Political blood thicker than water

October 7, 2019

The reason New Zealand First has been polling below its election night support is obvious:

NZ First voters would have preferred National to be in Government than Labour by a large margin, newly released survey results say.

The new public survey data shows 44.5 per cent of NZ First voters answered “National” when asked to pick between Labour and National leading the Government, with Labour 10 points behind at 34.1 per cent. . .

I suspect if the choice had been National or Labour and the Green Party, the number preferring National would have been even higher.

But it’s not just Peters opting for Labour with Greens in support, that’s upset members.

A raft of internal NZ First documents have been leaked to the media and the National Party, revealing internal discontent about the way the party ran the last election campaign and Coalition negotiations. . . 

The papers show some were critical of leader Winston Peters for planning to take legal action against National Party figures before Coalition negotiation began and questioned what impact that had on those talks.

It is a very rare breach of the internal secrecy of the party and will be a blow to Peters. . . 

He has had absolute sway over the party for years, but these leaks show that, as many dictators before him have found, the grip eventually loosens.

Documented minutes of a party meeting in November 2017 show members levelling criticism at Peters.

One member said New Zealand First needed to “come up with solutions and start a succession plan post Winston Peters”.

Another said: “Resources for the campaign were not provided, no cogent policies, signs unreadable, distribution of sign issues, listing was confidential, no plan B (or even A) for Jacinder [sic]”.

After the 2017 election, Helen Peterson – a long-time party member, who has stood for election three times – wrote a report titled “NZ First Concerns and issues regarding Election 2017”. She has been approached for comment.

“A number of members nationwide have been extremely disappointed in the way in which the 2017 election campaign was handled,” it said.

The documents reveal members felt the party’s list showed disrespect for hardworking, loyal, hardworking and long-serving members, and favoured candidates who had personal relationships with those who select the list placement.

Members also complained the list process was sexist, as only three of the candidates in the top 18 were female.

It also shows members thought the campaign was unorganised, lacked leadership and had no strategy.

New Zealand First candidates were “for the most part unsupported” and given minimal mentoring or support by the board.

“The extent and magnitude of the issues demonstrate how the party will remain a third party for the foreseeable future unless there is an enormous shift towards accountability, adherence to the constitution and respect for its members.” . . 

These criticisms won’t be any surprise to the many who have long questioned Peters and the apparent disregard for democracy in his party.

But political blood is thicker than water and staunch members will put up with policies and behaviors from and within their party that they will condemn in others. But only for a time.

Peters’ power over his party and its members has been almost absolute.

The resignation of the president, and his explanation of why, and the leaks showing internal dissatisfaction indicate that for at least some members, the time for unwavering support is past.


Morals prompt NZ First’s president’s resignation

October 4, 2019

Morals were the reason behind the sudden resignation of NZ First president Lester Gray:

New Zealand First party president Lester Gray has quit the party, citing his refusal to sign off financial reports for ‘moral’ reasons. 

A resignation letter reveals Gray took his stand against signing the party’s 2019 reports with a claim he has been kept in the dark over party expenditure and donations, leaving him unable to put his name to them with confidence. . .

In Gray’s resignation letter, obtained by Stuff, he raises issues around communication with senior party officials and uncertainty over financial dealings.

“I refuse to sign off the 2019 Financial Reports with the information I have been provided,” he wrote.

“As President, the limited exposure I have had to Party donations and expenditure leaves me in a vulnerable position.

“This type of operation does not align with my moral and business practice values, and I am therefore not able to support the Party any longer.”

Gray also stated there was “insufficient communication and support from senior members of the Party for me to effectively function as the President“. . .

Is anyone surprised?

A friend with shares in a race horse received a letter before the last election seeking a contribution towards a generous donation to New Zealand First.

Was any donation like this, or from fishing and forestry interests which benefit from its policies, declared? No, and time after time, this party is the only one in parliament that never declares any sizable donations.

It isn’t so much a party as a principality presided over by Winston Peters whose word is law.

NZ First presents an ongoing risk to our reputation for openness, transparency and, relatively, low rates of corruption.

It is a carbuncle on the hide of democracy. Dare we hope that this news might prompt someone to lance it?


He said she said

September 17, 2019

The Spinoff has two statements on the Labour Party inquiry:

In spite of Jacinda Ardern’s exhortation that ‘it would be preferable if this case were not in the public domain’, differing accounts of what was said in an inquiry into the conduct of a (now former) Labour staffer, who denies wrongdoing, have been issued today to media from the chair of the Labour investigating committee, Simon Mitchell, and the complainant known as Sarah.

