Politics of appeasement

February 17, 2020

When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Wondering what Labour and the Green Party think about New Zealand First and its leader?  Are they staying true to their values and promises, or have they adopted the standards and values of New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters?

Keep wondering because, as Henry Cooke writes,  their silence is deafening:

. . .  there’s a difference between leeway for jokes and leeway for seriously unbecoming behaviour. And the prime minister has slipped this week from the usual kind of space people give Winston to be Winston into plain supplicancy.

Jacinda Ardern is yet to say anything at all about the fact the Electoral Commission made absolutely clear on Monday that the way NZ First was treating donations to its foundations was wrong. . .

Instead of properly taking this on, Ardern has hidden, as politicians often do, behind the perceived inappropriateness of commenting while some process is still active.

Sometimes this waiting game is both useful and sensible – politicians shouldn’t talk too much about murder trials before they finish.

But in this case it makes no sense. . . .

. . .there are ways of commenting on things without alleging criminal conduct. It is the lifeblood of adversarial politics.

Following the Electoral Commission’s finding, Ardern would have been totally within her rights to say, at the very least, that she thought these donations should have been declared to the commission. She could have said she was disappointed that a coalition partner appeared not to have been as fulsome as it could have been with informing the authorities – all without alleging any kind of crime. . .

Later last week it wasn’t just the donations saga on which she wasn’t commenting.

This silence got even louder on Thursday when it became clear that NZ First had some kind of involvement in two covertly taken photographs of journalists reporting on the Foundation story, which found their way onto a right-wing blog. Peters told Magic Talk on Tuesday that “we took the photographs just to prove that’s the behaviour going on”, but later backtracked to say a supporter just happened to see the journalists and thought he or she should snap a photo.

Because of this shifting story, there is a muddle over exactly how involved NZ First and Peters are, a muddle that would best be sorted out by Ardern demanding a fuller explanation from Peters. Any level of involvement in this kind of tactic – clearly designed to intimidate journalists – is worth condemning, and you can bet that, if Ardern was in Opposition, she would manage it.

Instead she’s not commenting, saying it is a “matter for NZ First”, while her office notes that she speaks about ministerial decisions and comments, not about things said as party leader. 

The thing is, the Cabinet Manual does have a section about ministers upholding and being seen to uphold “the highest ethical standards” at all times, not just when doing ministerial business. Ardern has all the ammo she needs to give Peters a dressing-down over this, but instead she defers. Things don’t have to be illegal to be wrong.

And it’s not just Labour which is staying silent.

Worse, this rot of silence has also infected the Green Party, which, as a confidence and supply partner, has plenty of legitimate room to criticise such tactics. You don’t need to tear the Government up or demand that Peters is fired – you can just say what the journalists’ union said on Friday, that Peters needs to explain himself and apologise.

Instead the Greens just talk about how the law needs to be changed – which most people agree with, but isn’t the point. The topic at hand isn’t underhanded but lawful behaviour, it’s stuff that is potentially illegal – hence the police referral. The party should grow back its spine. . .

John Armstrong has a similar view:

Rarely has the current prime minister looked quite so feeble as was evident during yet another turbulent week for her pockmarked, patchwork Administration.

It was another week which witnessed Winston Peters at his frustrating, selfish, perfidious and domineering worst.

In a perfect world, it would have been a week which ended with him having been relieved of the title of Deputy Prime Minister, if only temporarily.

So damning was the verdict of the Electoral Commission on the propriety of the activities of the highly-secretive New Zealand First Foundation that any other minister finding themselves on the receiving end of such a judgement would have been stood down forthwith.

That verdict on its own is a damning indictment. Once it it became public that the commission’s findings had been passed to the Serious Fraud Office, Peters’ relinquishing of his status of Deputy Prime Minister ought to have been a mere formality, if only a temporary measure while the SFO determined whether everything was above board or whether prosecutions should follow its investigation.

Peters, however, has clearly concluded that he is somehow exempt from the rules covering the disclosure of the source of political donations.

