Only way from peak is down

May 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s hold the horses, please.” . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what goes up, must come down.”

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

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

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

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


Why wouldn’t the Herald print this?

October 17, 2019

Speak Up for Women has the column by Rachel Stewart the NZ Herald wouldn’t print:

It seems far-fetched that the mere hiring of a Massey University venue by a feminist organisation could cause so much indignation and rage, but these are not typical times.

A bunch of females getting together within a public space to discuss the issues currently affecting them is far from new, and very far from radical.

Yet, the idea that ‘Feminism 2020’ would dare to congregate at a venue on Massey’s Wellington campus saw a number of students stage a sit-in, which culminated in the handing over of a petition calling on the university to cancel the event.

What is so threatening about women coming together and talking? According to the protestors and petitioners, the organisers of the event – Speak Up for Women – are essentially devil incarnates.

Petition organiser Charlie Myer said the university shouldn’t be “facilitating this kind of discussion”. Feminism 2020 “could have [the event] anywhere” but it wasn’t appropriate for them to hold it at a university, which was supposed to support transgender students.”

Last time I looked universities were required to respect and uphold the quaint, old-fashioned tenet of free speech too. And Massey has, thus far, held out against the pressure of every thrown guilt trip known to mankind. You know, we don’t feel “safe”.

Myer also disputed the group was feminist and simply meeting to discuss women’s issues. “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism.”

Don’t you just love it when men tell women what feminism actually is? I find it adorable. Like a possum in my pear tree. So endearing.

Another endearing move was to then see the spokesperson for diversity and inclusion accreditation business Rainbow Tick Martin King say that if Massey did not cancel the event it was likely it would trigger a review of its accreditation.

The spectre of losing their Rainbow Tick must be downright scary for them. I mean, since students are now their financial customers, Massey naturally wants to keep the client happy at all costs.

But back to ‘Speak Up For Women’ and their apparently devilish ways. Why do some students so feverishly want them cancelled lest they be “harmed” by their words? Of course, you’d think simply not attending would put paid to that, but I’m being far too logical.

No. These students believe that no one should be allowed to discuss, debate, or hear the reasons why many women are concerned about an amendment (currently on hold) to the Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration Bill that would allow a person to change their legal gender by simply signing a declaration.

The group formed because they were legitimately concerned the amendment would prevent women from excluding men from changing rooms, bathrooms, women’s prisons, women’s shelters and any other women and girls-only space. In a nutshell, they don’t agree that trans women are women just because they say they are.

The group supports the current law, which allows a person to change the sex on their birth certificate if they go through certain steps – specifically applying in writing to the Court and obtaining a medical sign-off from a doctor.

They also make it clear they support the rights of transgender people to live without violence and discrimination.

However they don’t agree that trans women should be allowed to compete against natal females in sport. In their view, it’s not a level playing field.

Now, what’s so heinous about that? Why does holding such views mean they should be de-platformed, cancelled, and marginalised?

Eerily, many of the organisers and some of the speakers are lesbian so why would the ‘L’ part of the LGBTQ be considered such a threat to organisations such as Rainbow Tick? Is the imperative of ‘diversity’ no longer extended to lesbians? Or feminists – regardless of their sexual preferences? Good ol’ intersectionalism strikes again! It’s a conundrum.

And therein lies the problem with intersectionalism. The manic race to win the title of ‘most oppressed and marginalised group’ sets up a spiralling vortex of ever-tightening circles of meaninglessness.

Will there be protests if the event goes ahead? Will the protestors consist mainly of male activists telling those women to shut up? Because that’s the rub for me. Seeing men shouting women down via megaphone, rattling windows, banging doors and generally screaming at them, reminds me why I’m a feminist all over again.

Tactics like these are being employed in Britain and the U.S. and where they go, we tend to go. If similar methods are on show at the ‘Feminism 2020’ event, it’ll be quite the statement.

Ask yourself this.

Why is it that some men are angry, abusive, and disruptive around such incredibly important issues to some women? What’s driving their need to shut women up? Why is free speech good for the gander, but not so welcome from the goose?

When did an open discussion by women about women’s rights become so threatening?

Actually, more to the point, when didn’t it?

What is in here that would stop it being published?

No-one is being defamed.

No-one is being incited to harm anyone or do anything illegal.

It’s a point of view with which some may agree or disagree, in part or in whole.

