Submit for free speech

05/08/2021

Vague law is bad law and the proposed legislation on hate speech is very, very vague.

Any speech that intends to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, sex, marital status is already illegal and covered under the Human Rights Act.

The Free Speech Union briefing paper on proposed legislation spells out the dangers of extending that :

It is impossible to provide statutory protection for every group in society. The Government hasn’t specified which groups they think should be added to protected lists, saying they want the public to decide on that, yet they have referred to the classes of people protected against workplace discrimination – including sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, race, and political opinion.

Blasphemy has only recently been removed as an offence under the law but the government wants to protect religious belief.

Neither Minister Faafoi nor Prime Minister Ardern would clearly exclude political opinion from protection. If included as a protected group, people could be imprisoned for insulting others’ political beliefs, and so the essence of our democracy and free and frank debate would be undermined.

Are we to be no freer than North Korea to debate politics, disagree with political views and poke the borax at politicians?

While bigoted and resentful opinions are perhaps widely considered indefensible or condemnable, that does not mean they should be made
illegal. Belonging to a particular group within society should not privilege individuals or remove the rights of others to hold opinions, whatever they may be, concerning that group. What does it say of certain groups, when they are given particular legal protection? What does it say of others when they are not? Who gets to decide/ re-decide/re-decide again, as
our country continues to change? Increasing the number of groups specifically protected under hate speech law is a fool’s errand, which will never cover enough groups but always cover too many groups, depending on who you ask.

It is entirely unclear how these laws would be applied in competing cases. For example, would a fundamentalist religious aherent’s expressed views on homosexuality, and the Rainbow Community’s response to that religion be equally “hateful”? Do those sentenced then have to share a cell for up to three years?

The “hate speech” law in the United Kingdom, on which the proposed New Zealand legislation is based, has a special section which explicitly states that “…discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents…” is exempt from the law. Troublingly, there is no such provision considered by our lawmakers at present.

The proposed changes seek to move the current law from
the Human Rights Act into the Crimes Act. This may sound like a technicality, but it means that Police and courts will be charged with defining “hate speech” and deciding where the line is.

It will see the courts recognise Parliament’s intention for this law to have a more active role in our country, despite the ambiguities related to how it should be applied.

“Hate speech” legislation has always existed outside of the Crimes Act because of the difficulties in defining hate. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have been unable to clearly state where the line is. This is an irresponsible way to legislate, and once again reveals the fraught nature of these proposals. For a law to be legitimate, the people it regulates must be able to clearly see what it allows and what it prohibits.

In the past, actions have been illegal. Thought has been considered relevant only to the extent that there is demonstrable, objective evidence to speak to an individual’s intent. However, now sharing your thoughts with others (if they could be interpreted as ‘maintaining or normalising hatred’) could be illegal, absent any action. What you think may become illegal. . . 

The dangerous path down which the proposed legislation would lead police can be seen here:

STREET PREACHING NZ posted a video to the social media platform in July which shows them being approached by a police officer on Karangahape Road.

In the video, the officer tells them “there is a difference between preaching and hate speech and you are very close to crossing the line”.

But the group argued they were only preaching and in fact, the people who had called the police on them had threatened their group.

“These people actually came up and assaulted us,” one member said.

“They have threatened to kill us, they have threatened to beat up these guys and say that we are preaching hate.”

But the police officer responds: “What you guys are saying is very subjective and saying it to people up here could be taken… in a way likely to incite violence, okay?” . . 

Okay?

Without knowing exactly what the people in the group had said we can’t know whether or not it was okay, but the report doesn’t show the officer making any attempt to find out.

If this happens under existing law, it would be much worse under the proposed legislation.

More than 10,000 people have already submitted against the proposed ‘hate speech’ changes:

The Kiwi public has responded loud and clear to the Government’s questions raised in the consultation document on proposed hate speech changes: they don’t want the Government policing their speech, says Jonathan Ayling, Campaign Manager for the Free Speech Union.

More than 10,000 kiwis have submitted to the Ministry of Justice, claiming the ambiguous, unworkable changes amount to an overreach by the Government into our civil liberties. Engagement like this at the consultation phase shows how strongly New Zealander’s feel, and the threat they see to their freedoms in these changes. That us why these changes shouldn’t go forward.

“The website created to facilitate submissions to the Ministry of Justice on this issue, www.FreeSpeechSubmission.com, went live on 17, July, and in a little-over-two-weeks, we have had an overwhelming response from the public endorsingthe submission of the Free Speech Union, and submitting their own views.

“In particular we are encouraged by the huge quantity of feedback from minority communities pointing out that anti-speech laws are far more likely to damage rather than protect social cohesion.”

“Ministers’ inability to to explain what would be criminalised under these proposals reveals the danger they pose to free speech. Vague intention is an irresponsible way to legislate. The Government should listen to the public, and drop these proposed reforms.”

The signatories to this open letter show this is not a left vs right political issue.

It is a matter or right vs wrong ; freedom vs unwarranted restriction, democracy vs dictatorship.

If you haven’t already submitted the link above can help you.

 

 


Who’s standing up for farmers?

30/07/2021

This is funny:

. . . after 20 years of nuking our taste buds with bread that’s mostly sugar, Ronald McDonald’s special sauce, chicken vindaloo, deep-fried chicken and crisps made from artificially flavoured carpet underlay, most of us could not tell a beautiful piece of prime beef from a Walnut Whip.

This is not:

. . . Right. So one day you’re in the supermarket and in front of you are two legs of lamb. One is from the UK and costs £20 and one is from New Zealand and costs £15. So that’s an easy choice. You buy the one from down under. Lovely.

But it isn’t lovely, because animals farmed in New Zealand and America and China and Brazil and Canada and Australia — with which Boris has just done a much-trumpeted trade deal — do not have anything like the happy lives enjoyed by the animals farmed here. . . 

Both come from the pen of Jeremy Clarkson writing in The Times on why the UK should be proud of its animal welfare.

He might be right about that but he’s wrong that New Zealand standards for animal welfare aren’t at least as high as those in the UK.

Ironically that is partly due to the need to meet standards imposed to give access to the UK market when it entered the EU.

But more than anything it is because we’re very good farmers and very good farmers know that animal welfare is paramount.

The Listener has caught up with Clarkson’s criticism and in its editorial (not online) asks: who would we rather have tell the world about New Zealand produce – Jeremy Clarkson of our own government?

Britain’s RSPCA welcomed the trade negotiations, stressing New Zealand alone among the UK’s potential free trade partners has animal welfare standards as good as, and in some cases, better than Britain’s.

But did our Government speak up in our farmers’ defence on animal welfare? Did it point out that this country is also head-and-shoulders the most sustainable producer of dairy and meat – even counting air miles after export to the northern hemisphere? Not a word.

Nor has it ever thanked agriculture for agreeing to arguably disproportionate methane-reduction goals because of the lack of progress on – mostly urban-generated – carbon emissions.

It’s this sense of abandonment and blame that sent farmers with placards to more than 50 towns and cities last week as much as the undeniable burden of new restrictions and compliance obligations they face.

Yes. This government, at least as much as its predecessor in the mid to late 1980s, doesn’t understand farming nor does it champion it. The policies of the 80s were necessary, based on sound economics, and have led to better outcomes. Much current policy is unnecessary, based on political ideology not economics or science and will lead to perverse outcomes.

The government has been damagingly remiss in declining to champion the global competitiveness of this country’s meant and dairy sector. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had unprecedented global attention, not least for climate advocacy, yet rarely, if ever, has she talked overseas of this economy’s most outstanding sustainability story. As we approach new trade negotiations with the European Union, the United States and Britain, that environmental prowess has never been more relevant. Yet how can we sell our products to other countries’ populations if even our own citizens are under the misapprehension we willfully produce every emissions? . . 

 Farmers here have been doing a lot to improve environmental practices and doing it for some time. But government policies and dictates give no indication they understand or appreciate that.

Urban New Zealander should be encouraged to take pride in the progress the majority of the farm sector is making. Townies are not subject to a fraction of the individual accountability required from farmers for landfill, emissions and water use. . . 

The generally positive response to the Groundswell protests indicates that many urban people do understand and respect what farmers are doing.

It’s a pity the government doesn’t show it has nearly such a positive view and that it is failing to champion farming on the world stage.

 


Plea to learn from history

28/07/2021

Jamie Mackay has written an open letter to the PM with a plea that she learns from her party’s history:

Dear Jacinda,

I’m writing on behalf of New Zealand farmers. . . 

Like you, I was sceptical about the Groundswell protests. But perhaps unlike you, I was taken aback by the scale and unity on show, by the noise made by the silent majority.