The arrogance is breathtaking — especially from someone who has previously suffered the ignominy of being censured by his parliamentary colleagues. . . 

Given that track record, Peters is beyond being shamed.

He might be beyond being shamed, has that rubbed off on the other parties in government?

Just witness the outrageousness of the New Zealand First Foundation, the leaked records of which have revealed its purpose had been to accept donations in the tens of thousands of dollars from some of the country’s wealthiest individuals without having to disclose their names.

Ardern’s problem is that Peters is Deputy Prime Minister. She cannot wash her hands of him no matter how embarrassing his statements and actions might be for her or the wider Labour Party they might be. Neither can she sit blithely to one side and pretend that Peters’ very obvious agenda to undermine the Electoral Commission is not happening.

Ardern needs to read the Riot Act to Peters — and not just to remind him of his constitutional obligations.

Failure to do so makes her look weak. In dragging her down, he is dragging Labour down too.

She’s letting the party be dragged down lest Peters brings the whole government down, even though Simon Bridges’ announcement National own’t work with NZ First should it be in a position to do so after the next election leaves it, like the Greens, the choice of going with Labour or sitting or sitting on the cross benches.

He hasn’t got a lot of options. It would seem to be an opportune time to remind him of that. He is hardly in a position to pull down the Government.

That makes Ardern’s failure to talk tough appear even more pathetic. . . 

And not for the first time. remember Clare Cullen and Iain Lees-Galloway?

The bizarre chain of events which unfolded on Thursday only reinforced the case for Peters losing the title of Deputy Prime Minister.

The revelation that he was party to the covert photographing and filming of journalists whose investigations of the New Zealand First Foundation have uncovered much to embarrass him and his party is a clear breach of the provisions in the Cabinet Manual covering the conduct expected of ministers of the crown.

To quote that handbook: “At all times, ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional”. . .

Andrea Vance has more to say about snooping on  journalists:

No doubt Peters’ supporters are enjoying the irony of publishing paparazzi-style photographs of the reporters digging dirt on their party

For reasons that are unfathomable to me, New Zealand tends to minimise Peters more outrageous behaviour. But he is no lovable rogue – and this is straight-up intimidation.

Protecting the identity of journalists’ sources is an essential part of media freedom.

The threat of surveillance is chilling. It can have an intimidating and traumatising effect. . .

We might be a troublesome and unlovable bunch, but good journalism and a free press is an essential part of a functioning democracy.  

This attack on Shand and Espiner’s privacy is an attack on the public’s right to know about who is secretly funding their Government partner. 

Both Labour and the Greens must acknowledge that and condemn it, if we are to believe their exhortations New Zealand politics should be transparent and fair.

Both Labour and the Greens are forced into silence or at best mealy-mouthed muttering over New Zealand Firsts and Peters because they daren’t face up to him lest he pulls the pin that blows up the government.

Ever since the coalition was formed they’ve pandered to him, exercising politics of appeasement, having to make material concessions, several of which have been contrary to their principles and values.

They’ve swallowed so many dead rats they must suffer from permanent indigestion.

One of MMP’s big weaknesses is that it allows the tail to wag the dog. Peters and his party aren’t just wagging the other two parties they have forced them to roll over and accept not just policies that are contrary to their principles and they’re now, by refusing to condemn it,  accepting behaviour that is too.

Many commentators have questioned the values and standards of NZ First and its leader. Labour and Greens are day by day being more tainted by association and exposing their own values and standards to questions too.


Stuff won’t publish this

December 13, 2019

50 Shades of Green:

Today we sent a piece to stuff in response to an opinion piece written by Green Peace. Thanks but no thanks to our views, so what better place to post it, than to our facebook group.

We’d like to respond to the opinion piece published in Stuff 7th December 2019 written by the Greenpeace agricultural campaigner, or as it reads anti agricultural campaigner, trying to further demonise the ag industry (https://www.stuff.co.nz/…/agricultures-role-in-getting-to-z…)

Gen Toop writes as if she thinks New Zealand farmers are sitting on their hands in the race to mitigate global warming waiting for a mythical solution, she is offbeat in that view. While it’s true the industry continues to look to technology to innovate and improve, she has highlighted something that needs to be understood about the way we grow animal proteins for the world.