Why wouldn’t the Herald publish it?

 


10/10

February 28, 2016

10/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


Flying the flag

August 15, 2015

The Herald asks would you stand and wave this flag?

And has artists impressions of some of the 40 long-listed designs as they might have been used.

All look better than I thought they might and this is still my preferred option.

Artist's impression of Mahe Drysdale with Kyle Lockwood's Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue) flag. Illustration / NZ Herald GraphicArtist’s impression of Mahe Drysdale with Kyle Lockwood’s Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue) flag. Illustration / NZ Herald Graphic


7/10

April 26, 2015

Only 7/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


7/10

April 20, 2015

Only 7/10 in the Herald politics quiz.

It was the numbers that I missed, again.


9/10

April 5, 2015

The Herald politics quiz is back.

I got 9/10 – as usual it was a question on numbers which I got wrong.


6/10

September 6, 2014

Only 6/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


7/10

July 20, 2014

7/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


8/10

June 29, 2014

8/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


Show us the money

June 22, 2014

Last week wasn’t one of Labour’s finest and it would be hard to get a worse start to this week than the news that Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.

They come at the end of a horror week for Labour, already under pressure after the New Zealand Herald revealed that Liu paid $15,000 for a book at the same fundraiser in 2007. Labour has said it had no record of any donations from Liu. And leader David Cunliffe had to fight to keep his job after revelations he wrote a letter for Liu’s residency, despite previous denials. . .

he latest developments have sparked calls for a police inquiry.

“This is scandalous from the public’s perspective. There has to be some sort of official investigation, whether it’s a police one or a parliamentary one,” said political commentator Bryce Edwards. “There must be some sort of official investigation, whether it’s a police or parliamentary.”

Asked about a potential investigation under electoral finance laws, Liu’s lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated that Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry.

Cunliffe last night dodged questions, saying it was a “matter for Labour Party’s head office”. Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said the party had no record of the donation.

Liu’s signed statement was dated May 3, two days after Williamson’s resignation. It said:

• Liu paid “close to $100,000” for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

Barker previously told the Herald that he could barely remember having dinner.

Last night Barker, now a regional councillor, said the revelations came “as a surprise and a complete reversal” of Liu’s previous comments.

Edwards said while it was not clear if Labour had broken any laws, public confidence in the party had been dented. . .

Edwards added that although the blame did not lie with Cunliffe personally, he had to deal with egg on his face. “It does create a charge of hypocrisy because he’s campaigned strongly against the Government relationship with Donghua Liu and it appears Labour’s relationship is just as deep.”

Liu yesterday told the Herald that his donations had been in good faith without any expectation. “It is over to the politicians to make any appropriate declarations. . .

MPs  don’t always, perhaps even usually, know the details of who gives how much money to their parties.

That is to separate them from any accusations of money for favours.

But if the NZ Herald could get a photo of Liu’s wife accepting a bottle of wine from an MP, surely someone in the party could have too before they started slinging mud at National?

Surely someone who was there could remember the event and if not the exact sum, that it was a biggie?

Surely someone in Labour – whether currently involved or not –  who had the party’s interests at heart would have remembered someone paying close to $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a fund-raiser and reminded Cunliffe of that before he led the charge and devoted weeks trying to dirty National instead of concentrating on what really matters.

In his last few interviews he’s finally got his lines straight on that – the sideshows he’s tried to orchestrate to dirty national aren’t what matters but his problem is hypocrisy and poor political management do concern voters and he and his party are continuing to show both.

Before this latest revelation, Duncan Garner called Labour under David Cunliffe a train wreck.

. . . When Cunliffe utters a word or two these days the collective intake of breath among his MPs is simply frightening.

He’s had a host of gaffes this year – and the best he’s looked was when he shut up and stood in the background while his wife, Karen Price, talked about the birds (chickens) and the bees in an interview at their home.

Cunliffe was parachuted into the job of leader, not because his MPs really wanted him – most dislike him – but because Labour Party members and union affiliates were desperate for someone to articulate their values.

To say he’s been a disappointment is an understatement. After this week’s horrors he looks unelectable as the next prime minister. He’s genuinely gone from bad to worse. . .

John Armstrong said Cunliffe has steered Labour on to the rocks:

When it comes to casting aspersions, few insults are as venomous, vicious or more driven by utter contempt than accusing someone of being a “scab”.