Farmers are sometimes chastised for claiming to be the backbone of the economy. I would argue that, these days as our biggest export earner by a country mile, that’s a fair claim, especially with the demise of tourism in the short-to-medium term.

But in reality farmers are a subset of the SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) that are the engine of our economy. And that could be the small engineering business employing a dozen workers or your local cafe owner working 70 hours a week.

And the problems that threaten to handicap farmers will have an adverse impact on all those other SMEs that service and supply them.

Groundswell targeted seven pillars of protest. The ute tax was seventh on that list and a convenient calling card to hang a protest hat on. In reality Groundswell was all about the pace of change and the tsunami of regulation hitting, not only farmers, but all SMEs and the productive sector.

So Jacinda, what I’m asking on behalf of farmers is that you look to history for a solution to getting farmers on board to combat the undeniable (sorry CC deniers) threat GHG emissions pose to our planet.

As a keen student of politics, and the history of your own political party, you’ll know all about the biggest economic reforms this country has ever undertaken.

While Michael Joseph Savage and his 1930s formation of the welfare state was right up there, I would argue that the transformative 1980s David Lange-Roger Douglas Government takes the cake. That was until Lange lost his nerve, stopped for a cup of tea, and choked on the cake.

Rogernomics gutted provincial New Zealand. Farming was seen as a sunset industry. Who needed pitch-fork wielding hayseeds on the land when you could invest in Brierley shares? I don’t need to remind you how that ended in tears.

Yet history proves Douglas was a visionary and the man most responsible for where New Zealand agriculture finds itself now – as the most sustainable farming nation on Earth.

Rob Muldoon had taken our country into a death-spiral of interventionism and unsustainable subsidies.

The seeds of the problems that Douglas had to solve were planted over several years. The current government is replanting some of those bad seeds.

Douglas could see there was no future in farm subsidies. So we went cold turkey, almost overnight. Too hard, too early! The collateral damage was huge and the cost horrendous to provincial New Zealand. The cure was worse than the disease. Yet Douglas was right. Only his timeframe was wrong.

And herein, Jacinda, lies the history lesson. Transformation is like Rachel Hunter’s hair. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

It is already happening but problems which developed over years can’t be solved overnight.

By all means, incentivise a transformation to lower emission vehicles. But don’t penalise the productive sector, until you have a realistic, practical and “legitimate” alternative.

By all means, incentivise cleaning up our waterways. But recognise farmers who have spent hundreds of thousands of their own money on fencing off waterways, riparian planting and restoring wetlands. And hold urban New Zealand to equal account.

By all means, incentivise the reduction of methane emissions from ruminant livestock. But let’s look to science for the answer such as methane vaccines and new pasture species rather than the sledgehammer of an arbitrary 15 per cent reduction in livestock numbers.

And by all means, use your undeniable profile on the world stage to petition the world’s worst emitters, China, the USA and India to get their collective [green]houses in order. Don’t sacrifice New Zealand and its economy on the altar of climate change.

So Jacinda, to quote from that iconic Aussie movie The Castle, it’s all about the “vibe”. Farmers get the vibe, agree on the end-point but would question the timeframe as to how we get there.

Learn from Rogernomics. Be on the right side of history on this one. Take farmers with you. Be kind. Our collective provincial plea to our PM is; we want Ohakune carrot, not Wellington stick!

Yours faithfully,

Jamie.

Most agree with the goals but many disagree not just with the timeframe but the way the policies are being imposed by people in Wellington dealing with theory rather than working with the people on the ground who understand the practice.

Rather than looking at what’s working and using that as a model to help the laggards follow suit, the government is doing to farmers what it’s done to polytechnics and is threatening to do with three waters.

It’s going for central control and the pace at which it’s trying to impose it is, as Jamie points out, ignoring the mistakes of its own history.


Rural round-up

27/07/2021

Opportunity obscured by rules – Bryan Gibson:

Farmers across the country descended on towns and cities on Friday to protest against the raft of reforms they say unfairly target their livelihoods.

When asked about the protests last week, the Prime Minister agreed that reform was coming thick and fast and that it was a challenging time for those working in the primary industries.

But she maintained that transforming our economy to limit climate change and environmental degradation would only get harder the longer it was left.

That may be true, but what is also true is that if a sector of society feels that its only way forward is to take to the streets, then there’s been a failure of communication and leadership. . .

Buller farmers in recovery mode – Peter Burke:

With calving just a few weeks away, farmers in the Buller district are now busy repairing damage to their properties.

The recent floods caused stock losses, ruined pasture and damaged sheds and tracks on about a dozen farms in the district.

This latest flood is being described as the worst anyone in  Westport has seen in their lifetime but most of the damage is in the town rather than in the rural areas. . .

Labour’s immigration policy could do lasting damage to the Pacific – John Roughan:

Next Sunday Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to make another of those nauseating apologies for the past, this time for the “dawn raids” against suspected overstayers from the Pacific Islands that happened a few years before she was born.

It’s not just the assumed moral superiority of the present that always gets up my nose, it’s also the injustice to people now dead and unable to speak for themselves. It makes me wonder what apologies the future might make for things governments are doing now.

One potentially regrettable project is particularly ironic. The Prime Minister who will apologise for the dawn raids next weekend is presiding over an immigration “reset” that could do far more lasting damage to the Pacific Islands than the clumsy policing their New Zealand expats suffered in the 1970s.

It surprises me that a Labour Government takes a dim view of seasonal work that enables Pacific Islanders to come here and earn some good money picking fruit for a few months. In a recent TVNZ item on our travel bubble with the Cook Islands we heard people there lamenting the loss of their younger people migrating permanently to New Zealand. . .

Spring Seep wins at Dairy Innovation Award – Gerald Piddock:

Spring Sheep Milk has beaten global giants Nestle and China Feihe to win the best infant nutrition category product at the World Dairy Innovation Awards.

The company won the category with its Gentle Sheep infant milk drink, beating Wyeth Nutrition, which is owned by Nestle, Chinese infant formula giant China Feihe and Blueriver Nutrition Co.

Spring Sheep’s general manager of milk supply Thomas Macdonald says they are proud of the achievement.

“They are some pretty big names playing in the infant space globally and a sheep milking company from New Zealand managed to beat them. It also validates the consumer story,” Macdonald said. . .

Direct drilling no-till system good – Shawn McAvinue:

Southern growers featured at the Federated Farmers Arable Industry Awards in Christchurch earlier this month. Shawn McAvinue talks to them about their mixed cropping operations.

The Horrell family has been cropping for five generations in Northern Southland and the future is looking bright.

Grain Grower of the Year winner Morgan Horrell said his great-great-grandfather started the farm in the 1860s.

The chances of his children — Zara (23), Jake (21), Sam (14) and Dan (12) — continuing on for a sixth generation was looking good.

“Sam’s driving tractors already.” . .

New grain legume varieties a step closer to commercial use:

Plant Research (NZ) Ltd is a New Zealand based R&D company specialising in the development of new grain legume varieties.

This summer, the company enters the final stages of development and multiplication of chickpea and soy varieties developed specifically for New Zealand’s maritime environment.

Managing Director and Principal Plant Breeder Adrian Russell says his team have worked through a large number of potential genetics from both programmes to identify varieties that are adapted to our unique environment and have functional traits for product development in the plant protein space. . .

The Golden Goose: Farmer’s poem for Jacinda Ardern – Graeme Williams:

Inspired by the Howl of a Protest last week and concerned with government regulations on the rural sector, East Coast farmer and bush poet Graeme Williams has put pen to paper in a plea to Jacinda Ardern to look out for farmers. He shared his poem, The Golden Goose, with The Country today.

The Golden Goose, by Graeme Williams

Dear Aunty Jacinda,
A moment if I may,
A response I think is needed,
To the protest the other day.

Farmers are generally too busy,
To rally and cause a stink,
But their overwhelming response,
Must have made you stop and think. . .


Look, listen and learn

21/07/2021

Has Groundswell become the Prime Minister’s Voldemort?:

 Organised by lobby group Groundswell NZ, the Howl of a Protest against the government’s environmental regulations — including the “ute tax” — saw convoys of tractors, trucks and utes rumble through main streets from Kaitaia to Invercargill.

The fact the protesters were well behaved and the protests had such a huge turnout made it impossible to dismiss them as the actions of a small number of radicals or perennially disaffected farmers. It was a big swathe of grassroots New Zealand on the move.

A very subdued Ardern spoke directly to voters on Friday evening on her Facebook page. She opened by euphemistically referring to the day’s protests as “activity around the country that broadly relates to our farming community and our primary sector”.

Tens of thousands of people protesting in more than 50 towns and cities is activity? That’s shades of Harry Potter and Voldemort, or he who must not be named.