Agriculture in general is nowhere near as harmful to the climate as is often described and New Zealand, with our large swaths of native bush possibly contributing less to global warming than any other international producer. We wouldn’t know because not everything behind the farm gate is measured or measured accurately.

First some inconvenient truths, emissions do not necessarily result in global warming. As we now know from multiple government reports our methane emissions only need to be reduced by a minuscule 0.3 percent per year to avoid further warming. This is because once stock numbers have stabilised for around 10 years, methane decays in the atmosphere at around the same rate as it is being emitted.

The outdated GWP100 metric, which our ETS is based on, assigns methane a warming value of 28 x CO2. This is how much warming a single pulse of methane will cause over the next 100 years. Farm’s however emit a steady flow of methane over time so it is the inflow versus outflow we must measure if we want to understand our impact on warming.

According to Ministry for the Environment data, farmers have reduced their methane by 2.8 percent since 2014 putting them well on track to achieve the 10 percent by 2050 needed to remain climate neutral. Notably, Agriculture is the only sector being asked to reduce emissions below the point of zero warming and this is a direct result of the failure to properly articulate how methane effects climate

It is an absurd situation that agricultural methane accounts for 35 percent of our country’s entire emissions, yet how it is accounted for does not consider the rate it is decaying in the atmosphere. Because NZ’s methane emissions are stable the decay is equal to what is being released. It is similar to a factory planting trees to offset their Co2 emissions. Any emissions cause warming in isolation but not necessarily when measured on a net basis. Perhaps Ms Toop would like to explain why she promotes a net zero release of emissions for CO2 emitters but still finds this unacceptable for Methane?

A more accurate accounting method called GWP-we has been developed for the specific purpose of measuring the warming effect of flow methane over time. Inexplicably this option has so far been ignored, the folly of which is even more surprising given the entire objective of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures

How are farmers to measure success against this stated goal if they are not measuring the methane’s warming effect?

Add to this, the major oversight of not collecting more data on farm trees. 1.4 million ha of trees already are growing on drystock properties not presently being assessed for their annual carbon sequestration rates.

An agricultural emissions scheme should count ALL measurable offsets. Simply put, make it fair, make sure the accounting system is the correct one, make sure farmers can claim for trees annual carbon sequestration rates, and any other measurable offset so New Zealand continues to grow the most carbon efficient animal proteins in the world.

Until this is done, the likes of Greenpeace and other anti-farming campaigners will continue to use incomplete information and half-truths to criticise the industry.

Instead, let’s celebrate our industry, the day in day out work in all weathers all year round by our 46,000+ farms and celebrate the extraordinary fact that in one amazing minute every day in NZ, our country exports five and half tonnes of pastoral agricultural product generating more than $100,000 for NZ. That is almost twice the average annual income of a New Zealand household. In less than a minute the pastoral sector that works so hard for this country generates income that helps pay for a school teacher, a policeman, a nurse. Maybe that minute also makes it possible for a non farming household to take their family on a holiday, or provide their children a better education

More broadly, we all need to do some serious navel glazing rather than opining on ideology and travelling the same old road of finding someone else to blame for everybody’s problem. Let’s face it, it’s not so much the ruminants, it’s people. Here is agriculture already reducing its impacts, yet on the other hand a recently released report tells us Wellington’s vehicle emissions, have risen 12% between 2013 and 2018, and not to pick on Wellington, it’s airport also proposes to DOUBLE numbers flying into the city by 2040.

Is the keen focus on agriculture because dealing with the growth in emissions from other sectors is too close to home, and will impact individuals requiring a change their own behaviours?

Stuff has decreed that it will publish nothing that could be construed as climate change denial.

This piece from 50 Shades of Green isn’t denying climate change, it’s responding, rationally, to an opinion piece Stuff published and that in the interests of balance it ought to have published.


