Mining personal grief for political ends

November 19, 2017

When politicians make promises do you take them at their word?

Under MMP that’s harder because they can always use the excuse, that was their policy but had to let it go during coalition negotiations.

But if it was a promise made by the two parties in government and their coalition partner outside government that one can’t be used.

In August, leaders of Labour, United Future, the Maori Party and the Green Party signed a commitment to reenter Pike River mine.

National, rightly, put lives before politics:

Environment Minister Nick Smith responded to the commitment and said the parties were either making empty promises to the families or proposing to water down a law intended to prevent future workplace tragedies. 

“It is a hollow political stunt for parties to promise manned re-entry of the mine by the end of 2018,” he said.  

“It would be reckless for politicians to override the 800-page detailed assessment that concluded that manned entry deep into this drift was too risky to life.

“There is no cover-up. There is no conspiracy. Pike River was a horrible industrial accident that unnecessarily killed 29 men.

“The greatest duty we owe the memory of these men is to take the risks of explosions in gassy coalmines seriously and to comply with the new workplace safety laws that stemmed from the Royal Commission of Inquiry [into the Pike River Mine Tragedy].”

Winston Peters said he’d be one of the first to go back into Pike River and manned entry was one of New Zealand First’s bottom lines.

Such promises are oh so easy in opposition, but what happens when the reality of government bites?

Pike River Mine minister Andrew Little says he cannot guarantee a re-entry of the mine and has told family members that he will do what he can but safety is the top priority. . . 

“Ultimately, and the families are very clear, the first principle of the set of principles that are governing what we do is safety, the safety of anybody involved in the re-entry project. I’m not going to put anybody at undue risk. I’m simply not going to.”

He did not intend to legislate for any exemption to the health and safety laws or immunity from liability for the Pike River Agency.

Safety was the priority of the previous government in the face of harsh criticism from the Pike River families and then-opposition parties supporting them.

That was the right position.

The Pike River disaster was a tragedy. There are many unanswered questions on how it happened and the shortcoming that led to it happening.

Some of the answers to those questions might be found if it was possible to safely reenter the mine.

But safely is and must always be the operative word.

The bottom line that National and the mine owners stuck to still stands: no lives must be endangered, no lives must be lost, to retrieve the dead.

Some families have accepted this.

Some have not and put their faith in the politicians who promised them manned entry would be undertaken.

Little will be criticised for his safety-first stance, but this time it’s the right one.

The wrong one was making a promise that he and the other politicians, including his leader, Jacinda Ardern, should never have made.

Those politicians were mining personal grief for political ends.

It was despicable behaviour.

 

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Labour’s got wrong priority for education

November 17, 2017

The biggest priority for education spending is the long tail of under-achieving children, especially those who don’t manage even basic literacy and numeracy.

The National-led government spent a lot of money working with young people who were destined for a lifetime on benefits knowing investing more now would save much more in both financial and social costs over their lifetimes.

This approach ought to be taken with education, giving one-on-one help to the children who aren’t school-ready when they turn five.

That’s the children who can’t speak English or have poor language skills, even if English is their first language; those who come to school hungry and with other health needs; those who haven’t had the emotional, intellectual and material support all children deserve and need to ensure they are ready and able to learn when they get to school.

At the same time, children already at school who are struggling with numeracy and literacy need more help.

Then there’s children with special needs who for their sake and others in their classes need more help than a single teacher with a room full of children can possibly give them.

Helping these children requires more teachers and teacher-aides. It also requires better teachers.

Teacher unions insist all teachers are good teachers. They’re not, like any other group. They are spread on the bell curve with some excellent ones, some duds and most in the middle.

Putting more money into more training and support to improve teaching standards is another priority.

Teachers aren’t particularly well-paid in comparison with other professions. Part of the fault for that lies in the union insistence that all teachers are equal and refusal to countenance performance pay.

That aside, pay rates that make teacher salaries competitive with pay rates for other occupations which compete with them for recruitment would help.

The new government is determined to alleviate child poverty. Ensuring all children achieve at school so they have what they need to succeed when they grow up should be part of that.

Instead, Labour’s first priority is spending even more on those who mostly need it least, tertiary students.

The taxpayer already pays more than 70% of the cost of tertiary study.

If more help is needed, it should be targeted at those who really need it; at areas of study where there are graduate-shortages and in loan write-offs for professionals willing to work in hard-to-staff places.

The average graduate earns around $1.5 million more over a lifetime than non-graduates who will be paying more tax to help them into better paid jobs.

In opposition the parties in government were strident about the ills of inequality.

How hypocritical that one of their first moves, giving tertiary students fee-free education will make inequality worse.