That is particularly the case on the left of the political spectrum where the battles of old between capital and labour provided the source of the term to describe those who broke rank from the union and who were then ostracised forever.

A workforce which is now largely non-unionised has made such name-calling far more infrequent, and at times sound rather dated.

But there was nothing quaint about the leader of the Labour Party this week insinuating colleagues who did not give him their full support were scabs.

It was astonishing. It implied treachery in the extreme. What the outburst really revealed was someone looking for scapegoats for his own self-inflicted woes. . .

It wasn’t the letter written 11 years ago and forgotten about that did the damage.

It was that he’s fronted months of attacks on National for links to donors without the political nous to ensure that he and his party were squeaky clean first.

Where the leader’s chief of staff and supposed political strategist Matt McCarten was in this mess is not obvious. But whether or not he was let down by others,  Cunliffe led the attack without having first secured his own position.

Mud clings to the hand that throws it and this week Cunliffe managed to splatter himself, and his party with it.

But having steered the ship on to the rocks, he’s not about to hand over the captaincy, and it’s doubtful anyone could be found willing to accept responsibility for the leaky boat.

Today’s revelations have endangered the boat even more.

Liu said he donated a large sum of money to Labour. The party says it has no record of it.

That’s a very big breach of electoral law and raises a very big question – if the party has no record of the donation where did it go?

And to add to accusations against the party which tries to show itself as welcoming of diversity, let’s not forget the Labour used someone who was granted residency by a Labour Immigration minister to score political points and there’s a nasty undertone, deliberate or not of xenophobia in their attacks:

“However, because I’ve built relationships with politicians, made donations, because it’s election year and, dare I say, because I’m Chinese, I suppose I’ve been an easy target for some to gain some political mileage and score some points.”

In the last election campaign, Phil Goff was let down by his then finance spokesman, Cunliffe, when he was asked to show us the money for his policies.

Less than three months from the next election, the party is going to have to show us the missing money or confirm that a party which can’t account for money it’s been given for its own use can’t be trusted to handle money it takes from taxpayers for public use.

 


8/10

June 7, 2014

8/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.

 


10/10

May 31, 2014

10/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz


Editorial approval for Budget

May 16, 2014

From south to north:

The Southland Times writes of felines and finances:

As the budget debate was winding down in Parliament yesterday the most popular story on the Stuff website was still “Cat saves boy from dog”.

Bill English will hardly be distraught. He knows this is not an election-losing Budget.

It’s the first since 2008 to project a surplus. Technically, it is perfectly possible for a Government to be rolled in an election year while economic figures are doing OK. Jenny Shipley managed it while running budget surpluses and with economic growth knocking around 3.5 to 4 per cent.

But the public had emphatically soured on the politics of her administration whereas the Key Government, for all that it has had a wretched couple of weeks, would still need to subside spectacularly to find itself in such straits.

English has found himself in the fairly happy situation of not needing a budget that would quicken any pulses . . . merely keep them steady. This one will surely manage that.  . .

Australia has done English the very considerate favour of delivering a gasper of a hard-times Budget just days before his. So if it was a test, we’d be the winners, right? And who doesn’t like beating the Aussies? Big tick for the Nats, then?

Truth to tell those contrasting fortunes are indeed likely to accelerate the net immigration inflow of more than 38,000 this year. That’s assuming people have been paying attention, what with that fabulous cat footage.

 

The ODT calls it a clever document:

This was the Budget that National – right from the time of its re-election in 2011 – would have hoped it could produce leading into this year’s election.

Mr English has not swayed from his path of fiscal restraint. Sure, he has had to borrow heavily during the past six years, but not to the extent the country plunged into recession.

Now, the return to surplus gives options such as paying down debt.

The careful management of the country’s finances by Mr English, and his team of ministers, has helped ensure New Zealand has been mainly immune from the worst of the global decline affecting Europe, parts of Asia, the United States and, latterly, Australia.

Economic growth has been one of the highest in the OECD and, for once, all Treasury indicators are pointing in a positive direction.

This was a Budget of few surprises, but with enough good news to count for something. . .

It will enable Prime Minister John Key to go into the election campaign confident his 2008 promises of fiscal restraint, providing the best care for families, and delivering a better public service have not been compromised.

Opposition parties will have to promise big to counter National, and if they do, the onus will be on them to say exactly how they will fund those promises. . .

If he is looking for a document to define his legacy as Finance Minister, Budget 2014 is a good place to start.

There is some criticism the Budget is too conservative, but that personifies Mr English, who learnt the trade from former finance minister Sir William Birch. And would most New Zealanders rather have a gambler as a finance minister, or a safe pair of hands?

The ”Boy from Dipton” has lived up to his reputation as a ”conservative” politician in every way.

The Timaru Herald opines on the Budget highlight:

The contrast was telling, helped by the fact Australia’s Budget and ours came just two days apart.

Theirs: there will be pain for everyone.

Ours: we’re operating with a surplus and tax cuts may even be on the way.

But hey, we’re heading into an election, so there’s bound to be some gloss. They aren’t.

The National Government has worked long and hard on being able to say it is spending less than it is collecting, and right on cue it has achieved that.

Selling off a few state assets and spending most of the proceeds has helped, of course, and as Labour’s David Cunliffe rightly points out, National has borrowed a massive $56 billion in its tenure, which costs $10 million a day in interest.

He says that’s a lot of money that could be spent on lifting kids out of poverty, which indeed it is.

But because National is the Government it sets the agenda, and the agenda yesterday was for enough lollies to keep sugar levels up without creating a free-for-all. . .

It’s a steady Budget without attempting to buy votes.

The best thing about it?

It’s not Australia’s.

 

 

The Press writes of seeking the recipe for growth:

When he delivered his first Budget six years ago, Finance Minister Bill English faced a grim prospect. Even though the global financial crisis had not yet hit, the economy had gone into recession some time beforehand.

Government debt was at a reasonable level, but spending in Labour’s last years in office had ballooned and, according to Treasury projections, the Government faced deficits for a decade or more ahead.

National had been elected promising responsible Government finances and a stronger economy, but without changes those looked unlikely.

English smiled yesterday as he took delivery of the bound Budget document and well he might. By delivering a surplus, albeit a tiny one, several years ahead of what he had forecast several years ago, today’s Budget will be brighter than even he expected it to be by now.

Since it came to office six years ago, the Government’s core promises have been that it would deliver a stronger economy, responsible public finances and a better public service.

In 2011, after the earthquakes, it added a promise to rebuild Christchurch. Those pledges have become a mantra and can be expected to be repeated today.

Without engaging in a wholesale slash and burn, it has kept public spending under control while maintaining services.

So far as it is possible for a government to claim credit for the performance of the economy generally, National can be pleased with the prospect of growth possibly hitting more than 4 per cent this year. The trick will be to make that growth enduring. . .

In spite of the benign aggregate position it should not be forgotten that, as an Otago University survey reiterated last week, New Zealand still has significant pockets of deprivation.

There are likely to be numberless reasons for them but a growing economy delivering opportunity and jobs offers part of the solution for sustainably dealing with them.

The Marlborough Express writes the jobs challenge continues:

. . . Finance Minister Bill English told Parliament the realisation of job growth forecasts depends on the confidence of businesses to invest more capital and employ more people.

“That is where new jobs come from. They do not come from the Easter bunny.”

The Easter bunny didn’t get a mention when English unveiled his sixth Budget yesterday.

The test will be how much his programme can lift confidence and stimulate growth to create the environment that will put priority on employment growth.

The Dominion Post notes the crowd goes mild:

This is a deliberately bland and even boring Budget. The Government has clearly decided that grey and safe is its best hope in election year. The only surprise was free doctors’ visits for under-13-year-olds. Middle New Zealand will welcome it, as it will many of the other, carefully telegraphed, handouts. More paid parental leave: who could object? A bit more help with childcare costs: why not?

National has made a virtue of small gifts: it shows that the party is “responsible” and not spending money it doesn’t have. And that is why the $372m surplus is intended to have such political heft. The amount is piffling within a $70b budget, and would make no economic difference if it was an equally mouse-sized deficit.

But the surplus is the signal that a caring government has brought us home safely after a nasty trip through recession. And if we carry on being careful and good, the Government says, life will carry on improving. Finance Minister Bill English gave a hint of tax cuts to come, but waffled when pressed. So that means National is keeping its tax promises till closer to the election.

The real question is: is this all the voters want – thrift, mild rewards, steady-as-she-goes? The dissenters have pointed to National’s noticeable lack of flair and imagination. No big new policies, no bold new directions, no surprises.

But that is what the John Key Government is, and so far it has won elections. In tough times, the Government has spent freely to keep the ship afloat, and then it has slowly brought it to the fiscal shore. Now it welcomes us to dry land. . .

Much bolder moves will be needed, including a capital gains tax. But National’s caution here is a drawback, not an advantage. Sometimes problems are serious and need action. National seems to believe it will be enough to cut red tape and remove some of the planning obstacles in the way of housing. It won’t.

At present there is little rage about poverty, inequality and the housing crisis. These problems are raw and real but voters are patient and only a minority of voters now seem to actually hate National. It will probably take another term before a majority is truly fed up with Key and his band. In the meantime, this bland document may be a document for the times.

The Manawatu Standards call it a Budget comfortable fit for many Kiwis

There may be little bling to Finance Minister Bill English’s sixth Budget but, like a pair of sensible shoes, it will make for a comfortable fit for many New Zealanders.

It was a budget light on ambition, heavy on prudence, in its commitment towards a modest $372 million surplus, but with a few policies bearing a distinctive Labour hue to them.

Its “steady as she goes” tenor does shrewdly mine the Kiwi ethos. Yes, a tax cut would have been nice, but they’ve balanced the books and haven’t forgotten the children. So she’ll be right.

It is a budget good enough to serve its purpose, whether that is pragmatic progress towards further surpluses and the lure of an eventual tax cut or simply placating middle New Zealand until after the general election in September is a matter of perspective. . .

The NZ Herald says the Budget steers safe course in rough waters:

The Treasury gave the show away in the Budget’s supporting documents, mentioning that while tax revenue is running at a lower level than expected, some of the Government’s intended spending has been “rephased” to produce the surplus it has promised.

Opponents can call it a trick of “smoke and mirrors” but the verdict that matters comes from credit agencies. They are unlikely to be concerned. Spending rephased is spending we might never see unless surpluses can be maintained. . . .

The Budget’s best feature is the value Bill English seems to be getting for little extra spending on public services. Departments know the results he wants and seem to be delivering them without complaint from providers or the public.

They have stopped demanding endless increases in funds and he shared the credit with them yesterday for his surplus.

Doctored it may be, but it will get better.

The Herald’s last point is a pertinent one and one of the National governments successes – getting better pubic services for less money.

 


9/10

April 26, 2014

9/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


10/10

April 21, 2014

10/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


7/10

April 5, 2014

Only 7/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


8/10

March 22, 2014

8/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.

One of those I missed was the one about Len Brown – my answer was wishful thinking.


Conspiracy theories

March 3, 2014

Yesterday the NZ Herald started a story headlined  Green MP’s 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned by saying:

Questions are being asked about a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station.

The Green MP says the 800km trip on the taxpayer dollar was essential, but a taxpayer group queries whether it was fiscally and environmentally responsible. . .

That sounds like the taxpayer group prompted the story by asking the question.

The story continues:

On Friday, Parliament’s only deaf MP flew from Christchurch to Wellington, then drove to Masterton, to participate in ArrowFM’s Wheels on Fire programme for people with disabilities.

ArrowFM is one of 12 Community Access Radio stations in New Zealand, and the only community station in Wairarapa. Its audience is not known, but its Facebook page has 132 “likes”.

Last night Ms Mathers said the journey was a necessary expense because it was “almost impossible for me to do live interviews over the phone”.

 She needed to be face-to-face with the interviewer in order to lip read, she said, especially for a one-hour show.

“As the only disabled Member of Parliament it is really important I represent disabled New Zealanders, which make up one in five New Zealanders,” she said.

“MPs do have to fly a fair bit to get out to our communities. All Green MPs offset our air travel and try to minimise it as much as possible.

“I consider all requests to meet very carefully, including this one, and I felt it was really important to take this opportunity to speak to disabled New Zealanders living in rural communities.”

She did not know the cost of the trip, she said, but it would be declared as part of her expenses, and was planned in line with other work she had to undertake in Wellington.

Planned in line with other work in Wellington means the cost of the airfare wasn’t just for the trip to Masterton, so the extra expense was just the rental car.

But still:

The Taxpayers Union questioned whether it was value for money.

“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said. . .

That, with the headline and first paragraph strongly suggest this story came at the instigation of the Taxpayers Union. But it didn’t.

This morning there has been some criticism of my comments in a story on the Herald website about a trip Mojo Mathers took to Masterton from Christchurch apparently just for a short interview on a community radio station.

For clarification:

  • The Taxpayers’ Union did not seek media attention on this story. There is no associated press release. The Herald called yesterday evening asking for comment, as happens often.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union operate 24 hour media line for comment on taxpayer issues. Yesterday’s call came through to me and I was asked whether it was value for money for an MP to fly 800km for a radio interview on a small community station. I said it was not value for money when the interview could have been done on Skype as well as the comments that are quoted in the story.
  • I’ve made no comment about Ms Mathers disability. In fact, if the travel was necessary I would not criticise the spending. But answering questions posed by the Herald, on matter which as far as I know are completely unrelated to her disability, is legitimate.
  • Accusations that I (or the Union) sought to go after Mathers are ridiculous. To repeat, we were asked for comment by the Herald who were running the story. The comments would have been the same whoever the MP.
  • Accusations that the Taxpayers’ Union are partisan are also silly. I am proud that the Union has gone after National MPs and the current government for expenses, wasteful expenditure and corporate welfare. Seehttp://info.scoop.co.nz/New_Zealand_Taxpayers’_Union 

On reflection, I wonder why an MP from a party that prides itself for having a low environmental footprint choose to fly to a radio interview that could have been done on Skype. Perhaps Ms Mathers had other engagements in Masterton. If so, that was not the information provided to me at the time by the Herald reporter.

I too wondered if the interview could have been done on Skype but Ms Mathers tweeted that the quality wasn’t high enough for lip reading.

The story looked like an attack on Ms Mathers instigated by the Taxpayers’ Union which was petty to start with and even more so when you take into account the information she planned the trip around other work.

The explanation provided later by the TU shows it was merely responding to a question and it looks like it didn’t have the information that the trip was planned round other activities.

Here’s the conspiracy theory – was the story a set up to discredit the TU?

The group was set up as a counter to all the left wing groups which are continually asking for more money, regardless of whether or not it gives value.

The TU by contrast:

We stand for value for money for government spending

We want our politicians spending money as if they’d worked as hard as us for it and believe that new taxes should only be introduced when there are equal decreases in other taxes.  We believe in a fair and efficient tax system.  We are not a political party, or aligned to any.

We promote sensible restraint of government expenditure by:

  • Scrutinising government spending;
  • Publicising government waste;
  • Arguing for an end to corporate and union welfare; and
  • Promoting an efficient tax system.

 We are independent and incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 to pursue the following objectives:

  • To give taxpayers a voice in the corridors of power;
  • To educate New Zealanders against excessive and wasteful government spending;
  • To scrutinise government spending;
  • To publicise government waste;
  • To promote an efficient tax system;
  • To promote discussion on the balance of activities best undertaken by the private sector and the public sector;
  • To promote public policies to advance New Zealanders’ prosperity;
  • To identify, research and monitor issues affecting these objects;
  • To co-operate or join with other associations or bodies having similar objects; and
  • Generally to do all such things as would help to attain or further the Taxpayers’ Union’s objects.

The aims of the Taxpayers’ Union are:

  • To reduce wasteful spending by central and local government;
  • To increase transparency and accountability of government spending;
  • To increase institutional checks on government spending;
  • To enable New Zealanders to easily scrutinise government spending;
  • To lower the tax burden on New Zealanders; and
  • To promote evidence based public policy.

If getting attention for wasteful spending is any gauge the TU has already been successful – and contrary to accusations it’s biased towards the government, is hasn’t been partisan in identifying and publicising waste.

It has been critical of the government.

That should alert all politicians and bureaucrats, in central and local government, to the risk that wasteful spending will be outed.

Those on the left will have greater cause for concern than those on the right who usually, but not always, have greater regard for careful use of other people’s money.

That gets me back to the conspiracy theory.

The Herald headlined and opened the story with the assertion questions were being asked about the trip and quotes only the TU.

It doesn’t say who asked the initial question, nor who told the reporter about the trip and the paper could well use the right to not divulge its sources to keep that in confidence.

But it does leave a question over whether the aim of the story was really to discredit the TU.

If so, while it is justified at feeling aggrieved by a set-up, it could take that as a compliment that it is worrying people and parties who don’t have its regard for the necessity for fiscal prudence.

In the interests of transparency – I have made a donation to the TU.


9/10

March 1, 2014

9/10 in the Herald’s politics quiz.


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