Politics changed, facts haven’t

March 28, 2019

Sir Michael Cullen is being paid $1000 to sell the capital gains tax.

It’s a task made more difficult by records of his views on a CGT  which the parliamentary library holds from his time as an MP:

Stuff reported that although the chairman of the Tax Working Group once called a capital gains tax “extreme, socially unacceptable and economically unnecessary”, he has since changed his mind.

New documents compiled by the Parliamentary Library for the ACT party reveal just how far he shifted since leaving Government in 2008.

The 84 pages of research included every reference Cullen ever made in the House in reference to a CGT between 1987 and 2008. . . 

They include:

. . . “I think it is extremely hard to make that connection between a capital gains tax and the affordability of housing, insofar as there has never been a theoretical argument put forward about a capital gains tax on housing. It is more in the direction of a level playing field around investment; it is not around the notion that it will make houses cheaper. Indeed, it is very hard to see how it would necessarily make houses cheaper,” Cullen said at the time.

On June 20, 2007, when Bill English asked Cullen about explicitly ruling out a capital gains tax, he responded saying: “One of the problems with a capital gains tax – apart from the fact that if it were done, it should apply to all asset classes—is that countries overseas that have capital gains taxes have significant inflation in house prices on occasion”.

Then on June 21, 2007, he was asked about the possibility of combining ring-fencing with a capital gains tax on all investments except the family home, and more Government investment in low-cost rental housing.

He responded saying: “I think it is fair to say that, if one was looking at a capital gains tax, which I am certainly not, it would apply to all asset classes. I think the arguments in favour of such a tax, which probably 20 years ago were quite strong, become much, much less strong in the intervening period of time, for a whole host of reasons. So I think that that is actually not a very worthwhile avenue to explore, not least because it comes, in effect, at the end of a process, rather than trying to address the over-investment at the start of the process”. . . 

He says he was Finance Minister at the time and following the government line.

When asked why he changed his mind, he quoted John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind”.

What facts have changed? It wasn’t a good idea then and it still isn’t, for the same reasons.

As Robin Oliver, former deputy head of Inland Revenue, former Treasury advisor, an expert on the tax system, and one of three dissenters on the Tax Working Group said:

There’s a strong argument for taxing capital gains, as you put it, in theory, the problem is the practicality and of making it work. . .

Kathryn Ryan asked him if, all things being equal and as a tax expert would it be good to do it and her replied:

In the actuality of what you have to do to get such a tax in place, no.

Most of the arguments in favour of a CGT are theoretical ones based on a notion of fairness, whatever that is.

Most of the arguments against it are practical based on facts including that it has done nothing to rein in house prices elsewhere and has led to overinvestment in housing, underinvestment in business, and acts as a handbrake on succession.

The politics have changed but the facts haven’t.

A CGT with exceptions as recommended by the TWG would be expensive to administer, contain loopholes which would only provide work for lawyers and accountants, promote over-investment in housing, stifle investment in productive assets, and result in lower tax revenue in tough times when capital gains fall.


Stuff stuffed the headline

March 21, 2019

Federated Farmers was approached by a Stuff reporter asking questions about firearms.

The story was initially headlined Federated Farmers say AK-47 and AR-15 guns are needed to control pests on farms.

There is nothing in the story that says that. The headline was a complete misquote of what Feds spokesman Miles Anderson did say.

Feds were alerted to the headline but an email to members from chief executive Terry Copeland says the story stayed on the website for three hours and that it took intense pressure from the Feds comms team to get it altered.

The story is now headlined Federated Farmers says semi-automatic firearms have a place on farms.

The email says a phone call and an explanation from a Stuff Editor-in-Chief. Stuff has added its ‘regret’ about the misreporting at the bottom of the story.

That the mistake was made in the first place was at best careless, that it took three hours and intense pressure to get it corrected is appalling.

It is particularly disappointing when emotions are heightened in the wake of the mass murders in Christchurch and the need for quiet reason and facts on the issue of gun control are essential.