 


Higher spending, tax, debt

November 16, 2017

Economists are warning that the Labour-led government’d Debt will be billions more than planned.

. . . In Opposition Labour laid out a fiscal plan which would borrow around $11 billion more than National had proposed, but still cut debt as a share of the total economic output from 24 per cent to 20 per cent by 2022.

The plan formed a major point of contention during the election campaign, as National finance spokesman Steven Joyce was widely mocked for his claim that Robertson’s plan had a major “fiscal hole”.

This is a very good argument for independent costing of party policies before an election.

But bank economists, who monitor the likely issuance of government bonds, are warning of pressure for Treasury to borrow billions more than Labour had signalled because of new spending promises.

ANZ has forecast that Labour will borrow $13 billion more than Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update maintained the former Government would over the next four years, although around $3b of that would go to the NZ Super Fund.

Borrowing to contribute to the super fund is as reckless as borrowing to play the share market instead of paying off a mortgage.

This would see net Crown debt at 23 per cent of gross domestic product, 3 percentage points higher than Labour’s plan.

Outgoing ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said the estimates for new spending were “conservative”, including an assumption that the new $1b a year regional development fund would come entirely from existing budgets. . . 

BNZ senior economist Craig Ebert said the figures were hard to determine so early in the term, but borrowing “could amount to a number of billion dollars” more than Labour had outlined. . . 

During question time in Parliament on Tuesday, Robertson maintained that the Government was sticking to its pre-election debt plan.

“But what we’re not prepared to put up with is a situation where we do not have enough affordable homes, where we have not made contributions to the [NZ] Super Fund, and where an enormous social deficit is growing,” Robertson said.

“In those circumstances a slower debt repayment track is totally appropriate.”

A much more disciplined approach to spending would be wiser.

National took office when the kitty was empty and Treasury was forecasting a decade of deficits.

In spite of the GFC and natural and financial disasters, it returned the books to surplus without a slash and burn approach to social spending.

This government has taken over with plenty of money in the kitty and forecasts of continuing surpluses.

With careful management, it should be able to

Labour and many on the left talk about the “failed policies of the 80s”.

They never look at the cause of the problems which precipitated those radical policies – higher spending, higher taxes and higher borrowing.

Those were the failed policies.

Unless the new government takes a much more careful approach, it will take path New Zealand down that path again.


Who knows best?

November 15, 2017

The last Labour government was criticised for nanny-statism and the new one is already in danger of courting the same criticism:

Parenting 101 from your friendly Labour Government.

New parents may relish the idea of both parents being home together, able to bond as a family in those first few weeks of a newborn’s life.

But the Government advises “no”, that’s not necessarily in the interests of your baby.

That’s why it intends to vote down a National Party amendment to the Government’s paid parental leave extension, that would let both parents take their paid leave together.

“Our concern with that is the likelihood it would reduce the amount of time that baby has to bond with their primary caregiver,” said Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

Who knows best what’s best for babies and their parents – the parents or the government?

If both parents were off at the same time, it would reduce the total amount of time that baby’s parents would be on leave. National’s amendment would allow for parents to make a choice – it does not compel them to take leave at the same time.

There’s no compulsion, no we-know-best. It would just give flexibility to parents who could choose to take none, some or all of the leave at the same time, depending on what suited them and their babies.

In all likelihood, Labour doesn’t really believe it knows better than parents what suits them.

So they’d put politics before parents, and babies and risk the accusation of nanny-statism because it’s not their idea.

That’s simply pettiness.


Rural round-up

September 16, 2017

Young farming families able to buy Landcorp farms:

A National Government will help young families into their first farms by allowing young farmers to buy state owned farms after they’ve worked the land for five to ten years.

“The Government owns a large number of commercial farms through Landcorp, but there is no clear public good coming from Crown ownership and little financial return to taxpayers,” Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.

“We think that some of these farms are better off in the hands of hard working young farming families who are committed to modern farming and environmental best practice. . .

National to strengthen bio-security rules:

A re-elected National Government will strengthen biosecurity rules, toughen penalties for stock rustling and help exporters add value, National Party Primary Industries Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.

“These policies will help grow and protect the primary sector sustainably, and support our goal of doubling the value of our exports to $64 billion by 2025,” Mr Guy says.

“We are proud to support the primary sector which is the powerhouse of New Zealand’s economy, helping us earn a living and pay for social services. . .

Adapting dryland farming to climate change:

Seven years of dry weather and relentless wind erosion in the early 2000s had devastated the Flaxbourne-Starborough landscape of South Marlborough, one of the country’s earliest farmed areas.