Defending her government policies, she asserted that “We can’t stand still” in implementing commitments to climate change and freshwater because our trading partners demand it of us. Of course, farmers are not asking to “stand still” but rather believe that the changes are happening too quickly and they are not being adequately consulted. . . 

She said she’d listen but she’s not hearing what’s being said: that the answer to the problems must be practical and should follow models that are already working with farmers and councils working together.

Will she hear what Alice Sanders is saying:

Hey Jacinda Ardern,

I think it’s time to chat.

You see I’ve done a lot of thinking the last few days (moving breaks and pushing sheep up will do that to you). I thought a lot about the farmers at the Groundswell NZ protests (which we couldn’t attend, funny how you tax the people who can’t leave work for the protests isn’t it), I thought a lot about my life and upbringing and I thought a lot about you.

I wondered what your upbringing was like, I wondered if you’d ever spent time on a farm before you were in politics, before anyone knew who you were and it was a photo opp.

My upbringing was great, a real kiwi farming life, we didn’t have heaps but we had everything we needed and we were very loved. But I wondered if you watched your dad come home soaking wet, well after dark, exhausted night after night with his head in his hands after a weather event caused havoc on farm and animals?

Yet he still had the time to give you a cuddle, kiss you and tuck you and your siblings in at night. Do you watch your dad now in his 60’s sitting again with his head in hands as yet another raft of regulations are announced.

Regulations that will cost more and more or even worse in the case of the Crown Pastoral Lease bill could let you take our well loved, well managed land off us if you so desire. None of these regulations have an off set that means there will be further income to fund them, this is to be done with whatever money (if any) in the farming budget.

Do you wonder what the chain of these regulations is? Instead of retirement farmers now have to keep going. Those who have managers have to lift their expectations of those managers who then have to lift the expectations of their staff. This is causing stress beyond anything you could expect any person to endure.

Don’t forget a farmer never leaves the “office” they close the curtains and open them everyday and they are there. What do you think happens when this stress stacks up? You know of course, what happens to families, what happens to relationships, what happens to people. Divorce, domestic violence, suicide happens, all the time!

Let’s ignore that for a minute though (how you can I don’t know, neither does Mike King).

So regulations cost money and don’t make any, how do we free up the money in the farming system? Not lose animal health costs we never would do that.

Lose a labour unit, so instead of Dad coming in at 8 in the dark, it’s 10 in the dark and 6 in the morning start time And what happens to that labour unit who has lost his job and his home (most farm jobs provide accomodation to staff remember).

Well he moves to town, can he find a rental? Of course not, you’ve upped all the healthy home standards and bright line test so that mum and dad investors who make up most of our property “investors” have decided to sell. And who buys those houses? Well middle class white people (like me), so what happens to our most at risk people?

They end up in emergency housing aka motels. These are the people you campaigned to save!

My goodness.

And those farm owners who can’t afford to carry on, they sell up.

But land prices and debts as high as they are, guess who will purchase it. Yup overseas investors, and they are already doing it. Isn’t that who you were trying to stop?

Now going back to those protests, did you show yourself? No. Did your so called agricultural minister Damien O’Connor MP show himself? No.

And what did you say to the farmers who are proven to be the most advanced, most sustainable, forward thinking farmers in the world, who provided for the country not just with food but with export to support the economy and pay for your COVID relief package!

Oh just that you are carrying on with the regulations and in saying that you are saying you just don’t care. We are forever moving forward as a farming community, always working to nourish our lands and our animals so it continues on for our children, our country and I guess your wages and you can’t see that and neither can your party.

It’s not about utes, it’s not about money. It’s about our people, our lives, our country and our economy.

So yes Jacinda, let’s chat. 

 And while farmers chat, look, listen and understand that what works can’t be designed and dictated from desks in Wellington.

What works is already being done on the best of farms and the recipe can be replicated, adapted and applied to others, without the big stick regulations so beloved by this government.


Good law is clear law

29/06/2021

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

Fiddling with language in this way might be alright in literature, it isn’t in law making which requires clarity, yet confusion and lack of clarity are what we’ve got with the government’s explanations on its proposed law on hate speech.

Richard Harman writes in Politik the Prime Minister is confused, or confusing:

The Prime Minister yesterday added more confusion to what was contained within the Government’s discussion document on hate speech.

It quite clearly proposes that inciting hatred or hostility against a group on the basis of its political opinion would be grounds for prosecution.  A successful conviction could result in up to three years jail or a $50,000 fine.

However, Jacinda Ardern claimed at her post Cabinet press conference yesterday that the Government had removed political opinion as grounds for prosecution. . . 

But the confusion comes right at the top of the document,  on page four, where there is a summary of the Government’s proposals which it says it has agreed to “in principle”.

“Under this proposal, more groups would be protected by the law if hatred was incited against them due to a characteristic that they have. This may include some or all of the other grounds in the Human Rights Act. These grounds are listed in section 21 of the Act, which is included in Appendix One.”

That section has a long list of grounds that could be invoked, but critically it says in Section 21 (j), “political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion.”

And herein lies the confusion; the Prime Minister was clearly talking about page 17 while seeming to not know about what was in the summary on page four. . .

Tova O’Brien points out the Prime Minister and Justice Minister don’t understand what they’re proposing:

Jacinda Ardern is wrong about her own hate speech law. Completely and utterly wrong.

Not only is the Prime Minister wrong about the basic facts of the proposal, she was wrong to shut down debate on hate speech on The AM Show this morning with her glib, inaccurate dismissals. 

The Prime Minister and Ministers develop policy and set policy directions for law. If they don’t understand the policy direction and intent of the law, how can they expect the judiciary to interpret and apply the law? 

On Newshub Nation we questioned the Justice Minister about the proposed changes and tested his policy direction and intent with examples. He conceded that, for example, if millennials expressed hatred towards boomers they could potentially be found liable for hate speech. 

Ardern is now contesting that, saying the law will only apply if it ‘incites violence’. That is wrong, the proposed threshold is as low as ‘insulting’ someone. 

The Prime Minister was dismissive about the interview and said we were trivialising the need for the law change – the terror attacks on March 15. 

It is insulting and irresponsible to pit journalists – or anyone who questions or debates the legislation – as somehow being in opposition to the needs of the victims of March 15th. 

If Jacinda Ardern wants to be the only voice who can have a say on the proposed hate speech changes – let’s fact check some of what she said on The AM Show this morning and you can decide whether she should have the only and ultimate say.  . . 

If the Prime Minister doesn’t understand the law how are the rest of us supposed to?

The more that our elected lawmakers talk about the proposed ‘hate speech’ laws, the more concerned New Zealanders should become, according to the Free Speech Union.

“Over the weekend the Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi, couldn’t clearly say that millennials wouldn’t be up for possibly three years in jail if they wrote something that spoke ill of boomers as blame for not being able to afford a house,” said Dr David Cumin, a Spokesman for the Free Speech Union.

“This morning the Prime Minister told the AM Show the proposed law was to ‘clarify’ the existing legislation, was to stop incitement to violence against groups, and political opinion would not be included as a protected category.”

“The PM’s comments do not match the proposals issued by her Government. If the proposed law change is just about stopping incitement to violence, why is the wording not so clear?”

“And why would our PM allow incitement to violence against people with a certain political opinion? Surely, when the threshold of inciting violence is breached, whoever is the target should be protected. Inciting violence towards anyone is already criminal, and rightly so.”

“Something doesn’t add up. Either the politicians don’t understand what they are doing, or they are misleading Kiwis.”

The Free Speech Union is calling on New Zealanders to join its campaign against the proposed ‘hate speech’ laws at www.fsu.nz/support 

Why, when the law against blasphemy has been repealed, would the government want to introduce a new and confusing law criminalising people who criticise religion.

As the Observer editorial says:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of democracy, which cannot flourish unless citizens can articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction. . . .

Good law is clear law. The proposed hate speech legislation is neither good nor clear; in threatening free speech it threatens to undermine democracy and neither the PM nor Justice Minister even understand what they’re proposing.


Govt PR vs media, no contest

08/06/2021

Remember Jacinda Ardern’s promise to be the most open and transparent New Zealand had ever seen?

Andrea Vance writes that her promise to be open and transparent is an artfully crafted mirage:

. . . In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

Since then the numbers of faceless communications specialists have skyrocketed. The Government’s iron grip on the control of information has tightened.

And it is now harder than ever to get information. . .

In my 20-year plus time as a journalist, this Government is one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced. Many of my colleagues say the same.

Even squeezing basic facts out of an agency is a frustrating, torturous and often futile exercise. . . 