The email from Feds gives the questions and answers emailed from and to the reporter:

What do most farmers use guns for?

Mainly pest control (rabbits, possums, Canada geese and feral pigs) and humanely euthanizing livestock. Also recreational hunting and target shooting.

On average how many guns would one farmer own? Most farmers own a 0.22 for shooting rabbits and possums, a shotgun for ducks and geese and rabbit control, and a centrefire rifle for deer and pigs, and euthanizing large animals such as cattle.

Generally, what types of guns do farmers use? As above. Farmers use the right firearm for the right job. Quite a lot of the firearms farmers use for pest control are semiautomatic, such as 0.22 rifles and shotguns. These are used to target small fast moving pest species such as rabbits, hares, wallabies and Canada geese. For these species there are often only very limited opportunities to shoot at them and they are commonly found in groups. For Canada geese, for example, hunters may sit in a crop paddock all day for only a few opportunities to shoot at a mob of geese, which may arrive in a mob of up to 100 birds. Four geese eat as much as one sheep and shooting is the only way to control them.

Does the farming community support gun reform? Should the government make it harder for individuals to get gun licences?

Federated Farmers will participate in any process that reviews the law.

What is Fed Farmers’ opinion on military style semi-automatic guns for farming. How common are they? How necessary are they?

Military style semi-automatic rifles are not in common use by farmers. There is no need for general public sales of detachable, high-capacity semi-automatic rifle magazines.

For the record:

My farmer bought an air rifle (for which no licence is needed if you are aged over 18) a couple of years ago when rabbits started invading the lawn and garden. Neither of us owns any other firearm.

Some of our staff own rifles and shotguns which they use for controlling rabbits, possums, ducks, geese, deer and pigs, for recreational hunting and for the mercifully rare occasions when it’s necessary to euthanise cattle.

None own military style arms nor would they have any need to.


Another plank from urban-rural bridge

May 31, 2018

Stuff’ is oging ahead with its plan to close its rural papers and reduce its reporting.

. . . Stuff chief executive Sinead Boucher said farming stories would still appear online on Stuff’s website and app, but the closure of the rural titles will mean the loss of nine journalists and six commercial staff.

Stuff is proposing to retain just three editorial staff to cater for the major newspapers’ farming sections and online content. . . 

That is very sad for the people who are losing their jobs and the three editorial staff covering farming news will be spread very thinly.

However, we have been getting so many free papers – sometimes two or three a day – it’s difficult to keep up with them.

All of them provide different news, views and features but it really was too much of a good thing with too little time to read them all.

If as often happens we don’t have time to read one, the next day’s mail will bring another and the first goes out having had no more than a passing glance.

Country people will still be well served by the rural publications that remain.

The hole will be in urban papers which will no longer have such comprehensive coverage of rural news and views and another plank will go from the urban-rural bridge.


28 papers stuffed

February 21, 2018

Stuff has announced it’s ditching 28 of its papers:

The full list of titles being closed is:

AvenuesWaikato FarmerAdmire MarlboroughNZ Dairy FarmerDiscover MagazineSelwyn and Ashburton OutlookAdmire NelsonHastings MailChristchurch MailNapier MailThe TribuneKaikoura StarInvercargill EyeAuto XtraSouth Canterbury HeraldClutha LeaderWaiheke MarketplaceNewsLinkWairarapa NewsQueenstown MirrorNZ FarmerWaitaki HeraldCanterbury FarmerNorth Waikato NewsCentral District FarmerRotorua ReviewOtago Southland FarmerRuapehu Press.

This is very tough for the people whose jobs are at risk.

There might be opportunities for someone to take over some of the titles but print media is not a growing business and rural media is a very crowded space.

We knew farming was in resurgence when the letterbox started filling up with give-aways.

We now get several free rural papers a week, sometimes three or more in a day.

If we don’t have time to read them when they come they often go out barely read or unread because at least another has come before we get back to them.


Knowing little about Little

November 23, 2014

6/10 in Stuff’s quiz on Labour’s new leader Andrew Little, four of which were guesses.


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