Below, we print the statements in full, both sent via a lawyer acting for Simon Mitchell and a lawyer acting for the complainants to The Spinoff. . . 

 It’s difficult to believe that the two statements are about the same investigation.

When you get he said, she said like this both can’t be right.

Both statements raise even more questions about who said and did what and when.

Both reflect even more poorly on the Labour Party and those involved in the whole messy business and do nothing.

Worse still Winston Peters has waded into the fray.

Asked what he had made watching the issue from the sidelines, the NZ First leader told Newstalk ZB there had been a lack of presumption of innocence.

“All that went flying out the window in what a disgraceful orgy of speculation and innuendo. None of which I can tell you, even from where I sit and what I know, will be proven by the evidence,” he said.

“What I saw unfolding is actually a disgrace.”

What’s a disgrace is the way the complainants were treated. Whether or not their complaints are right or wrong, they deserved to be treated sensitively and fairly.

What’s a disgrace is that the Deputy PM is undermining the PM.

What’s a disgrace is that the PM wasn’t fully informed and in control from the start and in spite of her best efforts isn’t now.


Why so glum?

August 8, 2019

The quarterly unemployment rate is down to 3.9%; and the official cash rate is at an historic low of 1%.

Yesterday’s GlobalDairyTrade was down 2.6%, the fifth drop in the last six auctions but no-one’s suggesting the milk payout will be lower than $6.

Horticulture and wine are getting healthy returns, arable incomes are reasonable, wool is dismal but the outlook for sheep meat and beef is positive.

But Business confidence is down to -44.3% :

. . .That was the worst reading since August last year, when the index was at -50.3. Employment intentions slumped (-5.5 vs 0) as firms sought to cut jobs, capacity utilization weakened to its lowest since 2009 (0.4 vs 5.3), and activity outlook (5.0 vs 8.0) and export expectations (1.4 vs 5.3) deteriorated. In addition, profit expectations fell further(-16.3 vs -12.5), while investment intentions turned to negative (-0.3 vs 2.5). . . 

And consumer confidence is also gloomy:

The Westpac-McDermott Miller consumer confidence index in New Zealand fell to 103.5 in the second quarter of 2019 from 103.5 in the previous period. Households became increasingly worried about conditions in the global economy over the next five years (-3.5 points to 11.9); and the number of households who think now is a good time to purchase a major item has fallen to a two-year low (-5.5 points to 17.9).  . . 

Why are we so glum?

Today’s historic cut to the Official Cash Rate down to just one per cent sounds a dramatic warning that the New Zealand economy is slowing and the Government needs to get serious about growth, National’s Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The Reserve Bank’s cut came with the message, ‘Indicators of growth remained weak or weakened further over the past few months’.

“The only time in the history of the OCR there has been a cut of this magnitude have been after the 9/11 terrorist attack, during the Global Financial Crisis, and after the Christchurch earthquake.

“Of greatest concern is the absence of any clear growth plan from this Government.

“Budget 2019 was devoted almost exclusively to spreading national wealth, with very few policies to grow the economy. The most expensive Budget commitment to transform the economy was a $1 billion subsidy for rail. There was little else.

“Instead of ramping up infrastructure investment, the Government has stopped or postponed a dozen roading projects which were ready to get underway, and replaced them with projects that aren’t ready to go, and won’t be for a lot time yet’.

“We need to move beyond policies that add costs to the business and drive down business confidence.

“National would revive the economy by having a plan for growth which would see confidence bounce back and the economy gain the strength it’s lost under this Government.”

There is no doubt what the government is doing and not doing are a large part of the problem.

In spite of at least reasonable returns for almost all primary products farmers feel under-siege with very real concerns about the costs and restrictions the government will impose on them.

Other businesses have similar worries, not helped by the latest confidence-sapping message sent by the Prime Minister’s ordering Fletchers to not build anything until the Ihumātao dispute is settled.

Then there’s the on-going argument over the letter Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter is refusing to release and the questions that raises over the part she played in delaying Wellington transport plans.

Concerns over this aren’t helped by claims from Wellington City Councilors that the Green Party confidence and supply agreement would have been put in jeopardy if a watered down Let’s Get Wellington Moving wasn’t accepted.

All of this points to government instability and is compounded by Winston Peters’ latest game playing over requiring a referendum on changes to abortion law.

When interest rates were already so low, it is unlikely the larger than expected drop in the OCR will have much impact on the productive economy when there are so many reasons pointing to the need for caution.

And while low interest rates help borrowers they punish savers.