Such stonewalling might be common-place in dictatorships. It’s not supposed to happen in a democracy.

Vance gives examples of the difficulty she, and other journalists have, in getting information and notes why:

It’s now very difficult for journalists to get to the heart and the truth of a story. We are up against an army of well-paid spin doctors.

Since the current Government took office, the number of communications specialists have ballooned. Each minister has at least two press secretaries. (Ardern has four).

In the year Labour took office, the Ministry for the Environment had 10 PR staff. They now have 18. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade more than doubled their staff – up to 25.

MBIE blew out from 48 staff to 64. None of those five dozen specialists could give me those figures for many weeks – and again I was forced to ask the Ombudsman to intervene.

The super ministry – and its colleagues uptown at the Health Ministry – are notorious for stymieing even the simplest requests. Health’s information gatekeepers are so allergic to journalists they refuse to take phone calls, responding only (and sporadically) to emails.

But it is the New Zealand Transport Agency that take the cake: employing a staggering 72 staff to keep its message, if not its road-building, on track – up from 26 over five years.

There’s no contest in government PR versus the media.

PR staff will be paid far more than they’d get in the media and instead of providing information they’re keeping it from journalists and so from the public who pay them.

At every level, the Government manipulates the flow of information. It has not delivered on promises to fix the broken, and politically influenced OIA system.

It also keeps journalists distracted and over-burdened with a rolling maul of press conferences and announcements, which are often meaningless or repetitive and prevent sustained or detailed questioning.

In this age of live-streaming and blogging, organisations often feel obliged to cover every stage-managed utterance for fear of missing out. . . 

This isn’t openness, it’s obstruction in an attempt to hide the facts and present the fluff.

Perhaps the trials and tribulations of the nation’s journalists do not concern you. Why should you care?

Because the public’s impression of this government is the very opposite.

They see a prime minister that has captivated the world with her ‘authentic’ communication style, intimate social media postings, daily Covid briefings and proactive releases of Cabinet papers.

It is an artfully-crafted mirage, because the reality is very different. This is a Government that is only generous with the information that it chooses to share.

The government isn’t only withholding information from and manipulating it to the media, it’s obstructing the Opposition.

All of which begs the question: what are they hiding?


Rural round-up

05/06/2021

Canterbury flooding: Historic Grigg family farm wiped out by worst rain they’ve ever seen – Kurt Bayer:

Canterbury farmers bordering rivers have been devastated by the hundred-year flood, with lost animals, thousands of kilometres of smashed fencing, and green fields turned overnight into shingle. Surrey Hills Station farmer Arthur Grigg, whose access bridge, driveway and paddocks have been wiped out, says the Government needs to step up after the “extraordinary” event. Kurt Bayer reports.

From the picturesque plateau where he was married just weeks ago in the shadow of the century-old family homestead, Arthur Grigg surveys the damage.

“It’s a kick in the guts,” he says, shaking his head.

The place, Surrey Hills Station near Mt Somers, up until the weekend, had been looking good too. Grigg had been thinking about a mid-winter break, maybe a spot of fishing. . . 

Nothing – not even a hug – Tim GIlbertson:

Jacinda breezed in to town recently, with Damien in tow.

Following his triumphant decapitation of the live export trade, Damien was presumably looking for another prospering rural enterprise to put the taiaha into. But mother nature’s drought is successfully doing the job for him. So, he would have left disappointed.

The PM greeted local councillors and discussed the success of the mayoral task force for jobs, which has created 12 new positions. Loud applause. Then she visited a regenerative dairy farm.

What she did not do was look out the window of the ministerial BMW and say: “My God! You are having another massive drought leading to the massive long term economic and social damage to the entire region. We must act on water storage at once!” . .

Adopting a plant-based diet can help shrink a person’s carbon footprint, but a new study finds that improving the efficiency of livestock production will be an even more effective strategy for reducing global methane emissions.

The study looked at the intensity of methane emissions from livestock production around the world – in other words, how much methane is released for each kilogram of animal protein produced – and made projections for future emissions.

The authors found in the past two decades, advances in farming had made it possible to produce meat, eggs and milk with an increasingly smaller methane footprint.

Some countries, however, had not had access to the technology enabling these advances. . . 

Trophy win elates Trust boss -Peter Burke:

Tataiwhetu Trust chairman Paki Nikora is elated to have won this year’s Ahuwhenua trophy for the top Maori dairy farm. He never thought the trust would reach such heights in the agricultural sector.

Nikora says Maori tend to belittle themselves all the time. However, when push came to shove, the trust decided to give it a go and enter the competition. There were scenes of great excitement as Tataiwhetu, which runs an organic dairy farm in the Ruatoki Valley, south of Whakatane, was announced the winner and presented with the trophy by the Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

When Nikora was presented with the trophy there were scenes of great jubilation as whānau came on stage to join in the celebrations, which included waiata and a haka.

Tataiwhetu runs 432 Kiwi cross cows and carries 188 replacement stock on its two support blocks. They milk once-a-day with the herd producing 129,140 kgMS a year. . . 

Calf rearing workshops to run through-out New Zealand:

Practical workshops on successful calf rearing by Dairy Women’s Network and SealesWinslow are ensuring New Zealand farmers are entering the season confidently with the right tools and knowledge to raise healthy calves.

Calf rearing is a critical time for dairy farmers, with success determined by the quality and management of newborn calves from the time of birth through to 12 weeks of age.

Each of the workshops will focus on the best practice behind providing food and shelter for newborns, with SealesWinslow’s Nutrition and Quality Manager, Natalie Hughes, presenting on calf housing and pen design for optimal health and stimulation. 

“During the workshops we’ll explore the latest research and look at how we translate this into practical tips and advice to set you up for a successful calf season,” said Hughes. . .

Farm working to give back more than it takes – Curtis Baines:

A farm on the outskirts of Melbourne is making waves within its local community, and it’s all thanks to an initiative connecting producers with consumers.

Sunbury’s Lakey Farms produces pastured lamb, beef, goat, mutton and wine.

The farm works with the philosophy that it puts back more than it takes, through ethical treatment of livestock and regenerative farming.

Lakey Farms owner John Lakey believes in the ideology that animals – particularly livestock – deserve fair treatment and an abundance of roaming space. . . 


Rural round-up

03/06/2021

The climate-change dilemma facing dairy farmers – milk more cows or cull the herd – is politically challenging, too – Point of Order:

From one Wellington  platform  Reserve  Bank governor Adrian  Orr is  telling  the  country   strong global demand for NZ primary products is ensuring the economy remains resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic and is helping offset tourism losses. He  says  Fonterra’s  forecast  of a  record opening milk price is “very good news” and is included in the bank’s projections.

From another platform, Climate Change Commissioner Rod Carr told hundreds of people – including farmers – at an agricultural climate change conference that for the agricultural sector there would be no way to wriggle out of slashing emissions.

Carr said agriculture made up about half of NZ’s emissions, and this needed to be reduced to meet climate obligations.International customers would go elsewhere, costing the economy billions of dollars in the coming years.

So  here’s  the  problem: . . 

Time for industry to be heard, leader says – Sally Rae:

“Maybe enough is enough.”

Otago Merino Association chairwoman Jayne Reed, from Cloudy Peak Station, near Tarras, was referring to the never-before-seen pressures the agricultural sector was facing, in her address to the annual merino awards.

“Not the usual seasonal weather worries, commodity price fluctuations and the odd flustering visit from the bank manager, which our fathers dealt with, but an increasingly scary onslaught of bureaucratic intervention … written in some cases by young idealistic policy makers who have never stepped on a farm.

“Our urban neighbours are telling us how to manage our outcomes without any real understanding of what 99% of us are working towards and this is the really disappointing part. . . 

Rural leaders plead to NZTA for second Ashburton bridge plans – Adam Burns:

Damaging floods in Ashburton have sparked calls for urgency around a second bridge by the district’s rural leaders, with the town’s sole overpass at risk.

The Ashburton River Bridge had to be closed for most of yesterday after reports of slumping. It has reopened to light vehicles only, but further testing for heavy vehicles is expected later.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not be drawn on questions around the second bridge issue when she fronted media in Ashburton yesterday.

“The priority right now is connecting people with Ashburton,” Ardern said. . . 

Perriam’s vision for breed recognised with family award – Sally Rae:

John Perriam is a man of vision, risk and “you can do it” approach.

Through his love for merino sheep and his home, Bendigo Station, he had “given it his all” and made a significant difference to the New Zealand merino industry.

That was his daughter Christina Grant reflecting on the pivotal role her father has played in the industry, during the Otago Merino Association’s awards evening.

She was presenting him with the Heather Perriam Memorial Trophy, named in memory of his late wife and her mother, and presented for outstanding service to the merino industry. . . 

