Ministerial shortcomings not for Ministerial Services to sort

September 5, 2018

If people have the skills to be a minister, shouldn’t they have the skills to manage staff?

Perhaps the most concerning facet of the Government’s latest ministerial embarrassment was a comment yesterday from a former Labour Party president, Mike Williams. He told Newstalk ZB the incident reflected a lack of training for those appointed ministers. “I think it’s probably lack of supports,” he said. “Ministerial Services don’t seem to think it’s their job to give these new ministers basic instructions on staffing.”

It certainly should not be the service’s job. It shouldn’t be anyone’s job to give a minister basic instructions in how to manage a small staff. Voters and taxpayers have a right to expect that all of the people a political party offers for election — let alone those chosen to be ministers in a government — possess the personal qualities needed at any level of leadership. . .

It isn’t hard to find examples across the political spectrum where parties have got the selection process wrong and people without the requisite personal qualities, and political skills, get into parliament.

But party selection panels can’t know candidates as well as party leaders know members of their caucuses, especially those they entrust with ministerial warrants.

Even if a focus on ethnicity, gender and other distractions complicates the ministerial selection process, it shouldn’t trump the requirement for competence.

There is always some learning on the job with any new position but that learning for a minister should not have to cover such basic personal qualities as good manners and restraint.

The ability to manage down and up, which includes handling staff, should be a prerequisite for a minister.

If ministers can’t do that and do it well, it reflects poorly on the  leader who promoted them beyond their competence and it is not ministerial services’ responsibility to sort out any shortcomings.

Principals suggest school closures

October 5, 2015

School principals are talking sense on the best use of scarce funds:

. . . Principals told Radio New Zealand’s Insight programme that earthquake strengthening, leaky buildings and roll growth meant there was not enough property funding to go around, even though the government was expected to spend $6 billion over next 10 years addressing the issues.

With money short, they said, the government should consider closing schools instead of fixing them.

Principal of Te Mata School in Havelock North Mike Bain questions whether having multiple schools with low rolls promotes the best educational outcomes.

“You’ve got schools of under 100 that are spending a couple of hundred thousand on a new library, or classroom modernisation, or even a complete rebuild – don’t know that that’s the best spend of the money,” he said.

“I’m not advocating that we should have super schools where suddenly everyone goes, but when you’ve got multiple schools of less than 50 kids, is that promoting the best educational outcome for kids?” . . 

The number of children at a school isn’t necessarily an indication of the quality of the education it provides and big isn’t always better. But if pupils wouldn’t have to travel too far, it is usually better educationally and better use of money to have them at one bigger school than several smaller ones.

The Education Ministry’s property business case indicates school reorganisations might be considered in some areas.

It said significant roll drops in Gisborne, Tasman, West Coast, Manawatu-Whanganui and Hawke’s Bay would affect the shape of the school network in those areas.

But Kim Shannon of the Education Ministry’s infrastructure unit said the current property problems would not prompt school closures.

“Property is never the issue why you close down a school. That will always be educationally-driven and it will always be about the education needs of that community.”

School closures are usually contentious. But in my experience it’s often people who no longer have children at a school who fight hardest for it to stay open while parents of most pupils opt for what’s best for the education of their children which can be closing or merging with an other school.

Mike Williams, head of Pakuranga College and a member of the Secondary Principals Association, said the government should think about closing and merging schools.

“We have too many schools and so we have a lot of infrastructure that is very badly utilised. In high growth areas, yes, we’re having to build new classrooms, but there are classrooms all round the country that aren’t used, we have schools with very few students in them.”

Mr Williams said no community wanted to lose its school, but nationally that attitude was not sustainable.

PPTA Principals’ Council president Allan Vester said the government had always found it hard to close schools in the face of strong local opposition.

“There’s lots of communities that actually rationalisation needs to occur. There are more schools than are needed in an area, but it’s politically so difficult to make those changes.”

Mr Vester said the ministry knew where there were too many schools and not enough children, but found it hard to intervene.

Labour is still loathed in some areas because of the way then-Education Minister Trevor Mallard used a sledge-hammer approach to school closures more than a decade ago.

But when a school roll starts dropping, parents start taking their children elsewhere and it is possible with the  right approach to convince those who remain that a merger or closure will result in a school that better meets the educational needs of the pupils.

Yesterday, this morning, this afternoon . . . .

June 23, 2014

Labour said it would announce its list yesterday afternoon.

That changed to this morning.

Now former party president Mike Williams has just told Kathryn Ryan that the list will be released at 3pm this afternoon.

The timing isn’t significant the party management is.

One suggestion for the delay was that the party couldn’t handle the list ranking while dealing with the fallout from the Liu donation allegations.

It is just as likely to be a problem with telling MPs and candidates

Whatever the cause for the delay, how can a party that is once again demonstrating problems running one of its most important internal activities smoothly hope to convince voters it can run the country?

