength already assembled and operating across the Tasman. . . 

Looking forward, because of the way Australia is approaching the next two stages it is like to go well in front,” wrote Whineray. ” We can choose to stick with our current strategy or look to reset.

“To avoid the endemic problem with the public sector’s misallocation of new Zealanders’ resources held by the Government in non-core activity and low productivity within the public sector we need a very strong business in involvement alongside central Government.” . . 

Good leaders understand their weaknesses and make sure they have people around them with different strengths who can compensate for them.

One of this government’s big weaknesses is private sector business experience.

We’ll all; pay for its refusal to take advice from people with it.

 


If it were done

May 21, 2020

Macbeth was talking about murder when he said, If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly.

That also applies to leadership tussles and National leader Simon Bridges has made the right call in summoning his caucus to settle the matter on Friday.

Every day’s delay is a day more when the issue festers with all the negative media attention that accompanies it leaving little clear air left to hold the government to account.

I am not going to give my opinion on who should be leader.

I support the party and whoever leads it and will continue to do so whether that is Simon with Paula Bennett as his deputy or Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye.

But I will say that whatever the outcome of the caucus vote, all MPs must be loyal to the leader and the party.

The leaking, the criticism and any show of disunity and disloyalty must stop.

Just a few months ago National was polling higher than Labour.

What changed was Covid-19 and the response to it.

The government’s abysmal record of doing very little it said it would until then has not changed.

KiwiBuild, child poverty, climate change  . . . it’s been lots of talk and very, very little action.

What has also changed is the economy.

The lockdown flattened the Covid curve and in the process has flattened the economy.

The government has voted itself so much money in response most of us can’t comprehend the amount. But worse, it doesn’t have a clear plan on how to spend it and at least as important, it doesn’t have a plan on how to repay it.

As Heather Roy explains in a letter to her children:

. . .By way of explanation, this is why I am sorry about your inheritance. Debt is what you have to look forward to and growth will take some time to return. In the short-term, New Zealand is facing a large rise in unemployment, predicted to peak at nearly 10 percent before falling back to 4.6% in 2022 (optimistic I suspect). Government debt will explode to more than 53 percent of GDP, up from 19% now. . . 

Not all debt is bad of course. It often allows you (and countries) to invest wisely in areas that will be of benefit later, but I fear the lack of vision and planning associated with the government borrowing an additional $160 billion means ‘wisely’ isn’t part of this equation. Vision and hope are important for people. We need to know where we are going – what the end game looks like and that the pain is worth bearing because a better life awaits. Hope too, is important. People will endure a lot if they have hope. I’m afraid I saw neither in the Budget last week. There was lots of talk of jobs, and lots of picking winners but not much in the offing for those already struggling and those who will inevitably lose their jobs when businesses go under.

Figures are tricky things. If you say them quickly, especially the billions, they don’t sound so bad. Most people can imagine what they could spend a million dollars on. Billions are a different kettle of fish. Many of us have to stop and think, how many 0’s in a billion? When figures are inconceivable, people give up trying to work out what they mean. After all, the politicians will look after the money side of things, won’t they? I hope you realise that is very dangerous thinking. To start with it’s not the government’s money – it’s yours and mine, hard earned and handed over to the government for custodial purposes.  We hope it will be spent wisely on health, education, social welfare, but after we’ve voted every three years, we don’t have any say on where it goes.

Beware of those saying we can afford to borrow this much money. Just as when we borrow from the bank to buy a car or house, when government’s borrow, repayments must be made and this limits the amount in the pot for spending in extra areas. The state of our economy is your inheritance: to contribute to your tertiary education, to educate your future children, to provide medicines and hospital treatments when you are sick, to help those who for whatever reason have no income. A mountain of debt places the prosperity of your children in peril.

Picking winners is dangerous too. Government’s love picking winners, especially in an election year. Election year budgets often resemble a lolly scramble with media reporting the “winners and losers”.  The simple fact is when you confer advantage on one group everyone else is automatically disadvantaged. Giving to the vulnerable is understandable but private industry winners are not. As an example, those who had been promised Keytruda (last year) to treat their lung cancer only to have that rug whipped out from underneath them now must be devastated to see the racing industry handed $74 million to build/rebuild horse racing tracks around the country. Flogging a dead horse instead of funding up to date medical treatments is folly and unfair in a humane society. 

I know fairness and equity are important to you all. Your generation has a more egalitarian outlook on life. Partly I think this is because you have not experienced real poverty and why New Zealand’s debt doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.

I have recently read two excellent writings by people I respect and I want to share them with you. The first is a report written by Sir Roger Douglas and two colleagues called “The March towards Poverty”. . . 

The report concludes “ For too long, we have lived with the fiction that we are doing well, lulled by successive governments into believing we truly do have a ‘rock star’ economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Starting with Grant Robertson’s post-Covid budget, we must admit to the problems facing our economy and begin to deal with them. Otherwise, current inequalities will remain entrenched, we will continue to fall further behind our OECD partners, and the prosperity of our younger generations will be placed at peril”.

While I’m on the topic of legacies, the second article I want to share is by Chris Finlayson, Attorney General in the Key/English Governments for 9 years starting when I was also a Minister. I’ve been worried about the legality of many of the impositions we have experienced since the country was plunged into lockdown. I know you sometimes think all this theoretical  stuff isn’t that important, but in a well functioning democracy how the law is made and enforced is central to an orderly society we can have faith in. Chris has eloquently described these matters much better than I can in his opinion piece  on the rule of law:

“Some readers will no doubt respond that this rule of law stuff is all very interesting for the legal profession and retired politicians but is hardly of any practical impact given what New Zealand has just avoided.

I disagree. The former Chief Justice, Sian Elias, once said that if only judges and lawyers concern themselves with the rule of law, New Zealand is in trouble. She was right. Adherence to the concept of the rule of law would have helped avoid some of the basic failures of the past eight weeks – failures that should give all New Zealanders pause for thought.”

I’m afraid it’s too late to put Ardern’s debt genie back in the bottle. I apologise on behalf of my generation and older that you and your kids will carry this debt for all of us. My advice to you is to do what this government should have done. Cut costs and minimise your liabilities. Spend only on the essentials and invest in assets that will produce a safe dividend. Perhaps most important of all, stay engaged in our democracy and encourage your friends to do the same. If COVID-19 has taught the world anything it is this: politicians need to be closely scrutinised at all times but especially in crises like these.

The government’s arrogance was exposed a couple of weeks ago when ministers were ordered not to speak in the wake of the Covid document dump. It’s carried on this week when Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis refused to attend the Epidemic response Committee because, doing a Facebook Live session instead.

The country needs an opposition focussed on the government’s mistakes and formulating a plan to do much, much better, not on itself and a leadership struggle.

Whatever happens at Friday’s caucus meeting, this is what National must be doing, and doing it together in step with the leader.

And whether or not there’s a change of leader, one thing must not change – and that’s the decision to rule out any deal with New Zealand First.


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