Where’s the paper trail?

February 24, 2014

The Taxpayers’ Union has found the DCC made payments to a former MP without documentation:

This morning the Taxpayers’ Union went public with material concerning a payment (or payments) totalling $3,400 by the Dunedin City Council to former MP Pete Hogdson with no documentation or contact.

We’re questioning the internal controls at the Council after the uncovering the payment following a recent media report that Mr Hodgson had been recruited by the Council for lobbying. We asked for information about the services being provided by Mr Hodgson under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. Click “continue reading” below to view the Council’s response.

According to the Council, Mr Hodgson’s work consisted of “lobbying and advocating on behalf of the Council” and there is no supporting documentation. 

The Council has told us that:

  • Everything was verbal. The Council could not provide a single report, email, or even letter of engagement.
  • All of the contracts were negotiated verbally.
  • The contracts were negotiated by the Mayor and there is no documentation to explain the deal.

We asked for copies of any work by Mr Hodgson. All we got back was two letters by the mayor on which Mr Hodgson apparently had input. It is not clear what precisely that was. For example, there is no ‘tracked changes” document.

We think Dunedin ratepayers will be alarmed that their Council paid $3,400 apparently without so much as an invoice. Dunedin ratepayers should ask their Mayor:

  • What did Mr Hodgson do? Was this just expensive proof reading?
  • Why was the Mayor negotiating this in the first place?
  • Why verbally?
  • Why is there absolutely no documentation for the arrangement, not even an email?”
  • Is Mr Hodgson friends with the Mayor?
  • Why doesn’t Dunedin Council have the most basic internal controls, requiring amounts to be paid by invoice only?

The Council’s response raises serious questions.  We can’t think of another government agency that would spend $3,400 without being able to provide as much as an invoice. 

Without an explanation from the Council, we are left wondering whether the Auditor-General should get involved.”

You can read the council’s response by clicking on the link above.

Dunedin mayor Dave Cull defends the payment:

Dunedin Dave Cull is defending a “gentleman’s” agreement which saw a former MP paid $3400 for lobbying following a handshake deal.

Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal that former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson was paid by the council to lobby the Government not to strip core functions of Ag Research Limited from Invermay, near Dunedin.

The council said the main point of contact for the deal with Hodgson was Cull, but could not locate a single email, contract or any other document relating to the agreement. Hodgson had provided “lobbying and advocating” on behalf of council, and that he had “contributed” to a letter to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and a submission written to the board of Ag Research.

“Mr Hodgson did not provide any reports relating to his services,” governance support officer Grace Ockwell said.

Cull, a former TV personality, denied personally hiring Hodgson, but defended the deal. “I could describe it as a gentleman’s way of doing business in the south,” Cull said. He would be uncomfortable if the council always negotiated contracts verbally, but in this instance he was not concerned. . . .

Gentlemen’s agreements in the south, or anywhere else, should not be over the spending of public money without the necessary paperwork to track and explain it.

The sum involved – $3,400 – isn’t large but that’s not the point.

People and organisations who spend other people’s money are duty-bound to do the paper work.


Rural round-up

September 20, 2013

Beef + Lamb New Zealand appoints Chair-Elect:

Northland farmer and Northern North Island Director for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, James Parsons was appointed Chair-Elect for Beef + Lamb New Zealand at the organisation’s board meeting today.

The position of Chair–Elect has been made to allow an orderly transition of leadership for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, following the announcement from current Chairman, Mike Petersen that he will not seek re-election when his term ends in March 2014.

“This appointment is a very important part of the governance process,” Petersen said.

“Beef + Lamb New Zealand puts strong emphasis on the development of all directors, and there has been a real focus on growing the leadership ability of the board for the benefit of the wider sector. . .

Wattie’s Starts Precision – Planting This Season’s Beetroot:

– Day One of 20 weeks of planting

– Resurgence of consumer interest in beetroot

Wattie’s has started precision-planting this season’s beetroot crop, and will continue over the next 20 weeks until a total of 350 hectares have been planted.

The first seed has been planted in the Paki Paki area of Hawke’s Bay for what will be a 20,000 tonne crop, Wattie’s second biggest annual crop behind tomatoes.

Harvesting of the first baby beets is scheduled for the second week in December. . .

Irrigators urged to check for lightning strike damage:

IrrigationNZ says farmers should exercise caution when starting irrigation systems – even if storm damage isn’t obvious – as lightening strike has emerged as a secondary cause of problems following last week’s storm.

“Just because your centre pivot didn’t blow over in the wind doesn’t mean your system is ok. We are now hearing reports of irrigation control systems fried by lightning strike, especially along the Canterbury foothills. Farmers need to check their infrastructure carefully before the season begins. Don’t start your irrigator before you’ve undertaken the appropriate safety checks,” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis.