Doug Avery’s Grassmere farm Bonaveree was one of those affected. “Over-grazing during the long dry was harming the financial, environmental and emotional sustainability of the farm,” recalls Barbara Stuart, regional co-ordinator of the NZ Landcare Trust (NZLT). “People like Doug were stressed, heartbroken, even a bit ashamed about what was happening.” . . 

AFFCO’s first chilled shipment unloaded in China – Allan Barber:

AFFCO chairman Sam Lewis visited China last weekend to greet the first container of AFFCO chilled meat to arrive for distribution to eager food service and retail customers throughout Henan Province in east-central China. The arrival was marked by an official reception at Zhengzhou attended by the NZ Trade Commissioner Liam Corkery, MPI representatives Dave Samuels and Steve Sutton, and a Kangyuan executive. According to Lewis the speed of customs clearance for the consignment was a record for meat shipments, taking no more than three hours for the whole process.

The distributor, Kangyuan Food Company, has cool storage and frozen storage facilities and imports more than 10,000 tonnes of meat annually from New Zealand, Australia and South America to supplement its own domestic processing capacity of 600,000 sheep and 100,000 cattle. Kangyuan is also the largest distributor of Halal product in China. . .

Time to walk the talk – Allan Barber:

There are large operators, small suppliers, traders and third party agents and, in times of tight livestock supply, the lines between them start to get a bit blurred and the classifications move around, depending on who is making the judgement.

From a competitor’s perspective one company’s large supplier is a trader who is always presumed to earn a massive premium over schedule, far higher than loyal suppliers who don’t have the same bargaining power. Of course it’s invariably other companies that are the guilty parties when it comes to using third party agents, generally the stock firms. As always the truth isn’t quite so simple. . .

Irish dairy farmers fortunate that consumers drinking ‘real milk’ – Caroline Allen:

While Irish liquid milk producers have been protesting about the possibility of a milk price war, there is still an appreciation of milk as a healthy natural product in this country, Mary Shelman, former director of Harvard Business School’s agri business programme, told AgriLand.

Shelman who is the “absentee owner” of a 475ac farm in Kentucky, which is a cash grain operation divided between corn and soya beans, was in Dublin last week to deliver a number of addresses. She was at UCD’s Michael Smurfit School and also delivering lectures for Bord Bia’s talent programmes, including the Origin Green Ambassador programme. . . 

 


Before the Budget

May 26, 2016

Finance Minister Bill English will deliver his eighth Budget this afternoon.

Before it’s delivered, Prime Minister John Key offers some briefing notes:

1. More than 200,000 jobs have been created over the past three years – that equates to around 180 new jobs every day.

2. New Zealand has the third highest employment rate in the developed world.

3. We’re on track for annual economic growth of about 3 per cent for the next few years.

4. We’re also on track for rising surpluses and falling debt – we were one of the first developed countries to be back in surplus after the global financial crisis when we posted a surplus of $414 million last year.

5. Budget 2016 will contain $1.6 billion in new spending. We’ve already announced funding for more lifesaving drugs, emergency housing, and to support our thriving tourism sector.

This year’s Budget will further advance our work to support a strong, growing economy. It’s only through a strong, growing economy that we’re able to create more jobs, lift wages and deliver better public services to those who need them most.

Labour’s last Budget in 2008 was forecasting a decade of deficits.

In spite of the GFC, Canterbury earthquakes and other unforeseen hurdles, the government books were back in surplus last year and, with continued careful management, are expected to stay there.

This isn’t about a surplus for surplus’s sake. It’s the only way to sustainably fund public services, reduce debt, look after those who need help and leave us all with more of our own money.


Positivity beats petty and prevaricating

January 18, 2016

Summer holidays provide what many regard as a merciful break from day to day politics in the news.

That in turn provides an opportunity for an opposition leader who wants to get into the hearts and minds of voters to get noticed.

I came across a couple of news items in which Labour leader Andrew Little was quoted but neither was positive. In one he was petty and in the other he was prevaricating.

In the first he criticised Paula Rebstock’s New Year’s honour as political favouritism:

Ms Rebstock has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the state. . . 

 

He’s trying to make a political point and criticise the government and in doing so is making a slur on a woman who has years  of work in and for  the public service.

This was both petty and personal.

The second story repeated his assertion that Labour would defy the Trans pacific Partnership.

In the interview he is questioned about how he would do this and repeats what he’s said before about any government he leads picking and choosing which bits of the agreement it would keep.

That sounds definite but it is prevaricating because he knows that once an agreement is signed parties to it can’t decide which bits of it they will honour and which they won’t.

Kiwiblog’s poll of polls show National finished the year polling about 5% higher than it was three years ago and  Labour is about 5% lower.

One reason for this is that National’s leader John Key is usually positive which trumps  petty and prevaricating which is how Little often appears.

 

 

 

 


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