Strike two

February 18, 2015

Labour has been plagued by political mismanagement under its last three leaders and it hasn’t got any better under this one.

Strike one for  Andrew Little came with the very tardy payment of a contractor. Bad enough in itself from a former union head and at least of bad a reflection on his office:

. . . Any small business owner will tell you that the one thing they really hate is people who don’t pay their bills.

But one of the worst aspects of this is the shocking political management. Someone, anyone on Little’s team should have paid this bill. It was obvious that Cohen would go feral.

Even when Cohen wrote about it in the National Business Review, Labour still didn’t pay, allowing Steven Joyce to expose and embarrass Little in Parliament.

Why didn’t chief of staff Matt McCarten step in and clean up the mess?

All for the sake of $950 and a bit of internet banking.

First strike on the hypocrisy front for Andrew Little.

And strike one for mismanagement.

Strike two was Little’s failure to consult other parties on the membership of the  Intelligence and Security committee:

Climate change targets, deep sea oil drilling, the Trans Pacific Partnership … there are many thorny issues that could divide Labour and Greens.

In fact, all it took was membership of a parliamentary committee and some clumsy manners from Andrew Little.

The Labour leader raised the hackles of out-going co-leader Russel Norman by excluding his party from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee, instead choosing David Shearer.

The Green party learned of the decision through the media – Little had not even informed his own chief of staff Matt McCarten.

To further rub salt into the wound, Little then slighted co-leader Metiria Turei by suggesting she could not compete with Shearer’s knowledge, skills or understanding of security issues.

He appeared to under-estimate the Green Party’s anger, quipping “ask them [if they are upset] tomorrow” when pressed on how he would smooth ruffled feathers.

Little’s first mistake was in seemingly breaking the law by not consulting with the other opposition parties. Refusing to take Norman seriously was his second – and the Greens retaliated with fury. . .

Little is right about Shearer being better qualified than Turei or, as David Farrar points out, any member of the Green Party:

 The Greens are effectively opposed to the very existence of the intelligence agencies. Hence appointing them to an oversight committee means that their interest is just to find ways to discredit the agencies, not to play a constructive role in oversight. . .

However, that doesn’t excuse Little’s failure to follow the law in consulting other Opposition parties.

Political leaders don’t get a very long honeymoon, these two strikes signal Little’s is over and that he’s dogged by the problems of mismanagement which dogged the last three Labour leaders.

P.S. the column in which David Cohen raised the issue of the non-payment is here.

. . . What I was being asked to provide was not media advice or training, after all, but to take out a few hours to talk with Mr Little and then independently distill his views as they might sound to an outsider. Mr Matthews seemed to think his man could do with a bit more clarity. 

As assignments go, it sounded offbeat but I’ve taken far odder ones in my time.  . .

As a nosey-parker, too, I was interested to know more about the opposition’s calamitous recent history and perhaps even some of its current internal tensions. 

Happily on that last point, this was something Mr Matthews immediately hinted at with a number of less-than-enthusiastic references to Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern, along with a slightly baffling digression on how the party’s fortunes will yet be reversed by installing the MP for Kelston, Carmel Sepuloni, as deputy party leader ahead of the next general election. 

Scrolling back through a number of more recent clips of his television interviews, though, I could see why Mr Little’s friends might feel he needed a touch more clarity. 

Like many trained lawyers, and indeed working journalists, I think he tries to parse tumbling thoughts into cogent words as he speaks. Sometimes this serves him better than others. There were occasions when I couldn’t make head or tail of what he was saying. . .

 The atmosphere was congenial if a touch odd. Nobody had thought to turn the lights on, which lent a slightly film noir-ish air to the next couple of hours.

But the conversation was illuminating enough. We talked about Mr Little’s view of his own personal attributes – a lifetime of private sector engagement, an intimate knowledge of the organisation and a track record for bringing people together – and how these may or may not rejuvenate his party. 