All in all there is little to give anyone confidence anything is going to get better soon and plenty of reasons to doubt the government has the plans and policies to help.

And now the Reserve Bank has dropped the OCR, it raises the question of what happens when, as is likely, economic conditions get worse.


RMA reform welcome and needed but

July 25, 2019

The government plans to reform the Resource Management Act:

The Government is overhauling our resource management system, focusing on the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) – the primary legislation governing the use of our land, water and air resources. 

The Government wants the RMA to support a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy. It also wants the RMA to be easier for New Zealanders to understand and engage with. The Government is approaching this in two stages. 

It plans to start by amending the RMA.

The Government is proposing several specific changes to the RMA through an amendment bill. The aim of the bill is to make the RMA less complex, give people more certainty on RMA issues, and increase opportunities for public participation.

The bill will address issues with resource consenting, enforcement and Environment Court provisions within the RMA. It may also include some other policy proposals. 

The bill is currently being drafted and we are working to introduce it to Parliament later this year. Public submissions will be called for when the bill is referred to a select committee. . . 

Then there’s the second stage:

The Government is undertaking a comprehensive review of the resource management system. This review will examine the broader and deeper changes needed to support the transition to a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy. 

The aim of the review is to improve environmental outcomes and enable better and timely urban development within environmental limits. . . 

Few if any will argue with the aims to support a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy and to make the RMA easier to understand and engage with.

Media releases from right, left and centre support the proposal. Reform is welcome and needed but getting agreement on that is the easy part.

The difficulty will be getting those who support the need for reform to agree on the details of any changes that are proposed.

Federated Farmers says reform will be a huge challenge:

The organisation agrees with Environment Minister David Parker that because of frequent amendments, the RMA is now overly cumbersome, costly and complex.

“The review will be no easy task. It will need to consider wide and diverse opinions and concerns. There are few organisations which have been more intricately and routinely involved in resource management processes across the country since the Act first came into force than Federated Farmers, so we consider our active input on the review panel will be vital,” Federated Farmers resource management spokesperson Chris Allen says.

The Act is a source of much frustration for resource users across the country. It is now twice the size it was on enactment in 1991 and while it has created a booming market for planners, lawyers and other experts, this has been at the expense of resource users, ratepayers and the environment.

Federated Farmers would support amendments that made the Act, in the Minister’s words, “fit for purpose in the 21st century”, and approve of any attempt to remove unnecessary complexity, delays and costs.

“But we have a word of caution – it’s hard to make processes move faster, when regional and district councils are already under-resourced and facing increasing public pressure and inadequate central government support,” Chris says.

There is also insufficient weighting given to the economic impacts of regulation on farms, rural communities and the regions of New Zealand. Economic impacts should be considered in balance with environmental, social and cultural wellbeing, instead of just the quick skim currently given.

“The trend appears to be for central government to push national regulation onto local government, expecting them to both resource and fund processes. This isn’t a case of local government being given too much power, rather it’s a trend of central government putting out cookie-cutter national rules and regulations, and expecting local councils to ‘make them work’.

“We have real concerns over central government interfering with local processes, as many regional councils are well underway in developing plans to address water quality and quantity,” Chris says.

Some of these plans are already in place, and other regions are wrestling with tricky questions around how plans can be tailored so they are both efficient and effective. Anything that interferes with these processes, and the considerable economic and social investment already made by our communities, could be a step-backwards for water quality management in New Zealand.

There has been a massive investment in time and money into changing farm practices and infrastructure, and getting a better understanding of the implications of activities on land to the environment.

This groundswell of change has been happening across the country, from landowner level through to catchment groups and wider district efforts. These efforts do not result in improved outcomes overnight, but trends are indicating we are on the right track.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to see this timely opportunity to reform the RMA, being instead used simply to put up as many affordable houses as possible, with an overly urban focus, to the peril of fixing other key issues with the Act,” Chris says.

The previous government’s attempts at reforms were vehemently opposed by the parties in the current government and it won’t be easy to reconcile those parties’ differing views on what needs to be done and how to do it.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Parker said that no RMA reform legislation would be introduced until after the 2020 election because the working group would take nearly 10 months to make its recommendations.

Collins called this “cynical timing.” Given that the next government to consider legislation could well be a National one, she believes Labour should be consulting the Opposition. But Parker refused to consider including the Opposition in the reform process until legislation is introduced, insisting it was the “parliamentary process”.

Given this, the latest effort at fixing the RMA is unlikely to succeed, Collins believes. “You’ve got New Zealand First going around the provinces saying, ‘We’re going to sort out the RMA and stop all these impediments to development.’ You’ve got the Greens saying, ‘We’re gonna stop all these developments.’ It just must be a nightmare for Labour.”

Winston Peters didn’t disagree with her. When asked if he thought New Zealand First would be on the same page as Labour and the Greens about RMA reform, he answered simply, “No”.

“I cannot agree with their race-based approach,” he said of Green Party support for a Māori role in the resource management system. . . 

That isn’t an encouraging start to the process.

Getting consent through the RMA is process is a long and frustrating process, reforming the act won’t be any easier.


Rural round-up

July 12, 2019

Rotten reality: Apples still on trees in July a visual reminder of Hawke’s Bay picking struggles :

Fruit hanging on trees well into a cold and frosty Hawke’s Bay winter provides a visual reminder of the struggle growers had finding pickers over the last season.

New Zealand Apples and Pears CEO Alan Pollard said it was the third year in a row a labour shortage had been declared in Hawke’s Bay, and it was time to have a conversation about solving the issue.

“We can’t continue to have an annual conversation which is what we’ve been doing in the past, we’ve got to have much more long-term solutions. . .

Winston Peters wonders why he doesn’t get a thank you from farmers – Hamish Rutherford:

No one provides a defence of the New Zealand Government quite like Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Over the course of nearly two years in Government, senior Labour Party Ministers have adopted an increasingly conciliatory approach to critics, while, if anything, Peters becomes more cantankerous.  . . .

Sheep and beef on farm inflation reaches 3 percent:

Sheep and beef farm input prices rose twice as fast as consumer price inflation in the year to March 2019 with on-farm inflation at 3.0 percent, according to the latest Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Economic Service Sheep and Beef On-Farm Inflation Report.

The report identifies annual changes in the prices of goods and services purchased by New Zealand sheep and beef farms. The overall on-farm inflation rate is determined by weighting the changes in prices for individual input categories by their proportion of total farm expenditure.

B+LNZ Economic Service’s Chief Economist Andrew Burtt says the biggest three expenditure categories – shearing expenses; fertiliser, lime, and seeds; and council rates – contributed substantially to the 3.0 percent rate of on-farm inflation. . .

ANZCO confident no repeat of horror year – Allan Barber:

ANZCO’s 2018 pre-tax loss of $38 million was the worst result in the company’s history. The exporter has traditionally posted a profit, even in difficult years for the meat industry which has always had a chequered history, so it is critical to assess what went wrong and, more important, how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

None of the largest meat companies that publish their annual results, Silver Fern Farms, Alliance and ANZCO, enjoyed a great year, but contrary to its previous performances relative to its competitors, ANZCO had the worst of it by a considerable margin. Analysis of the figures shows record income more than offset by expenses and finance costs; the obvious questions for CEO Peter Conley are what is going to change and how is 2019 tracking? . . .

Alternative protein startups: let’s get the facts straight about livestock’s carbon footprint – Lauren Manning:

The impact of the meat industry on the environment, particularly relating to greenhouse gas emissions, has become common knowledge among consumers and is increasingly a feature of mainstream media headlines today.

Arguably starting when the Food and Agriculture Organization released a paper entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow in 2006, the anti-meat movement moved on from focusing on concerns about the humane treatment of animals to its environmental footprint. . . 

Inaugural Ground Spread Awards recognise  innovation, skill and excellence:

The inaugural winners of the New Zealand Groundspread Fertilisers Association (NZGFA) awards were announced this week at the organisation’s 63rd annual conference, ‘Technology the Enabler’, in Taupo.

The NZGFA Innovation Award (sponsored by Trucks & Trailers) was presented to Canterbury’s Ron Smith of R&R Haulage Ltd for his detailed research into testing bout widths against product quality. . .


Just when you think it can’t get worse

May 30, 2019

Treasury allowing Budget information to be found from a simple search on its own website was bad enough.

Calling it hacking and involving the police without properly investigating first was worse.

And just when the organisation ought to be showing it’s learned a lesson and taking extra care it does the opposite:

. . . 10:30am – In a major blunder, Treasury staff mistakenly handed out copies of the budget to journalists and political commentators.

Newshub’s Political Editor Tova O’Brien tweeted that she was given one of the top secret documents. When the recipients questioned whether they were supposed to see them before going into the lock-up, she says an official asked “Are you not Treasury?” before hurriedly taking the copies back. . . 

It’s a simple human error but given the lead-up it shouldn’t have happened.

So will heads roll?

Treasury bungled badly and Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Winston Peters made baseless accusations against Simon Bridges.

Will there be resignations or even apologies?

Don’t hold your breath.


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