Synlait braces for heavy loss – Sudesh Kissun:

Listed Canterbury milk processor Synlait is heading towards its first financial loss ever, but is telling its farmer suppliers not to worry.

The company revealed last week that it now expects to make a net loss of between $20 million and $30 million for the financial year ending this July. Last year, Synlait recorded a net profit of $75 million.

The milk processor has had a challenging 18 months. Key stakeholder, and one of its major customers, the a2 Milk company downgraded its forecasts because of disrupted markets and problems with its key Chinese market – leaving Synlait with large inventories of base powder and infant formula.

Synlait co-founder John Penno has returned to his former role of chief executive and is leading a reset of the business. . .

Are we running out of New Zealand wine? :

New Zealand winegrowers are becoming increasingly concerned about running out of wine after a smaller harvest than usual this year. The famous wine-growing region of Marlborough was especially hard hit by this issue. As an area famous for its excellent quality wine – particularly sauvignon blanc – that gets supplied across the country as well as internationally, this lack of grapes could potentially be disastrous for the wine industry as a whole.

Last year, spring was cooler than usual, with frosts occurring until unusually late in the season. This, combined with increasing costs of production, has made wine harvesting more difficult and expensive than usual.

Additionally, the New Zealand wine industry usually relies on the influx of seasonal workers on working holidays who are ready and willing to help with the harvest. With Covid closing the borders, these people have not been able to enter the country in the past year. Attracting New Zealanders into these roles has proved far trickier for many growers, especially those in more rural areas. . . 

 


Don’t change law, enforce it

27/05/2021

Neil Miller Taxpayers’ Union analyst says electoral laws should be enforced, not changed:

Faced with a steadily growing number of electoral finance investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stared kindly into the camera and intoned, “we should be looking at the way our regime works. Clearly, it’s not currently, so let’s do something about that.”

The Taxpayers’ Union could not agree more that we should “do something about that.” However, the “something” is not to change the rules again or argue they are unclear (which they are not). The real “something” is to actually enforce the law. These prosecutions are proof that the regime is finally starting to work.

It is a terrible look for the Prime Minister to suggest that the electoral finance law needs to be changed so soon after her party has been charged. National was charged – the law was fine. New Zealand First was charged – the law was fine. Labour is charged and their ally the Māori Party is under investigation – the law is not working and needs to be changed. That is Banana Republic behaviour.

The law that worked for other parties now doesn’t work for Labour and its ally? Banana Republic behaviour indeed.

Of course, all parties are presumed innocent until found guilty of course, and all have pleaded innocence in relation to the charges.

Prime Minister, the problem is not the regime or the system – it is how politicians try to constantly push the boundaries of the system. They do it because it often works, there are rarely any consequences of note, and, if there are, they come long after the election affected by the activity in question. By the time any judgment is made most voters, if they were even aware of it, will have forgotten about the issue.

National and Labour are well established parties with teams constantly working on the minutiae of election finances. There are no excuses. The Māori Party is alleged to have missed deadlines for declarations which seems to be a cut and dried issue. Either they did, or they did not. There is no room for interpretation.

There is no hope of taxpayers ever seeing a cent paid back from New Zealand First – sorry, the completely separate New Zealand First Foundation – now that the organisation is essentially moribund. If Winston Peters wants to come back, he will likely disband New Zealand First (and its debts), then create the First New Zealand Party with Rt Hon Winston Peters as the leader.

Advance New Zealand’s Billy TK can plausibly plead ignorance – there is plenty of evidence of that in his public comments. His co-leader, Jami-Lee Ross, much less so. In fact, what Labour is being charged with (hiding the identity of donors and the size of the donations) is – allegedly – known in Wellington as “the JLR shuffle”.

We do need to do something and that is to support the Serious Fraud Office finally enforcing the existing laws. Parliament has not done it, the Police have shown no interest in doing it, and the Electoral Commission cannot enforce them.

All power to the Serious Fraud Office.

If anything needs changes it’s to give the Electoral Commission the power, and any necessary funding, to police the law and the ability to deal with transgressions during the pre-election period before voting starts.


A freeze by any other name . . .

11/05/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Addressing supply deficit

15/04/2021

National has a policy that will address the root cause of the housing crisis – the supply deficit:

National is proposing an alternative solution to the housing shortage that will urgently address the country’s land supply problem and help councils fund supporting infrastructure.

  • Judith Collins’ Emergency Response (Urgent Measures) Member’s Bill will put in place emergency powers similar to those used to speed up house building in Canterbury following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
  • The new law would require all urban councils to immediately zone more land for housing – enough for at least 30 years of expected growth.
  • Resource Management Act (RMA) appeals process would be limited to ensure these new district plans can be completed and put in place rapidly.
  • $50,000 infrastructure grant would be provided to all local authorities (urban and rural) for every new dwelling they consent above their five-year historical average.

Across our country, a toxic mix of land use restrictions and consenting requirements severely limit the new land available for housing and how intensively existing residential zones can be developed. The result is that developers have limited options for where they can build new houses and face extensive costs, delays and legal hurdles when they embark on a new housing development.

Judith Collins has drafted a Member’s Bill that will go into the ballot this week. The draft legislation will effectively put in place emergency powers similar to those used to ramp up house building in Canterbury following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The law change would also incentivise councils to lift their game by providing a grant of $50,000-per-house for every new dwelling consented over and above a historical average.

This streamlined mechanism for allocating the Government’s $3.8 billion Housing Acceleration Fund would provide councils a simple tool for funding the infrastructure needed to support new housing, such as pipes, roads and public transport stops.

The time has come for an extraordinary solution to this unfolding emergency. We need to short circuit the faltering RMA to get more houses built. National acknowledges that under the current law even if councils want to make more space available for housing, they face multiple handbrakes. The RMA ties them into a knot of consultation requirements and infrastructure costs loom as a heavy burden.

Our Emergency Response (Urgent Measures) Bill gives councils permission – in fact it requires them – to say ‘yes’ to housing development and to get as much new housing built as they can as soon as is possible.

These RMA changes will expire after four years, reflecting the fact they are a temporary solution while more fundamental changes are made to New Zealand’s planning laws. Rural councils would not be compelled to rezone but could utilise the new powers if they wished.

National’s approach has a proven track record of success in Christchurch where the resulting surge in housing supply after the earthquakes saw affordability improve while it was deteriorating across the rest of the country.

House prices rose by 7.4 per cent annually across New Zealand from July 2014 to March 2019, but only rose by 2.9 per cent annually in Christchurch during that time.

Swift action is needed to help first-home buyers, with New Zealand’s housing market now the least affordable in the OECD.

Despite Labour’s big promises prior to the 2017 election, the median house price jumped from $530,000 to $780,000 between October 2017 and February 2021, a 47 per cent increase in just over three years.

National is the party of home ownership. We are committed to sensible solutions that will get more New Zealanders into their own home without hitting them with more taxes.

Judith Collins will be writing to all Members of Parliament to seek their support for her Emergency Response (Urgent Measures) Bill to go straight on to the Order Paper, rather than into the Member’s Ballot.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern could also do the right thing by New Zealanders by adopting this Member’s Bill as government legislation to help it become law faster.

The government has been tinkering with policies that try to restrict demand. They might raise a bit more money from taxes, but they won’t build more houses.

National’s policy isn’t tinkering. It’s addressing the shortage of supply by making building easier.

It worked in Christchurch, it would work again everywhere else if the government could get over its reluctance to accept good advice because it came from National.

This is too important an issue to put politics before people and the practical solution that will help house them.

You can read the whole Bill here.


Anything but kind

25/03/2021

Court documents have provided National with fuel to renew calls for Speaker Trevor Mallard to resign:

The legal threats used by Trevor Mallard to silence a Parliamentary staffer who he falsely accused of rape make him unfit to continue as Parliament’s Speaker, Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop says.

National has received the statement of claim by the plaintiff, lodged in the High Court as part of defamation proceedings, which alleges Mr Mallard repeated his false allegation against the staffer in public even after he was told by Parliamentary Service that it was incorrect.

The document also shows Mr Mallard, who has admitted he knew within 24 hours of making the initial claim that he made a mistake, informed the staffer, through lawyers, that he would not apologise, would not pay damages, did not accept the staffer had been defamed, would prove what he said about the staffer was true, and would defend any claim “vigorously”.

Mr Mallard, via his lawyers, said that should the staffer pursue litigation, “the question of his reputation, and his conduct, will be very much the centrepiece of any public proceeding”.