We chatted about his time representing journalists as a union leader. He spoke about his general engagement with the media. 

From there, the conversation moved on to last year’s ghastly election campaign, Labour’s perceived image problems and what seems to me to be the piquant irony of a party claiming the mantle of diversity and yet almost consistently refusing to welcome businesspeople into its ranks. 

Interesting stuff. I wrote up my notes as best I could, and sent them off along with an invoice for the time spent. Both were received with thanks.  

Then came the silence.

Four months, many inquiring telephone calls and gazillions of emails on – as of the time of this writing – I’m still none the financially richer for having taken this oddball assignment.  Not by a bean. I’ve been left feeling rather like a one-man nocturnal performer in a Christchurch insurance office. 

Oh well. Isn’t that how things so often are for we self-employed and small business types grinding away in the engine room of the economy? 

This supports my theory that Labour and unions want to be tough on employers because of their own poor record with employees.

There are bad employers and bad employees but they are the minority. Employment law should not be designed as if all employers and sinners and all employees saints.


Norman resigning from Green co-leadership

January 30, 2015

Russel Norman has announced he’s resigning as co-leader of the Green Party.

Dr Norman, whose third child was born two days ago, gave no explanation beyond a generic statement that he wanted to seek his next challenge and spend more time with his family.

His statement to media:

I am announcing today that I will not be standing for Co-leader of the Green Party at our AGM in May.

This is my ninth year as Co-leader and I think it’s time for a change.

This is something I have considered for some time and over the summer break I have had the space to think hard about my future.

I concluded that after nearly a decade, it is a good time to find a new challenge for myself, and to spend more time with my family, and now is also a good time for new leadership for the party.

Norman said at his 11am press conference he would stay on as an MP until the next election. . .

The job of MP places big pressure on families and a desire to spend more time with his should not be questioned.

One could however wonder what new challenges he’ll be seeking and how he’ll be doing that while remaining an MP being paid from the public purse.

That aside, Norman has been co-leader since 2006 and entered parliament then by leapfrogging up the party list.

He can take some of the credit for the increase in Green MPs since then.

The party had dropped from 9 MPs in 2002 to 6 in 2005, went back up to 9 in 2008, gained 14 MPs in 2011 and retained that number, with a slightly lower percentage of the vote, in 2014.

However, he also must shoulder some of the blame for his party’s inability to capitalise on Labour’s low polling last year and for its failure to be part of a government.

The Greens were more effective as an opposition than Labour for much of the last three term and were aiming for more MPs as a result of that.

That they couldn’t do it when Labour was at its lowest point must have been a huge disappointment to them and indicates a need for change.

National has managed to renew and refresh its caucus while in government.

That Labour hasn’t is one its problems and Norman’s decision indicates he might have learned from that.

 


Education the key

December 11, 2014

A new OECD report appears to show inequality is growing in New Zealand.

But NBR editor Nevil Gibson discusses what it really shows:

. . . The four-page summary report based on a working paper, Trends in income inequality and its impact on economic growth (See report here), and statistical tables, has been seized on by the media the opposition as a “failure of trickle down economics” and a case for higher taxes on the rich and more redistribution to the poor.

In fact, this is not the case. The main reason is the dated nature of statistical material, while the policy suggestions carry a heavy caveat that “Redistribution policies that are poorly targeted and do not focus on the most effective tools can lead to a waste of resources and generate inefficiencies.”

The figures that show New Zealand’s growth was inhibited by increased income inequality are based on the period 1990-2010. The figures show “real disposable household income” in New Zealand from 1985 to the GFC (2008) was around the OECD average and well below countries such as Australia.

In the five years post the GFC, New Zealand disposable incomes among the top 10% fell 2.2% (OECD average 0.7%) while those in the bottom 10% fell the least, 0.5% (also the OECD average). Average New Zealand incomes fell  0.9% compared with the OECD average of 1.8%. . .

The GFC hit the richest but National’s policies to look after the most vulnerable during the GFC gave them some protection.