Not the workers’ friend

March 20, 2014

Kim Dotcom has taken court action to gag a former body guard.

. . . Dotcom made a successful application for an interim injunction against Wayne Tempero in the High Court at Auckland yesterday. The action came soon after the Herald reported that Tempero was set to release “secret revelations” about Dotcom’s “mindset and megalomania”. . .

That hasn’t stopped other staff talking to Whaleoil who has a story of slave wages, bullying, intimidation and the sheer effrontery of a man spending literally millions on himself but short-changing his most loyal staff.

Labour, the Green and Mana parties like to think they’re the workers’ friends.

They and New Zealand First have all been courting, or courted by, Dotcom in the hope he can help them defeat National.

The enemy of their enemy could be their friend but do they want to be friends with someone who appears to be anything but the workers’ friend?

And will the media which have given Dotcom a pretty easy ride, start asking some harder questions now?

P.S. Former Labour president Mike Williams, just said on RadioNZ National’s panel that he’s on Dotcom’s side with the gagging order.

Little change in final referendum results

December 17, 2013

The final results for the referendum on the partial float of a few state assets show little change from the preliminary ones:


Number of Votes Received

Percentage of Total Valid Votes

For the response




For the response




Informal votes*



Total valid votes



*An informal vote is where the voter has not clearly indicated the response they wish to vote for.

Voter turnout on the basis of the final result is 45.1%.  Turnout is calculated by taking the total votes cast of 1,368,925 (being total valid and invalid votes) as a percentage of the total number of voters enrolled as at 21 November 2013 (3,037,405).

The number of invalid votes cast was 1,585 or 0.12% of total votes cast.  Invalid votes are excluded from the count and include, for example, voting papers that cannot be processed because the voter has made the QR code unreadable, or voting papers cancelled as a result of replacement voting papers being issued.

Breakdown by electorate can be found here.

The Dominion Post says the referendum was a waste of money:

. . . If opponents of partial privatisation believe the Government is now honour bound to reverse its position on state asset sales, then previous governments were presumably honour bound to give effect to the popular will expressed in referendums on firefighter numbers, the size of Parliament, tougher prison sentences and smacking.

Except that on each previous occasion a citizens-initiated referendum was held, the government of the day also ignored its outcome. The 1995 National government did not entrench firefighter numbers at January 1995 levels. The 1999 Labour-led government did not cut the number of MPs from 120 to 99. Nor did it introduce hard labour for serious violent offenders. The current National-led Government has not reversed the anti-smacking legislation introduced by its predecessor.

There’s the rub. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Referendums are, as the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System observed, “blunt and crude” instruments.

They have their place. There are a handful of constitutional issues that should not be decided without reference to the public.

But generally governments should be left to govern. Issues can seldom be reduced to simple “yes” or “no” questions and the country’s position on serious matters should not be determined by populism. . .

Few issues are black and white and therefore most are unsuited to the referendum option of yes or no.

This has been an expensive exercise in self-promotion for the opposition.

Labour’s former president Mike Williams said it was also a way to harvest contact details which discredits the process even more.


Irony deliberate or accidental?

July 27, 2012

The Afternoons’ panel has just finished discussing the police’s decision not to prosecute John Banks and invited former Labour Party president Mike Williams to give his view.

If memory serves me right he was president when his party was guilty of the pledge card rort.

The question then is: was the irony in inviting him to talk about electoral law accidental or deliberate?

Which is the real Goff?

January 25, 2011

During discussions on politics from the right and left  on Nine to Noon yesterday, Mike Williams said:

. . . the problem I think at the moment for Phil  is that  he’s kind of one dimensional. You know I can name both of John Key’s kids for example but I can’t tell you the names of Phil Goff’s kids. You’ve got to get him more three dimensional . . .

Politics is very hard on families and if they choose to keep out of public gaze the public, and the media, should respect that choice. Although it does seem a  bit strange that a former Labour Party president doesn’t know at least the names of the leader’s children.

But the more damning observation came from Matthew Hooton:

You could argue that Phil Goff is incredibly multi-dimensional. He starts out as a Vietnam activist then he becomes Roger Douglas’s chief lieutenant; then he’s Helen Clark’s foreign Minister and now he’s wanting to reposition the Labour party to the left . . .

The problem isn’t that Goff doesn’t have enough dimensions, it’s that we don’t know which is the real one.

There’s the long-haired anti-war student.

There’s the lawyer  Political Studies lecturer and union organiser.

There’s the Cabinet Minister from 1984 – 1990 who supported, and helped implement, Roger Douglas’s policies.

There’s the MP who in opposition and then government kept talking about the “failed” policies of the 80s and 90s.

There’s the Cabinet Minister in the 1999 – 2008 government that changed some, but not many, of those policies and introduced nanny-state legislation.

And now there’s the party leader who’s apologised for getting that wrong.

There’s a fine line between being a man for all seasons and being one who shifts with the wind.

Which is the real Goff and which will be delivering his state of the nation address today?

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