It took about 18 months before Mr Mallard finally settled with the staffer and apologised for “distress and humiliation”. The matter cost taxpayers $333,641.70 in the form of a $158,000 ex-gratia payment to settle the legal claim, $171,000 in fees to Dentons Kensington Swan and $4641.70 to Crown Law for advice to the former Deputy Speaker.

Trevor Mallard has lost the confidence of the Opposition over his handling of this matter and should not continue as Speaker of the House, Mr Bishop says.

“Trevor Mallard behaved in a threatening and bullying way. This wasn’t just a ‘mistake’, as he tried to portray it. His behaviour is unbecoming of someone whose job it is to uphold the standards and integrity of Parliament.

“He is in a position of immense power and has used this power to try and silence a former employee. The irony is that he has exhibited the exact behaviour the Francis review was commissioned to stamp out: bullying.”

National has sought the leave of Parliament to debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Mallard on several occasions this term, but they have been continually blocked by Labour.

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins wrote to the Prime Minister on March 16 to inform her of this latest information regarding Mr Mallard.

“The Prime Minister and her Labour MPs need to ask themselves whether this is the sort of behaviour they’re prepared to keep defending,” Mr Bishop says.

“In any other workplace in New Zealand, Trevor Mallard would be sacked. What’s good for any other workplace should be good for Parliament as well.”

Making the accusation without proof was wrong.

Failing to apologise as soon as he knew he was wrong made it worse.

Allowing the legal process to continue when he knew he was wrong compounded the wrongdoing.

That the legal process included threats should the accused man pursue litigation is unacceptable behaviour from anyone let alone the Speaker.

This could all have been avoided had Mallard apologised as soon as he knew his accusation was groundless.

It could have been avoided had PM Jacinda Ardern done the right thing by seeking his resignation months ago.

Allowing the matter to fester is anything but kind to the man who was wrongly accused and who lost his job as a result of that.

It is also anything but kind to the taxpayer who has already had to pick up the bill for legal costs and could well face even heavier payments for more legal fees and compensation.

The PM says she always reads letters from children. She should not only read but act on this one:

The transcript of Bishop’s speech is after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »


Broken promises and bromide

24/03/2021

Yesterday’s announcement on housing was mere tinkering.

It broke the promise of Grant Robertson that there would be no changes to the bright line test and Jacinda Ardern’s promise there would be no capital gains tax while she was leader.

What makes it worse is that the broken promises will do nothing to solve the housing crisis. It could well decrease the supply of rental accommodation and will lead to increased rents.

That pressure on rents will be compounded by the decision to single property owners out by ending their ability to claim the cost of interest against their income for tax purposes.

This is not as the government asserts, and some in the media parrot, closing a loophole, it’s a change to tax law that has until now applied to every business.

Higher costs for landlords will inevitably be passed on to their tenants.

Increasing income caps and house prices for First Home Grants is a token gesture when house prices are so high and if it does anything it will add fuel to the fire. Anything which makes it easier for people to buy a house without increasing the supply will push up prices.

At first glance the infrastructure accelerator looks good, but will it be effective?

. . .However, Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr said the policy changes simply “tinkered at the edges”, and were not enough to address the systemic supply issues that have caused New Zealand’s house prices to soar beyond the reach of many.

“It was pretty disappointing to be honest. Some of the ideas are good, but the size is pathetic. It’s a drop in the bucket and it’s a leaky bucket at that.”

Kerr said the tool with the most potential was the $3.8b infrastructure accelerator, which is intended to help local councils create the necessary services infrastructure – plumbing, roads, power – to unlock remote land for property development.

“I think the idea is great; we need to get funding into councils to sort out woeful infrastructure and get it to areas that need to be developed. But the fact that it only got $3.8b means that it’s going to be ineffective – $3.8billion spread across all our councils is a rounding error.” . . 

The whole package is underwhelming, it’s just broken promises and bromide that ignore the root cause of the crisis – a lack of supply and the foundation for that is an unwillingness to cut the red tape that holds back development.

 


Rural round-up

18/03/2021

Agriculturists demand review to get through Labour shortage – Tom Kitchin:

Agriculturalists are demanding assurances from the government that the chronic labour shortage they are facing never happens again.

Covid-19 has left them without thousands of workers and with no certainty for the future, they are asking for action.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with other top ministers, met sector leaders in Hawke’s Bay today at a food and fibre leaders’ forum.

Horticulture New Zealand president and chairman Barry O’Neil, a kiwifruit grower from Bay of Plenty, had one question for the government. . .

Food, fibre’s biggest problem: – Annettte Scott:

Keeping focused and on track is the biggest challenge for the Food & Fibre Partnership Group (FFPG) on its transformational journey to accelerate New Zealand’s economic potential.

FFPG chair Mike Petersen says the food and fibre sector has a huge role to play in NZ’s economic recovery from covid-19.

“We’re already on the transformation journey but the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) sector-wide roadmap – Fit for a Better World, says there is opportunity to accelerate this further,” Petersen said.

“It is our (FFPG) role to coordinate transformation efforts across the food and fibre sector to improve sustainability and wellbeing, boost productivity and profitability and lift product value.” . . .

Organic proposals risk cost and complexity – Richard Rennie:

The organics sector is fearful its concerns about organic regulations have not been heard in the latest discussion paper on the sector’s proposed changes.

The discussion paper on regulations released by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is for the Organic Products Bill lays out how organic producers would be certified, regulated and audited.

The proposed regulations aim to strengthen standards and definitions of New Zealand’s organic food sector, valued at $700 million a year in domestic and overseas export earnings. . .

 Hawke’s Bay apple pickers: ‘It’s a walk in the park‘ – Tom Kitchin:

Huge shortages of pickers coupled with significant staff turnovers, it’s been a nightmare of a season for orchard growers across the country, but a few brave souls have come to the rescue.

RNZ’s Hawke’s Bay reporter Tom Kitchin takes a look at the personalities up and around the apple picking ladders.

“It’s just a walk in the park.”

That might not be what you expect to hear when someone describes apple picking. . .

A bright future in agriculture  – Louise Hanlon:

Recent St Peter’s School Cambridge graduate, Annabelle McGuire, set off to Lincoln University in mid-February full of excitement as she embarks on a Bachelor of Agribusiness and Food Marketing qualification.

“Heading to Lincoln, and the South Island, is a new adventure,” says Annabelle. “I am so excited about going.” And she won’t be alone, as six other St Peter’s graduate students are on their way to Lincoln also.

Agriculture student numbers are burgeoning at St Peter’s and the school’s situation, right beside Owl Farm, may be playing a part.

“Ag was opened up to year nines last year,” says Annabelle, “And they have a new teacher this year and a whole new classroom – the numbers in the classes have exploded.” . . .

 

Investing in shearer training – Mark Griggs:

MORE than 1750 shearers and shed hands have been trained in shearing schools conducted by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) in the past 12 calendar months.

AWI board member, Don Macdonald, said shearer training was on top of the AWI agenda but felt shearing contractors may not be doing their part by taking on learners.

He was informing 90 visitors at his Mullungeen property, between Wellington and Larras Lee, earlier this month during the inaugural Cumnock and District Commercial Flock Ewe competition in which the Mullungeen flock was awarded the winning place. . .

 

 


It’s us she’s not talking to

09/03/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is running for the hills.

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

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

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

Those occasions are too many to be comfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Soper calls her the accidental Prime Minister:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media 1 – Ardern 0.

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

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


Too much politics not enough science

03/03/2021

Auckland Professor of Medicine Des Gorman is less than impressed with the ‘deja vu’ lockdown:

The situation the country has found itself in was “déjà vu” after the second lockdown in less than a month, one medical professor says. 

The latest cases of Covid-19 have plunged Auckland back into Level 3 lockdown, with the rest of the country at Level 2 – coming barely two weeks after the last three day lockdown. 

Auckland University professor of medicine Des Gorman told Mike Hosking it seemed plans were being made up on the spot. 

He said it showed our “inconsistent risk-management approach”, and the Government needs to improve 

“If we needed to be in level three two weeks ago, then coming down to level two in one was clearly precipitous and early.” 

Why is it like this?

Gorman said the Government’s Covid-19 response was too much politics and not enough science. . .

The way Prime Minister Jacinda Arden chose to put herself front and centre of the daily sermons from the podium of truth made the response overtly political.

There might have been grounds for her presence and delivery at first in reassuring the country as we faced the first lockdown and growing numbers of Covid-19 cases.

But she chose to stay in the limelight long after one of her ministers and more appropriately Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield should have been the ones delivering updates.

That paid off with the election result giving Labour an outright majority but it came with risks that MIchael Bassett points out are now becoming apparent.