“Irrigation system pre-season checks will be even more important this year as parts and labour will be in short supply due to the storm. Irrigators can not afford for their irrigator to break down due to negligence as it will result in downtime. Basic checks like ensuring the pivot tracks are free from obstructions, tyre pressures are correct and so forth are a no-brainer,” says Mr Curtis. . .

Invermay Delegation Meeting Minister of Economic Development:

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is leading a delegation to meet with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to discuss alternatives to the proposed downsizing of Invermay in Wellington at 5pm today.

The group includes Environment Southland chair Ali Timms, former Dunedin MPs Katherine Rich and Pete Hodgson, Otago Regional Council chair Stephen Woodhead and its CEO Peter Bodeker.

Dave Cull says any reduction in roles at Invermay will have a serious economic and strategic impact.

“From Dunedin’s perspective, there is potential for smart businesses and jobs to come out of there. From a regional point of view, the expertise at Invermay is crucial to ensure the continuation of leading environmental research related to farming and other industries which contribute significantly to the Otago and Southland economies. We believe the proposal would also have serious economic implications at a national level.” . . .

Double Gold for Rapaura Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc:

Rapaura Springs is continuing to strike gold with its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, with a double win at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2013.

The Rapaura Springs 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Rapaura Springs 2013 Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc both won gold medals at the country’s largest wine competition.

Owner Brendan Neylon said Sauvignon Blanc was Marlborough’s flagship wine, and it was imperative that the region worked hard to continue to produce the world’s best. . .

Rockburn Wines Win At the Biggest and Most Prestigious Wine and Spirits Competition In China:

Rockburn Wines has been awarded a prestigious Double Gold medal in the 2013 China Wine and Spirits Awards for their 2009 Rockburn Chardonnay, while the 2011 Pinot Noir took out its own Gold award.

The Central Otago winery has a history of winning gold medals, particularly for its Pinot Noir, and this month alone has also collected a Gold Medal at the Bragato Wines Awards for their 2012 Pinot Noir and a Gold Medal at the New Zealand International Wine Show for their 2012 Tigermoth Riesling. . .

Marisco Vineyards wins NZ Wine Producer of the Year in China:

Marisco Vineyards has been awarded the Trophy for New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year at the China Wine and Spirits Awards. The company’s wines also won four double-gold, six gold and two silver medals in the prestigious annual competition, continuing their golden run in the rapidly growing Chinese wine market.

Chief Winemaker and Proprietor Brent Marris says the trophy and medal haul will consolidate The King’s Series and The Ned’s position as market leading New Zealand wine brands in China.

“The Chinese market is very complex. One of the challenges is that it is culturally a very status driven market so old world wines have tended to dominate. But awards like this endow enormous status on our brands, new world wines generally, and New Zealand wines specifically, and this win will build our brand profile, and help increase distribution and cement our foothold in the Chinese market,” Marris says. . .

Organics: The Future of New Zealand Wine?

Major three-year project aims to see a fifth of all Kiwi vineyards certified organic by 2020.

The oldest winery in the country, Mission Estate, is also one of the most technologically advanced and sustainable. Now, in a move that could have implications for the New Zealand wine industry as a whole, Mission Estate is into its final year of a major study on organic grape-growing – a trial that may potentially see this influential winery make a significant commitment to increasing its organics production.

The Organic Focus Vineyard Project is New Zealand’s first public trial of organic grapes grown side by side with conventional grapes. The pioneering participants are Gibbston Valley in Central Otago, Wither Hills in Marlborough, and Mission Estate in Hawke’s Bay, where the project was piloted during the 2010-11 season. Mission viticulturist Caine Thompson is monitoring 16 hectares of Gimblett Gravels vines, with half being grown in the conventional manner and half under strict organic controls. . .


If you were PM . . .

February 21, 2012

. . . would you sell New Zealand’s assets?

That’s the topic of  a live debate at St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin at 5:15 today.

The Government is planning the partial sale of some state-owned assets, and expects to raise $5-7bn in the process. But is selling off our assets a smart move? And will New Zealanders be better off in the long-run?

Dunedin’s St Paul’s Cathedral is hosting an informed, provocative live debate on the issues on the 21st February from 5.15-7.15pm, with four distinguished witnesses, including VP of the NZ Institute of Directors Stuart McLauchlan, presenting their evidence to an equally distinguished panel that includes Metiria Turei, Jacqui Dean and Chris Trotter, who will then debate the issues.

Witnesses
Dr Geoff BERTRAM (Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington), Gillian BREMNER(CEO, Presbyterian Support Otago), Prof. Robert PATMAN (Department of Politics, University of Otago), Stuart McLAUCHLAN (Vice President, Institute of Directors in New Zealand)

Panel

Chris TROTTER (Political commentator and editor of Political Review), Dene McKENZIE (Business and Political Editor, Otago Daily Times), Jacqui DEAN (National Party Waitaki MP), Metiria TUREI MP (Green Party co leader), Assoc. Prof. Paul HANSEN (Department of Economics, University of Otago), Pete HODGSON (former Cabinet minister and Labour MP for Dunedin North).

There’s also a Facebook page for discussion on the issue.


Another Clark for Labour

September 25, 2010

Selwyn College warden David Clark has been selected as Labour’s candidate for Dunedin North.

He has previously worked as a Treasury analyst and as an adviser to Labour list MP David Parker, also of Dunedin.

 Big News points out that four of the candidates who contested the seat at the last election will be in parliament after the recess:  Pete Hodgson (Labour), Michael Woodhouse (National), Metiria Turei (Greens) and Hilary Calvert (Act).

Clark has been seleted because Hodgson is retiring, Dunedin North is bright red so the new candidate’s chances of becoming the next MP are high.

 Given Act’s performance, Calvert’s seat in parliament is more precarious.


Two hands up for Dunedin North

July 27, 2010

The race for the Labour Party candidate for Dunedin North has started with two people putting their hands up for selection so far.

Glenda Alexander,  the New Zealand Nurses Organisation national industrial adviser anounced her intention last week:

Asked why she planned to stand for the position, the convener of the Otago Local Affiliate Council of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions said the Labour Party had a positive affirmation policy for women, and women made up a significant percentage of the demographic.

 Selwyn College warden David Clark,  is also seeking selection. The ODT says:

Dr Clark will appeal to a wide range of Labour Party members and supporters in the electorate, having ties with the University of Otago and having worked for both Mr Parker and Treasury.

Dunedin North is one of the reddest seats in the country. Pete Hodgson, who has announced he will retire next year, held the seat with a majority of 7,155 in 2008.

 The selection will take place in September.


Would be MPs need enthusiasm

June 5, 2010

Dunedin North MP, Pete Hodgson, has announced he’ll retire at next year’s election.

Kiwiblog speculates that list MP David Parker is a likely successor.

If so he will need to show more enthusiasm for winning and holding the seat than he did for Otago and Waitaki.

I think Parker was surprised to win Otago in 2002 and he didn’t make much effort to hold it. I have some sympathy with him on that because it can’t have been easy juggling commitments to a young family in Dunedin with work in Wellington and one of the biggest electorates in the country.

His candidacy for Waitaki (which was formed from most of Otago and Aoraki when the boundaries changed) at the last election was at best perfunctory. He conceded defeat to National MP Jacqui Dean at a public meeting in Geraldine a couple of weeks before polling day much to the horror of Labour’s volunteers who were working in the electorate.

Dunedin North is much redder than Waitaki and far more compact. It’s just 642 square KMs compared with Waitaki’s 34,888 sq kms, and therefore much easier to service.


13,600 EFA breaches

July 31, 2008

An investigation by the State Services Commission has found 13,600 references to the Labour-led Government which must be removed from government websites because of the Electoral Finance Act.

National deputy leader Bill English said the SSC had sent out a memo to 120 state agencies saying “Labour-led government” was not appropriate under the EFA.

A search by the SSC had found the offending phrase 13,600 times on taxpayer funded websites, Mr English said.

Cabinet Minister Pete Hodgson said the SSC had advised departments of their obligations under the EFA and he hoped they were well followed. He said as time went by the references would be removed.

As time went by? Would any of us be able to attend to matters which breached the law “as time went by”?

Mr English also claimed that a Labour MP was distributing stickers with the phrase “Labour-led Government” and featuring two ticks. These were funded by the Prime Minister’s office and in clear breach of the EFA, he said.

Mr Hodgson did not respond to the substance of Mr English’s allegation.

Why would he when the EFA was supposed to stop National spending its own money not hamper Labour in spending the taxpayers’?


Research centre funded but research misses out

July 15, 2008

The mullit-million dollar animal reproduction facility at Invermay isn’t even open yet and already there are questions over it’s long-term future because its application for $18m of public science funding failed.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Andy West said the Government was sending mixed messages. On the one hand, it had approved $17 million for the new animal reproduction and genetics building at the North Taieri Invermay campus, but the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) yesterday declined to fund the science.

The centre would open in December and its future was secure for the next three years.

But unless AgResearch was able to find more than $3.5 million a year after that, Dr West said he would have to look overseas for animal reproduction contracts”Overall, it’s not particularly good news for Invermay,” he said.

It does seem more than a little wasteful to build a research centre then not fund the research.

The FRST manager of investment strategy, Richard Templer, said in a statement AgResearch’s position was affected by “wider issues in the meat and wool sector”.

Of the 96 contested contracts awarded, AgResearch secured 14, worth a total of $67 million, including $7.5 million over three years for animal reproduction.

“While this might not have been all the funding AgResearch sought for it, it is the nature of a contestable process that not all proposals will get all the funding sought.”

When funds are limited there has to be an application process and not all applicactions will succeed. But Scientists often complain they spend more time and energy applying for funding than actually doing research.

Invermay’s new $17 million complex will house 49 people in a joint AgResearch-University of Otago genetics and animal reproduction team.

Nine of those relocated south from the Wallaceville campus, near Wellington.

Dr West said AgResearch had 45% of its contracts up for renewal in FRST’s latest round, but had funding cut by $18 million, a decision he accepted as “part of life”.

But, he said, there were mixed messages from the Government, which strengthened his view science funding was flawed.

“There is something seriously wrong with science funding when you can get sign-off from the Government for $17 million in funding to construct a new building, then the Government questions whether reproduction research is a priority.”

AgResearch has also had a cut to its textiles research, affecting a $21 million investment in a Lincoln textiles company, Canesis.

The loss of $1 million a year meant AgResearch would now look overseas for wool research contracts in a bid to retain staff, effectively helping competing wool producers.

“There is only one future for textiles and that is we have to look for work from overseas industry or overseas governments. Either that or we make everyone redundant and close it down.”

Canesis was about to launch eight new woollen fabrics at New Zealand Fashion Week, including a lightweight, stab-resistant material, another that was heat resistant, and an environmentally friendly outdoor jacket fabric.

They sound like exactly the sort of thing we should be getting in to.

Dr West said the loss of funding raised serious concerns for the sheep industry, which relied on viable lamb and wool industries to compete with dairying.

“Without wool, we can’t make the numbers work for sheep to compete with dairying on our flat land.”

Farmers have been blaming low returns on the price they’re paid for meat, but prices for wool and pelts have also been depressed which makes dairying more attractive by comparison.

Dr West hoped to secure transitional funding so scientists could switch research projects. But he warned it could be hard to retain scientists, especially with AgResearch’s Irish equivalent actively recruiting 60 pastoral scientists.

Science, Research and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson said FRST was independent of the Government and he had no influence on its funding decisions.

FRST had 17% more money to allocate this year, including a large increase in the primary sector, and it was still to announce contested and transitional funding.

Has everyone forgotten the knowledge economy or isn’t agriculture part of it?


King’s record not as good as reputation

July 2, 2008

Annette King has generally been regarded as a “hard working and competent Minsiter”, but her record isn’t as good as her reputation:

* She created the mess in the health system that was passed to Pete Hodgson and then David Cunliffe.

* She presided over the Electoral Finance Bill & her only defence of the Act is attacks on Bill English.

*  And now she’s the cause of the truckers’ protest which is likely to bring the centres of all the main cities to a standstill on Friday morning.


20 years of Tremain cartoons

June 3, 2008

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the publication of Garrick Tremain’s first cartoon in the ODT. In an article (not yet on line) Tremain explains how the fax machine helped launch his cartooning career.

 

He’d long held a desire to try his hand at political cartooning but had no desire to work in a city. A chance conversation in a pub about a fax machine showed it might be possible to cartoon from his Central Otago home.

 

“I sought a meeting with the managing director and editor. Both were dismissive of my claim I could work from so far afield. “You’d have to work within the building so we can give you the ideas.” I disagreed and suggested that I would simply fax them my cartoon which they could then put into their paper or into their rubbish bins, depending on their opinion of the work. At the end of each month I would send them a bill for the number (if any) that they had published. “A Bill? A Bill?” they chimed, “You want money as well?!” I think they saw me as a rabid mercenary deluding myself I could work in isolation …

 

His first cartoon showed a car salesman saying to prospective buyers “I don’t want to press you bit it could be the last one at this price” while holding a newspaper behind his back which stated car prices would drop.

 

This was 1988 when a reduction in import duties meant prices were, for the first time in living memory showing signs of dropping. But Dunedin’s two biggest motor companies didn’t see the joke and pulled their advertising.

 

Response from politicians has always been interesting. Max Bradford used to phone me late at night to plead for kinder treatment and try to convince me that the shambles of the power reforms as all Pete Hodgson’s fault. John Banks wrote to tell he thought I need to know that politicians are actually very nice people and most intelligent as well… A minion rang to say that Prime Minister Clark was deeply offended by my portrayal of her husband and herself. I was able to convey my deep disgust at the theft of my money for her political propaganda.

 

Tremain sees cartooning as a negative art form in that it is critical but seldom offers remedies. He feels cartoon reflect rather than direct.

 

Those who claim a particular cartoon is damaging endow it with a power it does not have. I think the political cartoon’s greatest gift is assuring the lonely and the powerless that they are not alone in their outrage and despair.

 

I have always found it amusing to have my cartoons described as “Maori bashing”. I have never lampooned people for their race. I continually lampoon people for being ridiculous and grant no exemption on grounds of race, which is what so offends the politically correct.


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