. . . But the main interest in the paper is the evidence it offers on the main mechanism through which inequality affects growth.

This is that the wider income gap between the lower middle class and poor households compared to the rest of society undermines education opportunities for children from poor socio-economic backgrounds, lowering social mobility and hampering skills development.

In other words, it is education rather than taxation that is the key: “a lack of investment in education by the poor is the main factor behind inequality hurting growth,” the report says.

“This compelling evidence proves that addressing high and growing inequality is critical to promote strong and sustained growth and needs to be at the centre of the policy debate,” says OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría:

“Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age are those that will grow and prosper.”

Few would argue that successive governments in New Zealand are seriously deficient in this area and the biggest deniers would be the Labour government of 1999-2008.

The OECD handout summarising the report observes:

“People whose parents have low levels of education see their educational outcomes deteriorate as income inequality rises. By contrast, there is little or no effect on people with middle or high levels of parental educational background.

“The impact of inequality on growth stems from the gap between the bottom 40% with the rest of society, not just the poorest 10%. Anti-poverty programmes will not be enough, says the OECD.

“Cash transfers and increasing access to public services, such as high-quality education, training and healthcare, are an essential social investment to create greater equality of opportunities in the long run.”

As mentioned, the paper also finds no evidence that redistributive policies, such as taxes and social benefits, harm economic growth, provided these policies are well designed, targeted and implemented.

Well-off New Zealanders already carry a high tax burden – more than half of the population pays no tax except GST – so I don’t think any party can justify higher taxes on the basis of this report.

As the report itself warns,” not all redistributive measures are equally good for growth.”

Inequality increased under Labour’s high tax, high spending policies of the noughties.

It has improved under National which has reduced taxes and taken a much more careful approach to targeting spending where it is needed most needed.

One of those areas is education:

The key message of the OECD’s report on inequality, released today, is investment in education and is not a prescription for higher taxes, says the Taxpayers’ Union.

The Union’s Executive Director, Jordan Williams, reacting to the OECD report and interviews with Grant Robertson and Russel Norman on this morning’s Morning Report says:

“Grant Robertson and Russel Norman want to use the report as justification to tax high incomes more, even though the top 6% of income earners already pay 37% of everyone’s income tax. They are trying to use the OECD report to frame small efficient government and incentives to work as a bad thing.”

“We’re disappointed that Mr Robertson continues to refer to the made up economic theory of ‘trickle down economics’. Mr Robertson must know that no such economic theory exists. No economist has ever argued that in order to make a poor person richer you should make a rich person richer first. Economists have, however, argued that economic growth and freedom makes us all, rich or poor, better off.”

“The biggest cost of living is people’s tax bills. Instead of wanting to solve inequality by cutting government waste and taxes at the low end, politicians immediately want to tax more so they can distribute it to constituencies.”

The background to the oxymoronic ‘trickle-down economics’ argument Messrs Robertson and Norman referred to on radio this morning to is available in a piece by New Zealand Initiative Researcher Jenesa Jeram republished with permission.

“Mr Robertson is now shadow Minister of Finance. He should be focused on arguing real economic data, not taking on his own straw men arguments,” concludes Mr Williams.

The poor won’t get richer by making the rich richer first. But nor will taking more than is fair and reasonable from anyone help those most in need.

Higher taxes and poor spending don’t help the poor and harm the wider economy.

Education is the key to helping the poor, along with carefully targeted investments in health and other services needed to provide equality of opportunity for them.


Key #1

December 4, 2014

Prime Minister John Key is Trans Tasman’s politician of the year:

This year’s 10th annual Roll Call can reveal John Key as its Politician of the Year. It was a straightforward choice. Key has stood head and shoulders above the rest in the polls, and his party romped home in its third election, the third time in a row it has added extra seats as well.

Key polled highest among the Trans Tasman Editors, contributors and their Capital insiders who make up the panel which compiles Roll Call, and despite signs there may be trouble ahead for Key if he is not careful, 2014 was his year.

Of course winning a fourth term will be dependent as much on the party’s support staff and their management as the Parliamentary team. The same goes for Labour as it battles to rebuild after its shattering defeat.

Roll Call says Key is “still phenomenally popular and if he comes through a third term without serious damage, a fourth could be within his grasp. But he’ll have to be careful.”

Trans Tasman’s Editors note “Key has not only performed strongly at home, he has become an international figure as well, cementing his and NZ’s reputation abroad with his election as chairman of the International Democratic Union.”

“However there are clouds. The fallout from the “Dirty Politics” saga continues. It should have been firmly put to bed in the campaign. And Key’s tendency to “forget,” or “mishear” the question is becoming a worrying feature of the way he involves himself in the Parliamentary and media discourse.”

“He has the respect – almost the love – of the voters, he needs to be careful he does not treat them with contempt. A fourth term does beckon, but the PM’s tendency to be just a bit smug, a bit arrogant, and at times a bit childish could derail it.”

“For now he is a titan, but Labour has a new leader and a new sense of purpose, and the next election is a long way away.”

National’s Front Bench performed exceptionally well in 2014, with just a single Cabinet Minister losing ground. Nikki Kaye fell from 6.5 to 6, after the “bright young thing” nearly lost Auckland Central. Roll Call suggests she must work harder.

Steven Joyce adds half a mark, taking the man most see as John Key’s successor to 8. “He doesn’t drop the ball and handles a raft of senior portfolios with calm confidence. Outside Parliament he was National’s campaign manager and must share some of the credit for its victory.”

Bill English, last year’s Politician of the Year, maintained his score of 9 out of 10. He is still “the safest pair of hands in the cabinet. Cautious, dependable and now mostly steering clear of debating chamber rhetoric.”

After a bad year in 2013, Hekia Parata has battled back to take her score from 5 to 7. “Key believes she’s competent and wasn’t going to hang her out to dry. He’s giving her the benefit of the doubt in delivering on a gutsy vision for the Education sector.”

Murray McCully takes his score from 6.5 to 7.5 after putting together the team which won NZ a seat on the UN Security Council and doing many of the hard yards himself, while Maggie Barry gets kudos for fitting in well to Conservation and being who “some say is the most popular National MP behind Key himself.” Her score jumps from 3 to 5.5.

The Ministers outside Cabinet are more average with Craig Foss, and Jo Goodhew, going down in score, Louise Upston and Paul Goldsmith staying the same and just Nicky Wagner boosting her score from 4.5 to 5.

Both support party Ministers, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell boosted their scores. Dunne from 4 to 5 “gets a point for coming through a horrible year with his head/hair up” while Maori Party leader Flavell goes from 6 to 6.5. “We’ll make a call and say he’s going to be an outstanding Minister.”

The dubious honour of low score for National goes to Melissa Lee. “Hard working but faded after a good start.”

Among the thoroughly shattered Labour MPs, there was little to write home about. David Cunliffe’s score falls from 7.5-6 after the election defeat. But “history may judge him more kindly than last week’s headlines. Is he NZ’s Kevin Rudd?”

Andrew Little’s star starts to shine though. His score jumps from 4.5 to 7. “No-one is going to die wondering what Little thinks. He’s a tough talking union man from way back who isn’t going to compromise his beliefs.”

Labour’s low scorer is Rino Tirikatene who stays on just 2.5 out of 10. “Do still waters run deep or are they just still? Has had time to find his feet and still no impact.”

For the Greens co-leader Russel Norman is the standout, holding his score on 7 out of 10. “After John Key Norman works the media better than any other party leader… If the Greens had gone into coalition with Labour he would have been hard to handle.”

And of course the old war horse Winston Peters is still there, blowing a bit harder than usual. He boosts his score from 7 to 7.5. “Does he have the will and the stamina for another three years on the opposition benches and a campaign in 2017?”

This year for the first time Roll Call also looks at the impact those MPs who left Parliament at the election had, and it is here we find this year’s low scorers Claudette Hauiti and John Banks, both on 1 out of 10.

As for the numbers:

Of National’s 60 MPs, 30 improved their score on last year, 7 went down, and 10 stayed the same. There were 15 new MPs who were not ranked.

Of Labour’s 32, 12 went up, 8 went down, 5 remained on the same score as last year and 7 were unable to be ranked.

ACT’s single MP was unable to be ranked. Of the Maori party’s 2 MPs 1 went up, and the other was unable to be ranked, while United Future’s single MP improved his score.

The Greens had 3 of their 14 MPs improve their score, 4 went down while 6 remained the same, one was unable to be ranked.

For NZ First 2 MPs improved their scores, 1 went down and 2 remained the same. 6 were unable to be ranked.

Of the National MPs able to be rated this year, 32 had a score of 5 or higher, while 13 scored below 5, while for Labour it had 16 of its MPs rated 5 or above, while 9 scored below 5.

The 2014 roll call is here.

 

 


Farming business not bet

November 13, 2014

Dairy farming is ‘no bet':

Federated Farmers says it’s not the government betting on the farm, but instead farmers making sound market decisions. This comes after Green Party co-leader, Dr Russel Norman, said the government has ‘bet on the farm’ with dairying being a ‘one trick pony,’ which is producing a lower tax take and jeopardising a budget surplus.

“Dr Norman is ill-advisedly attacking New Zealand’s most successful export industry,” says Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Primary exports are an increasingly large share of our merchandise export returns and dairy an increasingly large share of farm production.

“The signals from the market are that growing middle classes, especially in South Asia, are developing a sustained taste for dairy products, and New Zealand is a respected source of those dairy products.

“Our dairy farmers are rationally taking these market signals on board and not being diverted by the inevitable short term fluctuations, or in Dr Norman’s terms, ‘a bet’

“The reasons for the present market slippage are clear.

“We didn’t cause Ebola in West Africa and our dairy farmers didn’t invade Eastern Ukraine either, but these two disparate events have cost us hundreds of millions of dollars. That same risk would exist if we exported mobile phones or software.

“Yes, the world produced seven billion litres more milk last season in an exceptional run the world-over. While that put a lid on dairy price growth, sanctions following events in the Eastern Ukraine released some three billion more litres and now you’ve got Ebola too.

“No question this season is a poor one. It ranks down there with 2005/6 but that also means the many seasons around them weren’t too shabby. Seasons that have helped to make this country the third most prosperous on earth according to Legatum.

“Unlike the past, our guys have been saving the gains while investing into productivity and environmental improvements. The ASB reckons, according to NZ Farmer, that agricultural bank deposits over the year to the end of September totalled $7.2 billion.

“Within the past few weeks RadioLive’s Duncan Garner has been on-farm and said this after visiting one; “So a bit of a message to the Greens, this guy wanted to pass on a message to the Green Party that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on what they do with their waste, and I thought it was quite brilliant, actually”.

Andrew Hoggard however doesn’t take too much issue with Russel Norman that the dairy industry might to likened to a pony.

“If he insists that it is a pony he should acknowledge that it is a very strong pony, it’s a stayer and it can perform economic miracles for our nation that Dr Norman would do well to get acquainted with,” Mr Hoggard concluded.

Season Average Dairy Company total payout ($/kg milksolids) Dairy Company payout (inflation adjusted)a
2003/04 $ 4.25 $ 5.34
2004/05 $ 4.58 $ 5.60
2005/06 $ 4.10 $ 4.83
2006/07 $ 4.46 $ 5.14
2007/08 $ 7.67 $ 8.51
2008/09 $ 5.14 $ 5.59
2009/10b $ 6.37 $ 6.82
2010/11b $ 7.89 $ 8.02
2011/12b $ 6.40 $ 6.44
2012/13b $ 6.18 $ 6.18

Fonterra’s milk price payout for the immediate past (2013/14) season is $8.40 kg/MS.
Source: DairyNZ Dairy Statistics for 2012/13
a Weighted to give real dollar values using the Consumers Price Index for the end of the June quarter. Sourced from Statistics New Zealand; Excludes dairy company retentions and deduction for DairyNZ Levy.
b Average dairy co-operative payout (Fonterra, Tatua, Westland)

 The Green Party doesn’t like dairying and it doesn’t like the government.

But neither farmers nor the government are betting on the industry.

Since National came to power in 2008 it’s introduced several measures to help business, foster trade and lower the burden of government.

Meanwhile farmers have got on with farming, accepting the reality that markets, the weather and various other factors beyond their control will affect the payout.

Last season we got a record high payout, this season will be much more modest but the medium to longer term outlook is still bright for dairying and the export income it earns for New Zealand.

 


In praise of erudition

September 27, 2014

National’s candidate for Rongatai, Hon Chris Finlayson writes on his campaign for the elucidation of readers of the Spectator:

Every three years in New Zealand, incumbent politicians must hit the campaign trail. Since 2008, I have chased votes in the Rongotai electorate. My Labour opponent, Annette King, has held the seat since 1996. She is a fine parliamentarian, a thoroughly nice person, and also a distant cousin on my mother’s side. ‘Chris says if he wins Rongotai, he’ll ask for a recount,’ she delights in telling voters. This is supposed to be a joke but, under New Zealand’s mixed member proportional voting system, winning individual seats is not the be all and end all. The number of seats a party has in Parliament is determined by a party vote, and local representatives by a separate electorate vote. As a list MP standing in a traditional left seat my job is to maximise the party vote for National.

The Rongotai electorate takes in Wellington’s rugged southern coast, the Miramar Peninsula and the working class suburbs of Newtown and Berhampore, which are fast gentrifying and turning from red to green. Its furthest boundary is the Chatham Islands, an archipelago around 700km from the mainland. It is a place of isolated natural beauty, rich cultural history, abundant fisheries and distinctively salty mutton. On my most recent trip, the twin-propeller plane was struck by lightning and my stay had to be extended by two days. There is no cellular reception in the Chathams, adding to its attractiveness.

The Newtown debate is usually the rowdiest of the campaign. In 2011, I was shoved by an Anglican vicar as I made my way out. This year, there are ten candidates lined up across the stage facing the audience squeezed into a wooden church hall. The crowd has a very particular strand of rule-bound, suburban radicalism: every mention of ‘revolution’ is cheered, but the audience will not allow proceedings to begin while party signs are blocking the fire exits. Along with Annette, the candidates include Russel Norman, a Tasmanian who relocated to New Zealand to work for the Green Party and now, holding the office of Male Co-leader, campaigns against foreign ownership. He finds himself fighting candidates from the populist Conservative and New Zealand First parties for the xenophobe vote. The Newtown audience thinks I am insufferably right wing but also thinks the same about the Greens and Labour. Dr Norman is accused of dismissing victims of sexual assault. Annette King gets a frosty reception for her party’s track record on Maori issues. I am roundly booed when I say the audience is ‘redistributionist’. More popular are a young man dressed as a shark and representing the Climate Party (his contribution to the debate is ‘learn to swim’) and also the candidate for the Patriotic Revolutionary Front. The PRF wants a benevolent dictatorship and has a leaflet showing a composite picture of Stalin and Einstein as its ideal leader. . .

It’s not just what he says but the way that he says it.

Oh to have the ability to write so eruditely, and also to have been a better Latin scholar.

Can anyone translate his quote (in the paragraph which follows the extract I’ve used) from Horace: parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus ?

I tried Google and got the mountains are in labour, security issues. Even without dim memories of third form Latin I would doubt that is what it means.


Feds wary of Greens

September 10, 2014

I’d add Finance to that:


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