Watching TV last night, I couldn’t help thinking that the Prime Minister’s extraordinary luck is starting to run out. Every aspect of her lockdowns was questioned. Endless bungling over the South Auckland community outbreaks of Covid 19 were revealed, and she didn’t seem very happy about any of it. She has only herself to blame. After twelve months of wrestling day in, day out with the virus it was inevitable that eventually she would lose control of issues, given that so many other things have to be dealt with by any Prime Minister.

This is why successful leaders of governments have learned over the years to delegate. Jacinda Ardern has a bloated ministry of 26 members with two under-secretaries as well, but she insists on doing too much herself. She’s been told by her advisers that she is the surest pair of hands in the Ministry and that her popularity is vital to Labour’s standing with the public. For three years now that has been true, and even although she has sometimes seemed to be engaged in a running totter around the lip of chaos, she has remained upright. The overwhelming impression I gained from last night’s news was that if she insists on handling every detail and fronting every day on Covid 19 she will fall in. After twelve months of testing, getting the results takes far too long, contributing to the recent South Auckland problems; contact tracing has been haphazard of late; assurances the Prime Minister kept giving about lockdown rules and their enforcement proved to be wrong; her line on whether to pursue people who break the rules has been wobbly to say the least; and the silly decision to stop short of vaccinating front-line GPs in South Auckland, which wasn’t her call, reflected back on Ardern because her control of everything Covid is so omnipresent. . . .

That worked for her when she had our trust but that is being eroded by repeated lockdowns and the apparent failure to accept mistakes are being made and to learn from them.

Perhaps the international praise has gone to her head.

There is no doubt New Zealand looks good when compared with many other countries, but as Heather du Plessis-Allan points out, we don’t compare well with others:

We will always tell ourselves another lockdown is fine if we keep comparing ourselves to the worst Covid-hit countries, especially the UK and the US. Because seven days looks paltry compared to the months and months they’re pulling in the UK.

But what about all the places fighting Covid without yo-yoing in and out of lockdowns What about all the places that haven’t even had a single lockdown?

We’ve talked about Taiwan ad nauseum. Not a single lockdown there, and only nine deaths. By comparison we’ve had 26 deaths and several lockdowns.

What about New South Wales, which is increasingly looking like an example of how to combat Covid. They haven’t had a single state-wide or Sydney-wide lockdown this entire pandemic. Meanwhile, Auckland has had four lockdowns, which will be a total of 11 weeks – or nearly three months – at the end of this week.

NSW’s biggest city, Sydney, hasn’t had a single week with the whole place in lockdown. NSW has had 54 deaths, which isn’t bad for a population of about 8 million.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s response is nuanced. They lock down suburbs and hotspot areas, so if there’s a flare-up in the Northern Beaches, the restrictions are limited to the area, not the entire state, or even the entire city. Compare that to NZ, where Invercargill is in level 2 right now.

NSW is actively trying to avoid lockdowns. They have an excellent contact tracing system so they can put sick people into isolation, rather than all people into lockdown.
And last I checked they just went 40 days or so without a community case.

You are welcome to keep comparing us with northern hemisphere countries who are in the depths of winter to see how well we’re doing, because we’re always going to be better than the absolute worst in the world.

Or you can compare us to NSW, just across the ditch, to see how much better we could be doing.

Lack of compliance with isolation requirements is the immediate cause of the latest lockdown but as the ODT editorialises, we can point our fingers at the government too:

The Government, and especially the Ministry of Health, does not escape blame. Despite many hard-won improvements over the past 12 months, parts of the ministry’s operations are still lethargic when these crises hit.

New Zealand’s lucky streak, supposedly, ended because of the community case from one of the few Papatoetoe High School families not contacted for about a week after contract tracers went to work. Apparently, various phone numbers were often tried.

The failure to door-knock within days, however, was not misfortune but lack of urgent drive. Any decent media reporter, when phone calls failed, would have been visiting the family home long before the first family positive test.

Similarly, the wait by patients for many hours for advice from Healthline is poor.

How many people, who should have been tested, simply gave up? An underlying message is that the Government, despite all the strong words, might not really care that much. Only now, late as usual, do we learn of further scaling of surge capacity on Healthline.

There remain major questions, too, about the lack of use of saliva testing. . . 

There are also questions about the MInistry’s and government’s competence when contact tracing is failing us:

After more than a year of dealing with Covid-19 the Government is still failing its own contact tracing performance measures and is failing to be open and transparent about locations of interest, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

Information supplied to National from the Health Minister show that in both the recent Northland case and the Papatoetoe outbreak, the Ministry of Health failed against two measures of contact tracing that were considered ‘critical’ by the Government.

The Government sets a target of having 80 per cent of contacts of an index case located and isolated within four days. But in some cases related to these two incidents, only 52 per cent of contacts were isolated within four days.

“Alongside reports from the current Papatoetoe outbreak that contacts were called but not visited, this shows the Government needs to do better with contact tracing,” Dr Reti says.

“Dr Ayesha Verrall’s audit into the Government’s contact tracing regime last year made it clear that our system was lacklustre, and the Government promised to turn this around.”

The Government needs to say whether its contact tracing indicators have ever been completely met in any of the many community outbreaks since the Americold community cases sent Auckland into lockdown last year, Dr Reti says.

“There is no excuse for not implementing Dr Ayesha Verrall’s recommendations in full given she’s sitting right there at the Cabinet table.”

Meanwhile, recently released documents show six locations of interest were undisclosed in the recent Northland outbreak – nearly 20 per cent of all the locations in that case.

“The Director General of Health has said non-disclosure is a rare event but nearly 20 per cent of all locations can’t possibly be considered rare,” Dr Reti says.

“It’s important that the public knows these locations because it impacts not only the people inside but potentially those outside, like kerbside rubbish collectors.

“Properly identifying locations of interest would likely lead to more people coming forward, rather than less.

Claiming that medical centres don’t need to be disclosed because they have an appointment book that shows who was there doesn’t really work as an excuse, Dr Reti says.

“As someone who has owned and managed many medical centres, I know it’s not possible to tell who is in the waiting room at any one time, who are accompanying patients, or who has entered just to use the bathroom or pass a message on.

“We need to understand the rules for non-disclosure and they need to be consistently applied and with an assurance that the risk of transmission is exceptionally low.

They might have got away with mistakes in the early days when, as they pointed out there was no rule book.

But it’s now a year since the first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed in New Zealand and that excuse has long past its use-by date.

Most of us have done as requested but patience wears thinner with each lockdown and the government’s failure to be open about its plans over where-to-from-here raises questions over whether or not it has one.

Businesses are justified in asking for the plan to be made public.

Some of the country’s most powerful business leaders are demanding the government lay out its Covid-19 plan, including how it is measuring its current strategy and its plans to get the border open. . . 

The group is calling for clarity and openness, saying the details need to be made available beyond government circles.

Mercury chair Prue Flacks said major New Zealand businesses would welcome the opportunity to assist the government in its longer-term planning.

“We’ve seen the open and transparent approach taken by Australia on its vaccine roll-out plan, the launch last week by the United Kingdom government of a clear plan to manage a path out of its current lockdown and the ongoing success in Taiwan of avoiding lockdowns through using technology to manage home isolation.

“It will be beneficial for all New Zealand if the Ministry of Health and other agencies take an open and transparent approach to the development of a path towards sustainable virus management.” . . .

We are all justified in not just asking for the plan, but asking that it be less about politics and more about science.


Rural round-up

25/02/2021

The rewards of good data – Peter Burke:

New Zealand’s primary sector is our equivalent of the USA’s Silicon Valley of excellence.

That’s the view of one of the country’s illustrious agricultural economists, Rob Davison, who recently received an award for his outstanding contribution to the primary sector.

The award goes alongside the ONZM he received in 2016 for his services to NZ’s sheep and beef sector.

This latest award is well deserved for a person who has helped build and shape one of the most respected economic institutions in the country. Davison has been with Beef+Lamb New Zealand’s Economic Service for more than 40 years, much of that time as its executive director. . . 

Rural trust there for anyone having ‘tough time’ – Shawn McAvinue:

Otago Rural Support Trust chairman Mike Lord, of Outram, said if anyone in Otago’s rural community needed help — or knew of anyone who needed help — they could call the trust.

People called for a “range of reasons” such as financial stress, the impact of adverse weather such as flooding, snow, or drought or any other type of “tough time”.

“I have no doubt we make a difference.”

After Covid hit, a “desperate” farmer called because he had stock and a lack of feed due to meat works taking fewer animals as it dealt with new protocols. . . 

Recommendations ‘ambitious and challenging’ – Peter Burke:

Initial reaction to the Climate Change Commission report has been generally muted, but there are some concerns in the agricultural sector.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claims the commission’s draft advice, released earlier this month, sets out an ‘achievable blueprint’ for New Zealand. She says the report demonstrates NZ has the tools to achieve our target but calls on us to accelerate our work.

“As a government we are committed to picking up the pace and focusing much more on decarbonisation and reducing emissions rather than overly relying on forestry,” Ardern says. . .  . . 

North Otago chicken farm sharpens its focus – Shawn McAvinue:

Anna Craig knew it was the right time to get cracking and launch a new brand to market the free-range eggs produced on her family’s farm in North Otago.

The Lincoln University agribusiness and food marketing student said she was “torn” about how to spend her summer break.

She could spend it working on her family’s 450ha farm in Herbert, about 20km south of Oamaru, or seek work elsewhere, which might look better on her CV.

She returned to the farm and set herself a goal of launching a new brand to sell some of the eggs laid by about 30,000 free range shaver chickens there. . . 

Strengthen your farming system by leveraging your #1 asset – people:

“Over the years of working with people in many different sized teams, we discovered that it mattered how we were behaving and acting with our team,” says Rebecca Miller of MilkIQ.

Dairy Women’s Network knows that putting people first drives a healthy business and will be running a series of workshops focused on this. They want to ensure that farmers attract and retain talent, and continue to grow the people in the industry.

The free workshops are funded by New Zealand dairy farmers through the DairyNZ levy and align with Commitment #5 of the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy: Building great workplaces for New Zealand’s most talented workforce.

It does not always require big changes to build a great workplace, but small changes that make a difference. The workshops will provide an overview of how to be a good employee or employer and the steps each can take. . . 

 

Handheld breath test device for pregnant cattle to move to industry trials – Joshua Becker:

A device that could change the way farmers preg test cattle is a step closer to commercialisation.

The federal government has offered $600,000 to help a company adapt advances in medicine for use in the grazing industry.

The prototype works by simply putting a device over the cow’s nose while it is in the crush and testing its breath.

Bronwyn Darlington, a farmer at Carwoola in southern NSW and the founder and CEO of Agscent, said the device worked by applying nanotechnologies to what was called breathomics. . . 

 


Partisanship trumps right for right and left

15/02/2021

Partisanship from Republicans allowed former USA President Donald Trump to escape impeachment.

. . .The final vote, 57-43, fell 10 short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection. . . 

In the vote, seven of the 50 Senate Republicans joined the chamber’s unified Democrats to convict Trump, but it was not enough to find him guilty. . . 

Those seven let right overrule the partisanship that led the rest of their colleagues to vote against impeachment.

At least there were seven with the courage to vote against their party.

No-one at all in Labour stood up for what was right when Chris Bishop moved a vote of no confidence in the Speaker Trevor Mallard    which Barry Soper says shows their hypocrisy:

Jacinda Ardern preaches about it time and again: How we should all be kind to each other and to look after our wellbeing.

Well, the Prime Minister’s just lost all moral authority to preach to us about niceness, because on that score she’s failed miserably – and so have her Labour sheep in Parliament.

You just had to hear them bleating in Parliament’s debating chamber as National’s Chris Bishop attempted against all odds to move a vote of no confidence in Speaker Trevor Mallard. . . 

If they were an open and transparent Government, if they were democratic and prepared to have the country listen to why National’s lost confidence in Mallard, they could have remained silent and the debate could proceed, even if at the end of it Mallard would remain in his job.

Perhaps they felt the argument for removing him would have been so overwhelming – and it would have been – that their defence of him would have burned their political capital in bucket loads.

So in reality they are now telling us it’s okay to call a man a rapist, to ruin his life leaving him bereft and jobless? Well, that would seem to be the case.

For Ardern to simply say Mallard made a mistake and he’s atoned with an apology for it is simply not good enough.

Within 24 hours of labelling the man a rapist, Mallard says he realised he was wrong. But he waited for 18 months, leaving the taxpayer with a $330,000 legal bill, before he admitted it. He waited for the last day Parliament was sitting to make public his dreadful mistake and issue an apology, on the same day that the Royal Commission into the mosque shootings delivered its report and knowing Ardern had finished her round for media interviews for the year.

This was simply his attempt to bury it, to hope no one noticed.

Mallard may be safe in his job but is now without any moral authority.

Not only has he no moral authority his inability to do the right thing after besmirching a man’s reputation with an unwarranted slur that cost him his job and his health, his colleagues in standing with him have lost some of theirs too.


Gulf between myth and reality

08/02/2021

Oliver Hartiwch wrties on the myth of Saint Jacinda:

Every time I read another excitable media article about New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, I am reminded of an old quip: ‘Viewed from a distance, everything is beautiful.’ That was Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120). Were this Roman intellectual and historian alive today, he would make a great columnist. His tactic was to spin political and historical analogies so they could influence public affairs back home. . . 

That is happening again, except this time New Zealanders are the noble savages being lovingly invented by global columnists. Hardly any of these writers actually live in New Zealand or understand it. Their op-eds reveal more about them than the country they purport to write about. In normal circumstances, this would not be a problem. But over the past few years, Jacinda Ardern has risen to international stardom. Her rise was based on remote reporting by a progressive world media thirsting for a noble alternative to strongmen leaders. . .

Ardern’s political tenure is soaked in progressive holy water. The list of her adopted causes is long. She cited child poverty as her reason for entering politics. When she first ran for prime minister in 2017, she declared climate change her ‘generation’s nuclear free moment’. In early 2019, she promised in the Financial Times to champion a new ‘economics of kindness’. This was demonstrated shortly afterwards in the world’s first ‘well-being budget’.

Ardern has become the media’s poster child of a modern, centre-left politician, not least thanks to her expertise in communicating to every audience. Whether it is a Facebook Live broadcast from her home in her pyjamas or a traditional press conference, Ardern oozes a highly personalized brand of warmth, kindness and empathy.

This PR dexterity helped her steer through two major first-term crises. She found the right words to heal a shocked nation after a terrorist attack on the Christchurch Muslim community in March 2019. Last year, her near-daily TV appearances guided Kiwis through the first months of the coronavirus crisis. . . 

Would any of our recent Prime Ministers have been any less effective in these circumstances?

For people watching from afar and sick of dealing with mortal, flawed and ineffective leaders, Ardern’s superheroine star shines bright. As the psychologist Jonathan Haidt revealed in The Righteous Mind, we wish for things to be true, and no amount of counter-evidence will change our minds. Ardern is lucky that humans have this mental bug because on practically every single metric her administration has failed.

She wanted to solve New Zealand’s housing crisis by building 100,000 homes over a decade. This unworkable state-run program was abandoned after two years, and house prices have skyrocketed faster than before. A promised light-rail connection from Auckland’s central business district to the airport met the same fate: the project was scrapped before it even started. Child poverty also rose under Ardern’s leadership, as did carbon emissions. The so-called ‘wellbeing budget’ earmarked funds to fix mental health — but has still not found any projects on which to spend the money.

Even in the two major crises, actual policy implementation differed immensely from the PR-shaped perception. A gun buyback scheme after the Christchurch attack was a costly fiasco. And the country’s success against Covid-19 was more a result of geography than policy. The government failed to manage even basic quarantine facilities.

Can we be confident that all the management failures have been addressed? Is there a plan to get a much better system? No.

In the 2020 election campaign, Ardern should have struggled to explain why her grand promises had so utterly failed. Except no one demanded any accountability, and Ardern cruised to an absolute majority based on her saintly image. Ordinary Kiwis, unused to being the global centre of attention, also desperately want this internationalist narrative to be true.

Before Covid-19 changed the world, successive polls showed National ahead or just behind Labour. The pandemic and National MPs’ many mistakes changed that but didn’t change the fact of that Ardern’s words were rarely matched by effective action.

The gap between people’s impression of Ardern and her actual performance as a leader has widened to a gulf. So long as enough modern Tacituses write gushing Ardern portraits, her superstar status will not change.

I came across the column via Twitter where its author laments:

We have a lot of blessing to count in New Zealand but that shouldn’t stop the media covering the problems we face; the government’s failure to address them and the shortcomings of a Prime Minister who Monique Poirier points out has got very good at making announcements about announcements:

. . It’s quite a skill, really, making announcements about a policy without any sort of plan to achieve it, and then have the country believe that what you’ve just said is significant, transformative or, as we heard this week, foundational. . . 

The media here, and abroad, has a responsibility look beyond the skills of the messenger to analyse the messages, and to to question both the messenger and the messages.

Being young and female makes Ardern stand out among other leaders but neither of those should stop the media from judging her; focusing on, her performance rather than her personality; and paying a lot more attention to what she does and accomplishes than what she says.


%d bloggers like this: