Political reports and reaction from the Parliamentary Precinct, Wellington.

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Today in the House

Order Paper

Oral Questions to Ministers

1. JUDITH COLLINS to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What complaints, if any, has he been advised of that could seriously impact on his ability to carry out his job as Minister of Social Development and Employment?

2. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY to the Minister of Education: On what basis was the list of students drawn up whose New Zealand birth certificates, certificates of citizenship, or passports were required during last year's roll audit of Kamo Intermediate School in Whangarei?

3. Dr DON BRASH to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if so, why?

4. SHANE JONES to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the KiwiSaver scheme?

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the statement of the previous Associate Minister of Education to the House on 12 May 2005, "I have not been guilty of, or involved in, any inappropriate behaviour in my 24 years as a secondary school teacher. As well, I am not aware of any complaint of any kind."; if not, why not?

6. JILL PETTIS to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on burglaries in New Zealand?

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH to the Minister of Education: Has the Ministry of Education investigated allegations that a Canterbury school's property consultant has taken kickbacks from contractors in exchange for ensuring they receive school contracts; if not, why not?

8. JUDY TURNER to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): What is her role in the Cabinet Committee on Government Expenditure and Administration's review of Child, Youth and Family?

9. JOHN KEY to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement yesterday that he will be taking a clear line with State sector CEOs on labour costs, and will he be stressing this objective to his colleague, the Associate Minister of Finance, as he oversees the forthcoming State sector spending reviews?

10. MARYAN STREET to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on how New Zealand's work to prepare for an influenza pandemic compares internationally?

11. SIMON POWER to the Minister of Corrections: Is he satisfied that his department is fulfilling the purpose of the corrections system, which is to "improve public safety and contribute to the maintenance of a just society"; if so, why?

12. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied with Transit New Zealand's 10-year State Highway Forecast process for planning State highways; if so, why?

Although not a story in the current news cycle, I have to admire the campaign. What started as a question in a House, quickly became a chant by the opposition and now there is even a website for petitioning the Prime Minster to 'Pay the money back now!"

A bit obvious from the 'Brethren Blue' design and some of the photos as to who's behind it. I wonder if it could have been any less original...still, it's a worthwhile visit.

From the IRD:

"The government has introduced the KiwiSaver Bill, which establishes the voluntary, work-based savings scheme announced in Budget 2005..."

So the Labour led Government pushes on with their legislative agenda, fulfilling its promises to the public. Where's the loyal opposition? In the quagmire, trying to drag everyone else in.

But seriously, the rhetoric over this allegation of misleading the House has so far lacked the ferocity of the tennis ball affair last year, although I am not blind to the delicate position that both David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South) and PM Helen Clark (Labour, Mt Albert) are now in. DBP has to perform well today in the House, against an MP turned wolverine that's high on P, Judith Collins (National, Clevedon) who will take great delight in pushing him on his memory lapses. He is not a fantastic debater in the chamber, and today’s question time will be a challenge upon his questionable discipline. If he falters, PM Clark will have to take measures to stop the bleeding in confidence.

Parker and Locke, a novice and a blunderer

Last week in the House, two MPs, not known for their oratorical skill tried valiantly but were undermined by their relative limitations, one showing inexperience and the other incompetence.

Last week, questions were asked of the Minister for Climate Change and Transport, David Parker (Labour, List) on the inconsistent projections of Transit NZ roading projects, and the ongoing conflict between the forest industry and the government regarding the need for reform to reach Kyoto targets. Parker tried to defuse with humour:

Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is that this is the second tossing of documents we have seen today… Frankly, it brings Parliament into disrepute… I ask you, Madam Speaker, to make them desist.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member…Certainly, throwing documents around the House is not permitted, particularly if it is others. But putting them on the floor just requires someone to come and pick them up…

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister think it a suitable way to run the transport portfolio, and to give surety to people like the contractors out there, when Transit published a big, thick, glossy document costing tens of thousands of dollars in June last year that, before it even made the bookshelf, had to have a sticker on it stating that it was not valid because of changes [Williamson has tossed the document to the ground], when…2 months later, with the same car and the same road on the cover, stating that the plan had all changed [Williamson has tossed this document to the ground]…when by February it had to put out another [document]…and when, within an hour of putting those out, it had the Associate Minister of Finance saying: 'Sorry, that's not right either; forget all that. [Williamson tossing these documents as well]'… is that satisfactory?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I would say to the tosser [slight pause] of documents…

But sometimes, the best approach is to answer the question you wish were asked. Standing orders only require an answer to address the question (not to necessarily answer it). Parker got himself caught out on a number of occasions that would have been better handled by a more experienced debater:

Hon Maurice Williamson: Which of the published dates should members of this House now be working to…which of those dates is correct?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I said, it is that in the projected State highway forecast plan, which is the lengthy document that the member tossed first.

Hon Maurice Williamson: In light of the Minister's answer to the previous question I asked…why did Transit tell me only an hour ago that the differences between the two dates…are that the dates in the big document are what Transit could build now if it had the money, but the ones in the regional flyer are what is planned to be built because there is no money to build the original programme—and I thank him very much for his assurance that he will work off the first dates, not the second?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I cannot confirm that.

And this:

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why would the Auditor-General's office tell the select committee that the Government had …broken the Public Finance Act…?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Because the Auditor-General did not express himself in those words. It is a moot point as to what particular day the liability was quantified to the standard expected for inclusion in the Crown books, but it is absolutely clear that neither the Minister nor the ministry failed to disclose the projected deficit in volume terms—in terms of the number of tones of carbon dioxide—and accounting for it was duly made by Treasury.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister say that the Auditor-General did not express in clear language that the Government had broken the Public Finance Act, when, in response to the question 'Did the Government breach the Finance Act?', Mr Keate from the Auditor-General's office said: 'Yes, they did. There was a breach.’…?

Even the Prime Minister tried to steady him, by throwing him a question. With some reluctance he got through it nicely:

Rt Hon Helen Clark: Could the Minister spell out a little more clearly to the Hon Maurice Williamson the nature of the statutory requirement for Transit to consult on its draft plans?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The legislation that this Government passed in the last term provides for a transparent process, so that the wool cannot be pulled over the eyes of New Zealand taxpayers and road users—as it was in the 1990s—by giving people a right of participation in funding decisions and the prioritization of funding.

Parker's gaffes are one of a novice, and are unlikely to hold back his career. In time, I expect him to develop into a better debater. Keith Locke (Greens, List) has no excuse of inexperience. In questions to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) about the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, he lost focus and got his facts wrong:

KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Will he be calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre following the recent United Nations Commission on Human
Rights' report, issued 15 February 2006…?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The issue, therefore, is not the existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, but rather the treatment of detainees there or elsewhere. The Government's position is that all persons detained at Guantanamo
Bay or elsewhere should be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Keith Locke: Why is the Government such a wimp as to not call for the Guantanamo Bay facility to be closed…

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows better, in the light of the discussions that have been going on in this House, than to use the work 'wimp'…

Keith Locke: Will the Government ask the US Government and visiting General John Abizaid to show the same moral leadership in the world that the Minister has said this week that New Zealand shows in the Pacific, and tell the US that it cannot continue with the torture, which, as stated in the UN report

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: ..I just want to say it is not appropriate for me, or I believe for any other member of Parliament, to lecture to a highly placed military person on a matter in which he has no authority or control, and when the responsibility lies with someone else.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister said, in his answer, that the visiting general does not have any power or control. In fact, General John Abizaid is in charge
of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. That is a point of debate and information.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table a map of the world, showing where Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are.

Again with questions to the Minister of Police (but answered on behalf of the Minister by Phil Goff (Labour, Mt Roskill)) he showed a lack of even handedness:

Keith Locke: Does the funding of keynote speaker, Canadian Gary Mauser, indicate that the Government supports his view that reducing criminal violence is helped when Governments 'encourage responsible citizens to carry concealed handguns’…?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer to the first question is no. But let me remind the member that he risks misleading the House and the country by quoting five out of 22 presenters. I wonder why he did not mention that other presenters…Clearly, a wide range of views are being expressed at this seminar. The Government does not stand behind, or vet, the view of anybody who turns up at a seminar to debate what is best to make firearms safe

Keith Locke: Does it not undermine and run counter to the main purpose of the seminar as the Minister has just outlined it—that is, firearm safety—to fund keynote speakers such as John Lott, who is the author of a book called More Guns, Less Crime, American National Rifle Association lobbyist Mark Barnes, and Colin Greenwood, who describes the British handgun ban as 'a pathetic irrelevance'; and what does the Minister think it achieves when five of the 11 keynote speakers at the conference are extreme pro-gun lobbyists?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is compounding the error that I just drew to his attention. He is selectively taking some—five out of 22—presenters and facilitators and saying that he does not agree with their views. I do not happen to agree with their views either, but a range of people are invited to the seminar to debate and, as the programme says—if the member had bothered reading it—to 'exchange ideas, concepts, strategies and procedures for firearm safety'. One does not get a debate if one only chooses like-minded people who all say the same thing.

Locke isn't a great exponent inside the debating chamber, and his attempts to make political points are stifled by his rabblerousing and narrow-mindedness (not to mention his fumbling). He would be wise to pass to questions to a more capable colleague, and try to make his mark outside the House, through public stands and demonstrations, something that the Greens do very well.

These two MPs highlight a deficiency in debate, but only one has the capacity to change. The obvious alternative for Mr Locke is to push his agenda where he does better, and pick his battles where he knows he can win.

PS: I will not begrudge the frogblog for printing an edited extract of Winston Peters and Keith Lockes exchange...I edited my reference as well. But please note the absence of the bumbling Locke made in the House...I guess it would weaken the arguement, now wouldn't it.

Suprise suprise...more mudslinging

More allegations into the past of David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South) look set to wedge open an even larger hole of credibility in the Minster for Social Development, as well as the Government, but anyone who was surprised that the story has gone on so long, has misread the current political drag race between the big two parties in Parliament.

Once again Investigate featured more details into the allegations of misconduct by Benson-Pope while a teacher in the 1990s. While it may look like a witch-hunt, an unrelenting attempt to character assassinate the member, the issue is not the allegations themselves, but the fact that the public only found out now.

Benson-Pope and the higher members of the Labour caucus have consistently stated that the information is already in the public domain. In the allegations that surfaced yesterday, an investigation was carried out by the School BOT and the allegations were unable to be confirmed.

The thing is that whoever is releasing the material, does not care if it already is public knowledge…the public just didn’t know it. Let’s face it; no intelligent candidate for political office would spend time highlighting every allegation that was unsubstantiated. The idea here is to smear as much muck on the person and by vicariously, the Government.

So the old adage appears: never let the truth get in the way of a ‘good’ story and this is a story that works in time with the tactics of the two largest parties. Logical debate has run its course for the moment it seems. What a few months ago was a media led debate on the merits between targeted vs. across the board tax cuts, has now turned into the intrigue of MPs pasts and their personal lives. There is no point in debating policy, when an election seems so far away, and with little difference in support between the big two parties (and simultaneously no viable third party that will erode the support between the two…they are either soporific or on a farewell tour) . So the battle is too out drag the other to 2008 by throwing as much in each others way to stop them.

I liken the current situation to a drag race because the analogy works well for where each party’s weaknesses lie. One’s got a driver with shot nerves and can’t drive straight, the other has a car whose engine is half a second away from blowing.

My expectation for the year…more mudslinging. The alternative is far too difficult to achieve.

PS: more allegations involving Tatio Phillip Field (Labour, Mangere) seem to be in a similar vein...although more serious.

Tau Henare...return of the rebel

Tau Henare (National, List) a long time parliamentary rebel, has wasted little time this year, by finding himself breaking the rules twice more, a tactic that may yet gather support in the short term.

Henare is no greenhorn: having a parliamentary career, as an MP for National and New Zealand First, serving as Minister of Maori Affairs. Yet for all of his accomplishments, his abrasive behavior had crested problems, which until his return to the National party had terminated his career in the House

It is not surprising that in less than two weeks into the new session, Henare has fallen back into his old groove. Henare was ejected from the chamber after challenging the Associate Speaker Ann Hartley (Labour, List) to do her job properly and releasing the (damnatory) report alleging Te Puni Kokiri's auditing failures.

There is no question that the public knew that a report was coming. The NZH had an article on this earlier in the day, so to breach privilege for the sake of making the public aware rings hollow. Furthermore, the report would eventually reach the public domain, so there would have been no loss of transparency. The only reason why Henare would take this measure was to get the first (negative) word in, irrespective of how legal of appropriate.

It is difficult to ascertain as to what boost he will receive. If he is found to have breached privilege, then it only leads into the suggestion: what limits will MPs go to challenge the government.

UPDATE: National also used the same day as Henare's leaking of the report to leave the select committee...what a smokescreen, and utterly pointless.

Peters makes Pravda

Murray McCully’s (National, East Coast Bays) speech did feature some frank assessments about his own inexperience:

As a new spokesman in this area I feel no embarrassment about saying that I have no comprehensive solutions to that quite complex problem…

Finally, may I briefly acknowledge, in this audience in particular, that, despite having been in Parliament for a few years, I am a newcomer to foreign affairs, defence and trade. No one is more conscious of how much I need to learn than I am…

Although this did mean that the speech featured nothing original nor anything that would offend the party stance. Analysis follows.

the pacific


united states


in defence


our defence


defence spending


pacific states


of international


an independent New Zealand


the rest of the world


More money for defence, a more unilateral posture, with a strong commitment to the United States, more so than the rest of the world. Typical.

Today in the House

Today's Order Paper

Questions to Ministers

1. Dr DON BRASH to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Transport; if so, why?

2. Hon MARIAN HOBBS to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received about high achievement by New Zealand school students?

3. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON to the Minister of Transport: What action does he intend to take to correct the funding shortfall and ensure that there are no delays of commencement dates for any major roading projects?

4. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH to the Minister of Revenue: Is he satisfied that his working relationship with the Minister of Finance regarding tax policy is an open and constructive one?

5. RON MARK to the Minister of Police: Are the police to proceed with plans to destroy more than 800 Remington bolt-action rifles; if so, why?

6. Hon Dr NICK SMITH to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What action does he intend to take in response to the Auditor-General's report to the Local Government and Environment Committee that the Public Finance Act 1989 was breached last year for not including the then $309,843,000 Kyoto liability in the supplementary estimates?

7. KEITH LOCKE to the Minister of Police: How much did the police contribute to the budget of the international firearms safety seminar currently taking place in Christchurch, and what other support did they provide?

8. Hon TONY RYALL to the Minister of Health: When he said that the quality of care at Focus 2000 Ltd was "no better or worse than the quality of care anywhere else around the country.", did he have confidence in the auditing systems used to assess disability services, and does he still have confidence in those systems?

9. DARIEN FENTON to the Minister of Labour: What recent reports, if any, has she received on minimum wage levels?

10. JUDITH COLLINS to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he believe his ability to perform his duties as Minister for Social Development and Employment could be impaired, in light of allegations made against him in Investigate magazine; if not, why not?

11. STEVE CHADWICK to the Minister of Conservation: What assistance is the Government providing to ensure Stewart Island infrastructure is able to meet the tourism demands expected following the establishment of the Rakiura National Park?

12. Hon MURRAY McCULLY to the Prime Minister: Has she been advised of reports that her Minister of Foreign Affairs is intent on building a better relationship between New Zealand and the United States; if so, does that represent the foreign policy of her Government?

Buzzword: The Next Five Years

Considering that the 'best' parts were said outside of the speech, it gives a prettty good idea of what a well crafted and vetted speech will give you in terms of insight: very little.

But from the buzzword analysis, you see the focus of the speech carried through:

‘pacific island countries’


‘the international community’


Asia pacific region’


‘the major powers’


‘united nations’


‘development challenges’


‘international terrorism’


‘multilateral institutions’


So in conclusion,

  • Very little reinforcement on individual realtionships (he left that till later)
  • Commitment to the United Nations, less so to other multilateral organisations, in line with our current position
  • A priority to the Pacifc, followed by Asia
  • Priority on development over terrorism...good. An approach that tackles a source of terror, but also in our part of the world, is a more pertinent problem
  • Little focus on the economy (AKA trade), but then again that's Phil Goff's (Labour, Mt Roskill) job...would someone remind Rodney Hide (ACT, Epsom) of this fact.

  • Peters to America

    Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) was the best man to deal with a sticky situation: draw the Americans to the good work New Zealand does in the Pacific and try to focus US rhetoric away from the nuclear issue. He rose the irk of public servants, politicians and diplomats, but he got the job done...trying to reestablish a fairer foundation of understanding between the two nations.

    There was a quote that Lange made in the oft remembered Oxford Union debate:

    ...people from New Zealand, a country which has never been attacked, have willingly taken up arms in Europe. They have died in African campaigns, they have their bones bleaching in deserts, they are buried in Italy. They have fought in Vietnam. We have forces right now in Sinai. We have a battalion in Singapore where the British used to be! And the fact is we do not shrink from that responsibility. We never have, and we are not going to...

    This country New Zealand is not going to contribute to a nuclear alliance. This country New Zealand never has. New Zealand was declared by the former government to be no part of a nuclear alliance - and we will pick up the tab by conventional Defence...And in my country, we pay our tab.

    It seems ironic that a speech that for so long solidified the New Zealand position on nuclear weapons, but also the American anathema ever since, should also illustrate the lack of acknowledgement on the part of the Americans to our efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.

    There was no way that the relationship, always a delicate one could have been endangered by the previous minister...he's far too diplomatic for this. Winston has always been a man to stir waters, but unfortunately, this had to be done, much to the chagrin of the National party's shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Murray McCully (National, East Coast Bays)

    It was handled so well, the diplomatic faux pas that wasn't: little diplomatic (and political) fallout, and maybe some good oil about New Zealand in the US press.

    It won't matter who is CEO of TVNZ, so long as the existing board is under skilled and mishandled, yet there is hope for the future with a new CEO and Chairperson.

    In April 2002, people were waxing lyrical about Ian Fraser as CEO and his suitability to lead TVNZ operations. Of course Ross Armstrong was the Chair, who eventually fell from grace, and with the new members of the board, the relationship between the executive and Fraser slowly eroded to the point where Fraser had no choice but to leave.

    When I read the rumor mill suggesting Brent Hansen as the next TVNZ CEO, I remembered the praise given to Fraser, and I wondered how long it would last. While he will be an experienced candidate, and IMHO shares a similar view toward shows like NZ Idol, his greatest challenge will be to reconcile the executive and operational branches of TVNZ corporate. I argue that the existing board may not be able to facilitate this. And his dynamic, unconventional approach may rub the board the wrong way.

    I wrote earlier about the recruitment of former ANZ National CEO Sir John Anderson. I stand by my comments as to his exemplary skills and experience. But my hopes are on whether he can gel with the rest of the board and the incoming CEO. The board will still need to cover its skill shortages, and this may mean replacing some other members of the board.

    For the sake of TVNZ, a suitable mix must be found, a group that actually works as a team and not an antagonistic, ‘bitch session’ reality TV show.

    From xinhuanet.com

    BEIJING, Feb. 21 (Xinhuanet) -- China said Tuesday it will boost subsidies for agriculture to benefit more than 800 million farmers as part of an ambitious move to press forward with the development of the new socialist countryside.

    In the first major policy document of 2006 issued by both the governing Communist Party and the State Council -- China's cabinet-- the central authorities said China will strengthen support and protection of agriculture and rural dwellers.

    More subsidies will be provided to farmers not only in major grain areas -- such as Northeast China -- but in other parts of the country, it said, adding the subsidies will in part be used to buy improved strains of crops and farm machinery.

    It called for active efforts to develop agro-products with distinctive qualities and high added value to cater to the demand of both domestic and overseas markets.

    The sweeping document said the government will encourage the development of township enterprises in line with industrial policies and accelerate the migration of the rural labor force andthe development of small towns.

    Great! As much as I admire that efforts of the Chinese government to help some of the poorest regions of the country, we do not need more barriers to global fair trade. Will China be taken to the WTO? Probably not. It also makes the ongoing NZ-China FTA negotiations rather more complicated.

    Today in the House

    The recent lack of discipline on both sides finally came to a head with the expulsion of Don Brash (National, List) from the debating chamber during question time.

    During a question to the PM Helen Clark (Labour, Mt Albert) the Leader of the Opposition was found to be interrupting the Speaker, Margaret Wilson (Labour, List) and was asked to leave. Fellow National MPs tried to suggest inconsistency in the Speaker’s action, with Nick Smith (National, Nelson) questioning a level of bias on the Speaker’s part:

    Hon Dr Nick Smith: Madam Speaker, I ask you to reconsider asking Dr Brash to leave, under circumstances that are totally inconsistent with the way in which you treated Dr Brash last week.

    I want to draw attention to this part of the speaker's rulings:

    (1) It is out of order for a member to suggest that the Speaker is defending the
    Government—such a statement must be withdrawn unreservedly; (2) or that the Speaker has endeavoured to curtail the reply of a member; (3) or to bring the Speaker’s name and opinions into a debate.

    (1) 1920, Vol. 188, p. 489. Lang.

    (2) 1936, Vol. 246, p. 252. Barnard.

    (3) 1931, Vol. 227, p. 595. Statham.

    I also wish to point this out:

    The Speaker’s ruling may only be challenged on a motion of which notice has been given. Such notice cannot be accepted immediately after the ruling has been given. It must be given at the appropriate time.

    1960, Vol. 322, pp. 161–2. Macfarlane.

    I think that the response from the national members should have been tantamount to an immediate challenge to the speaker's ruling.

    Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We find ourselves in a difficult position, because—

    Madam SPEAKER: Yes, you do. And so do I…

    Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During your intervention before Simon Power's latest point of order, Simon Power interjected while you were speaking. I ask that the same rules apply to him as are applied to Dr Brash. You were ruling on the previous point of order, and Simon Power interjected.

    Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but I as Speaker also interrupted the member. So we will call that a draw.

    I argue that the speaker is given the benefit of being able to interject to carry out their work, not to use the time to make personal comments.

    I will not go into my opinions of how the Speaker should have handled it, but the fact that the response of the speaker could be considered inconsistent leads weight to the suggestion that the current Speaker is unable to maintain order in the House, irrespective of the respect that I readily place upon the high position of the Speaker. The position of Speaker must command a level of respect and control, and any allegations of bias or inconsistency must be met with swift rebuke. I further argue that the provision for a more open question time in regards to the enforcement of the rulings, does not improve the quality of the debate.

    It would be wishful thinking if the House was more disciplined tomorrow, partly because of the tactics of the major parties (see previous post), but possibly more because of the lack of clear control of debate within the House.

    In other news, Judith Collins (National, Clevedon) continued her attack on David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South), although she found it hard work to get the question in. There is no doubt that the first question presented to the Clerk was obviously vexatious and outside the ministerial responsibility of the Minster:

    JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your assistance on this matter, pursuant to Standing Order 369 and Speaker's Ruling 145/2, as I see that I am to raise this issue with you during question time. I put in a question this morning for the Minister, when I asked whether he had been advised of any reports that stated he had misused his ministerial position. There is a report in Investigate magazine that makes that allegation. That question was ruled out of order, after it had been in the Clerk's Office for about an hour, and I understand that you may have had something to do with that decision, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could give me some assistance so that that question does not get ruled out of order again...

    JUDITH COLLINS: I seek leave to ask my original question.

    Madam SPEAKER: The question was ruled out of order by the Clerk's Office, but the member can seek leave to do that. The member has sought leave. Is there any objection? There is objection.

    And after that, the question didn’t get that far. Good. Trevor Mallard (Labour, Hutt South) was also up to his old tricks:

    Hon Bill English: Does the Minister understand how ridiculous it sounds when he says that information that is publicly available must be kept secret from parents in case they start using it to compare schools?

    Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can understand how ridiculous the member sounds.

    Madam SPEAKER: If the Minister would just like to rephrase that answer.

    Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can understand how silly the question sounds in the House.

    Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to members of the House—a number of whom are parents of schoolchildren—why this information on the SchoolSmart website should be kept secret from them, and what it is about parents that renders them so dangerous and stupid that they should not be allowed to see the information?

    Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would not consider most of the parents in this House stupid.

    I was surprised that a point of order wasn’t called…I guess it was the near the end.

    Australian Blog War

    From the Australian

    "MELBOURNE's politico-blogosphere erupted yesterday when webdiarist Andrew Landeryou posted his Monday morning rant, alleging that former state secretary of the Victorian Labor Party Erik Locke was the man behind a virulent mirror blog that mocked Landeryou's.

    The anonymous author of the imitation site "Andrew Slandersyou" takes aim at the Right faction in much the same way as Landeryou does at the Left. It's all very undergraduate, but compelling. Landeryou's report says: "Erik Locke has savagely attacked senior figures in Australian Labor politics on a website called Slandersyou, accusing several state ministers of acts of wrongdoing; one MP of being involved in 'white powder', AWU boss Bill Shorten of being a 'robber baron' and his successor party secretary Steve Newnham of laziness and corruption." Locke denies the allegation, saying he will brief lawyers. Landeryou has never been sued because it is assumed he has no money. Locke appears set to test this..."

    Considering the number fo similar attack blogs (on both sides of the spectrum) in New Zealand, I'm suprised that a similar mud slinging match hasn't arisen...oh wait, maybe in this country, people can accept ridicule and satire...

    Maybe not.

    When laissez-faire goes wrong...

    Is it misleading that the United States, oft held as a bastion of the free market, finds itself as an example of great disparity and poverty?

    The Guardian has a good piece on how in spite of a meritocratic society, there is an ever widening gap of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

    It’s misleading to use the US poverty equation as a reliable means of poverty, considering that the formula is antiquated and hardly representative of household spending.

    The next question in this line of inquiry is…why continue to use it, especially in the public and political discourse? My explanation is that it’s convenient to ignore the woeful results and if the formula was changed, politicians would actually have more of an obligation to listen to it.

    It is important to note that the number has increased every year since the Bush Administration came into office. It is even more shocking to realize the top 20 per cent of earners take over half the national income. At the same time the bottom 20 per cent took home just 3.4 per cent.

    I think this quote highlights that the problem is more to do with a cultural ideology that will be difficult to overcome:

    ‘Dealing with poverty is not a viable political issue in America. It jars with a cultural sense that the poor bring things upon themselves and that every American is born with the same chances in life. It also runs counter to the strong anti-government current in modern American politics. Yet the problem will not disappear.’

    And it’s a problem that the US is tacitly being exported overseas. India, following a path of free market based economic growth is surging as a whole nation, and while the average income grows at 3-4% annually, the rate of poverty is decreasing at a slower rate.

    Kevin Watkins, director of the UN Development Program's Human Development Report Office recently wrote on the Indian situation. He indicates a number of reasons:

  • “deep-rooted inequalities that are holding back social progress, especially the deep inequalities in opportunity that divide women and men”

  • ”…economic growth has been built on a narrow base. The information technology sector, for example, has so far created around one million jobs - but meanwhile, the labor force is expanding by about eight million a year.”

  • ”Changing public spending priorities…”

  • My point is that there cannot be social progress without consistent economic growth, and vice versa. Hopefully New Zealand Governments today and in the future retain this observation at the top of their minds in delivering policy.

    Vexatious and Frivolous

    There will be without doubt a question about David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South), after the latest allegations in Investigate Magazine about punishing schoolgirls while being a teacher on school camp, as a tactic of creating as much dirty water in the government.

    The Dominion Post is already reporting on the ‘scandal’, whom has already had to deal with earlier allegations of heavy handedness in the classroom; allegations that although had some basis of truth led the police to not prosecute.

    In my opinion the entire issue is hardly neither relevant nor controversial in itself. It’s also unlikely that this will lead to anywhere near the same level of inquiry as the tennis ball affair.

    But the major damage is in the tactic of flicking as much muck as possible towards the government and see what sticks. This term will be a challenge for the existing government to deal with the same problem any party that has been in parliament for long enough…the burden of controversy.

    DBP has been adamant that the entire story has been in public, so the whole thing seems to be a matter where by making it public, it will try to undermine his position.

    Furthermore, it seems to be a reoccurring problem. Last week, allegations revolving around the niece of Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) who blew the whistle on mishandled financial protocols at the MFAT Taiwan office. It seems coincidental that the matter was timed to have the family connection reported…and it no doubt was an angle that would have been exploited, had Peters been silly enough to get caught.

    Yet I am also disappointed in the Government in not rising above the frivolity, and they are throwing their own allegations at the Opposition. Forget how lackluster the attacks are in themselves, the idea it seems is to undermine the moral high ground the Opposition is trying to build.

    A pity that the largest voices in the Opposition aren’t rising above it and showing like they could actually lead the country.

    Last week in the House

    After a long absence away, finding a place and getting work done on a dialup connection (hooray...sigh!), it's a welcome change to be writing again, and I can fianlly post on last weeks observations. I apologise for the epic post, but I had to get this all out before it became far too stale.

    The new week started with the PM's address on the legislative agenda. Simple themes of national identity, economic transformation and embracing diversity peppered the remarks, although I was almost falling asleep during the third quarter.

    The buzzword analysis of the transcript, shows a few surprises and a couple of staples:

  • ”the past” 6
  • ”the economy” 6
  • ”primary sectors” 5
  • ”the past six years” 3
  • ”the united kingdom” 3
  • ”the dip in” 3
  • “their full potential” 3

    Next was Don Brash (National, List) who with little time was able to redirect his speech into a continued attack on the party. I think there's a time and place for holding the government to account and this wasn't it. I also thought it was strange to be the figurehead of an attack on the Labour party’s integrity, considering that he was being accused of the same thing, no less than four months ago (that doesn't mean that someone else on the party bench could have taken the attack on…Brownlee or even Key?) I wish I could have heard the whole speech, but the treasury benches and their companions did well to drown out even the PA in the gallery.

    Buzzword analysis here:

  • ”Economic Transformation” 4
  • ”in Australia” 6
  • ”bereft of” 5
  • ”want New Zealand to be a country where” 7
  • ”helen clark’s new plans” 5
  • ”pledge card” 2

    Winston Peters (NZF, List) was a stunner, with a few notes he created one of the most hilarious and entertaining pieces on the day. Like Dr Brash's speech, it failed to detail what it saw in NZ, nor provide any fresh ideas for reform. But after the dullness of the first two speakers, it's not a secret that Peter's oratorical power in the House kept me awake.

    Jeanette Fitzsimons (Greens, List) probably shared the most insight into policy and highlighted the programs that they are working with the government on, wrapped up in a tale of her young grandson Jasper...or Jesper, or Geffrer. Either she is a terrible public speaker, or she has a real problem remembering young children's names.

    Tariana Turia (Maori, Te Tai Hauauru), well...hardly inspiring in delivery, but the speech itself had merit. I left halfway through and wished for a transcript...there was one.

    Buzzword analysis here:

  • ”a voice which” 2
  • ”the advancement of maori opportunity” 2
  • ”that diversity and unity” 2

    Didn't see Rodney Hide (ACT, Epsom), Peter Dunne (United Future, Ohariu Belmont), or Jim Anderton (Progressives, Wigram) so no analysis of their speeches.

    Missed the FEC on Wednesday, I was disappointed by that, especially the remarks by Michael Cullen on the extension of the delay before any income tax cuts. Still, to say that people are getting nothing according to John Key (National, Hellensville) misses the point entirely.

    I was happy to see that the Labour caucus will support the Youth wage removal Bill that Sue Bradford (Greens, List) has put in. It’s worth a debate in the select committee

    Question time yesterday, the first of the year, was a mud slinging match between the big two. Simply put, the result would have to be too close to call in my opinion. That’s not to say that the level of attack was of a low quality, in fact it was quite the opposite. There was little time yesterday for the smaller parties to get their teeth in. Keith Locke (Greens, List) tried to table a ‘no nukes’ shirt as a gesture to the National party…frivolous is all I can say, and it astounds me that the speaker let it get to the point of objection.

    Thursday: The Battle of Flipflop:

    Rt HON WINSTON PETERS: Has the Prime Minister seen the leaked discussion document 'National's Relationship with Mâori' where it reads, in relation to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, the following: 'We need to consider public opinion and decide on our position.'; and does the Government intend to follow this flip-flop or this idea of putting one's hand into the wind to see which way the public feeling might prevail?

    Dr DON BRASH: Is the Prime Minister seriously asking this House to believe that she is smart enough to be Prime Minister of this country yet not smart enough to recognise that a pledge card she used at the launch of Labour's campaign, and which was used throughout the campaign, was not somehow a campaign item that should have been included in Labour's electoral expense return?

    JOHN KEY: to the Minister of Finance: Can he assure the public that income tax thresholds will be adjusted for inflation from 1 April 2008, as set out in the 2005 Budget?

    Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Not at this point, although I welcome the member's conversion to the idea, given his long opposition to it

    JOHN KEY: Does he remember, horrible though I am sure it is for him to recall it now, his Budget 2005 speech, when he said: 'The Labour-Progressive Government has decided to adjust the thresholds every 3 years.', in which case why is he trying to shirk on the deal?

    Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS:...On the issue that was originally raised as to whether taxpayers are getting value for money, let me say that they were getting no value for money at all when this document was put out by the ACT party last year during the campaign proper.
    Hon Annette King: Who paid for it?
    Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It was paid for by the taxpayer—a parliamentary crest. A total disaster.
    Hon ANNETTE KING: When was it published?
    Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This was published in 2005 in the election campaign period, and was all paid for by the taxpayer. It states what ACT brings to Parliament—well, apparently—

    SIMON POWER: Who is right: is it Phil Goff and Paul Swain, who, during the election campaign heralded their 'tough on crime', 'tough on the causes of crime', campaign, or is it the Minister, who has decided that 30 percent of our prison population is of no risk to society and we should just let them all out?
    …Who is right: is it the Minister's colleague Phil Goff, who thought he was tough on crime and was happy to take credit for the burgeoning prison population back in February
    2004, when he said: 'I said that this law would be tougher law… there will be a 20 percent increase in the number of people in prison because of the tougher sentencing laws enacted by this Government.', or is it the Minister, who, after 4 months in the job has decided to fling the prison doors open?

    Nothing but a low quality stream from both sides of the house to damage each others credibility. It was also the first day where the National party begun it’s chorus of the “Pay the money back” routine. I agree with David Farrar that the affair may not last months, but this year is a lot like 1997, both governments having to finally be under pressure of controversy.

    No doubt with the QT tomorrow, there will be a continued attack on the Government on issues of accountability and character of it's members, rahter than the actions of it's cabinet. A true disappointment.

  • Labour overspent, but what does that mean for the (ongoing) police investigation?

    From the Elections NZ website:
    The party’s return of campaigning expenses for the 2005 general election discloses expenditure of $2,798,603 (including GST), which is $418,603 more than its $2,380,000 limit...

    The press release does not elaborate into how the party overspent such a massive amount of money (unlike National's equally stunning and naive GST mistake) but TVNZ is suggesting that the use of the leader's fund for the Labour pledge cards is at the heart of the overspending. They also report that the police has been called in to investigate

    The only problem is that this is what we heard back last year: the party was already under investigation over the pledge cards and the police haven't reported back yet. So what does this mean for the ongoing investigation? is another investigation going to be launched?

    In any case, Jordan Carter's comment on the matter rings just as true now as it did when he wrote it last year:

    ...It's time, once and for all, to clarify spending limits on the one hand - and, given what happened earlier this year, how third parties can be involved in election campaigns and what they are able to spend in that involvement - and how parliamentary and public resources can or cannot be used in election time...

    From IOL

    A Zimbabwean court on Wednesday quashed a ban on a popular daily by a state media commissionand ordered the body to review its decision to muzzle the newspaper under draconian media laws, a lawyer said.

    The Daily News, known for its anti-government line, and its sister paper, The Daily News On Sunday, were closed down in September 2003 on charges they violated the media laws.

    The media commission has twice refused to grant it a licence despite a Supreme Court ruling in March last year that threw out the ban on the newspaper.

    "The High Court has set aside the decision of the Media and Information Commission to refuse to grant Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe a licence," said lawyer Mordecai Mahlangu, representing the publishers.

    "Justice Rita Makarau also ordered the MIC to reconsider ANZ's application for a licence to publish," he said.

    Lawyers for the newspaper had gone to court to challenge the decision of the media commission, arguing that the chairman of the body had refused to recuse himself from the case despite the Supreme Court ruling which found that he was was biased.

    The commission said the company breached media laws by among other things employing unaccredited journalists, failing to submit copies of its newpapers and employing a reporter convicted of criminal defamation.

    Mahlangu said ANZ's application satisfied registration requirements but the media commission denied it a licence because of a previous breach of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

    Once the country's best-selling daily, identified by its blue masthead, the Daily News has been reduced to a handful of former managers and journalists occupying a small office in central Harare.

    In its heyday, The Daily News had a circulation of 150 000 and offered an alternative voice to the state media, even though sales were mostly in cities and major towns.

    President Robert Mugabe signed the repressive media law in 2002, barring foreign correspondents from working in Zimbabwe and forcing all local journalists to seek accreditation to work.

    Why this has not been picked up by the blogsphere, I'll never know.

    The BBC is posting a piece on a group of senior evangelical leaders to lobby for legislation to 'curb global warming'

    apparently they have found themselves in a debate with other members of the religious right, either because they are taking the focus away from social issues, or the SBC who has concluded that the evidence is inconclusive. I was surprised to find that this group actually has a voice at all.

    Is this group as powerful as the BBC has suggested? No. I highly doubt that the group's formation will be a watershed moment for evangelical environmentalism. I do admire the courage of the group to stand up for other issues, but I doubt that the religious right will swarm to support them, and I therefore conclude that this 'split' is not as big as it is suggested. A cynical view is to suggest that it was only right for them to come forward after the recent State of the union address where President Bush highlighted that the US is 'addicted to foreign oil'.

    Speaking of the State of the Union, Bush seems to have deliberately mislead the public (again), surprising many with his latest budget proposal including a partial privatisation of Social Security (a measure he first pushed for in 2005 but failed to get it through) and the removal of the death benefit, after first asking congress for a bipartisan committee on "the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid", in the January speech. It seems that he was trying to create a smokescreen for this piece of the budget to slip through, knowing very well that he convinced of what solution he wanted (and thus, ignore the committee)

    Also the so called deficit cutting measures of the latest proposal are also shown to be false, courtesy of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. They have concluded:

    The budget conceals or omits information essential to assessing its impacts on deficits and on programs and services that affect millions of Americans.

  • The budget omits the costs of funding U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2007.

  • The budget also omits the cost of extending relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax after 2006. CBO estimates show that extending AMT relief will reduce revenues by $914 billion over the next ten years if the Administration’s tax cuts are made permanent. (Making the tax cuts permanent greatly increases the cost of AMT relief.)

  • The omission of such information makes various Administration claims, such as the claim that the deficit will be cut in half over five years, rather hollow. (Even if deficits do decline in 2009 to half what the Administration projected the 2004 deficit would be in February 2004, using inflated deficit projections at that time, this would not represent a significant accomplishment. Deficits will rise sharply again soon after 2009, in part as a result of the Administration’s own policies.)

  • Even more serious, the budget fails to contain figures for revenues, expenditures, and deficits for years after 2011. This omission prevents policymakers and the public from seeing how high the deficits would be in those years under Administration budget policies — and how substantially the deficits in those years would be increased by those policies. Adding to this problem, the Administration also took the step of eliminating the standard budget summary table that shows the effects of the budget’s proposed policies on the deficit over the next five years

  • All told, the numbers show that the current administration would actually increase the budget deficit, not decrease it: by 192 billion USD more over the next five years.

    UPDATE: Another deficit buster in the making: Iraq reconstruction funds may run out before projects finished

    If any sector of New Zealand's economy was to lead the creation of the knowledge economy it should be the public sector. The loss of over 100 jobs, apparently the largest single loss of quite some time at LINZ, has come as a consequence of the service providing electronic registrations.

    We cannot ignore the commitment to moving in step with a dynamic economy, where speed and creativity are equally important. New Zealand has been identified as not committing to the knowledge economy as full heartedly as it could; The New Zealand Institute has identified in their "Dancing with the stars" report that New Zealand’s exports are and have been land-based when compared to other developed countries, for at least the last two decades. And after a demand from business for the means to create value added products, embracing the creativity and efficiency of technology, it is also necessary to have a public service that can work with the new industries needed. There is no doubt in my mind that as the rest of the public sector shifts to meet this need, there will be more redundancies. Furthermore, the public will understandably be pleased if there is a cost benefit in moving to the new service.

    But I wonder after all the resources used in training these soon to be unemployed public workers, that it may not have considered the need to retain some staff members, and up skill to work with the new systems, especially after the reliability of the service has already been questioned. It is also unclear when the redundancies are to begin.

    Cost benefits should not come at a cost to the quality of service that people expect. LINZ and the rest of the public service would be wise to retain that as their priority.

    Continuing speculation over a leadership challenge in the National Party. John Key picked as the leading contender for succession

    Dorking Labs

    Overcoming controversy and battling the media, and his electoral opponents, Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) has let his actions do the talking. His latest work in Fiji (arriving on Tuesday and scheduled to be in the country until tomorrow), first with a private meeting with FMF Commander Frank Bainimarama and then discussing with the Fijian PM technical support for the October elections and assessing the delicate situation the military and the government have placed themselves in, after the 'January troubles' has been considered a success.

    Peter's has been able to show some skill in Fiji, partly because he is everything that PM Helen Clark (Labour, Mt Albert) and former foreign affairs minister Phil Goff (Labour, Mt Roskill) is not: more popular in Fiji, has built a closer relationship with stakeholders and has consistently had a pacific friendly policy direction.

    His comments asking for cautious optimism after the Hamas landslide in the PA elections showed a far more diplomatic approach to a personality that has been projected in the media as confrontational, but leaving his best attacks directed against his favourite target at the moment, the National party:

    [in response to Orewa III, hat tip Tony]

    Having read the speech carefully to look for any semblance of rational argument or viable solutions, one can only reach the conclusion that Don Brash has decided to speed up the inevitable and make it easier for his successors to roll him.

    How else can you explain such a pitiful effort?

    The path is not all roses for Peters, who still has to fend off the countersuit of Electoral opponent Bob Clarkson (National, Tauranga) for 80,000 in court costs accrued during the electoral petition that Peter's had presented.

    First the NZH. Gives credit to Murray McCully (National, East Coast Bays) for courageously suggesting a change in the Nuclear Propulsion Ban, Rightly points out the need to solidify a policy direction now (and not in 2008) and eliminates an attack point for the government (alluded to in an earlier post).

    The Southland Times looks at John Key (National, Hellensville) and his tightrope walking in the intrigue that is the endless leadership ructions inside the National party caucus.

    The Press tries a similar vein, but highlights the value in Brash as leader, but
    one way or another, however, the continual speculation has to be dealt with:

    The steady drip of rumour and gossip, if not brought under control, will itself corrode Brash's standing and may wind up being self-fulfilling. The situation is a test not just of loyalty but also of Brash's authority and capacity to control the party he leads. There are many hard issues on which National should be holding the Government to account, but it will not happen if Brash is undermined by those who should be behind him.

    Finally the Dominion again reminds us the party's wasted opportunities to attack the government, Key's lack of ability (or patience) in establishing himself as the leader in waiting, and pointing out why the doubts in Brash's leadership are justified (a point made all too well on many a blog...)

    The best quote is from the Dom:

    National's MPs need to remember that voters do not elect parties that are unable to govern themselves. So far, they show little sign of grasping that.

    No free lunchtimes to go by

    Why would you change a policy, after all of the controversy it created? Voters had a consistent defense from the party during last year’s elections that the nuclear ban policy would be put to a referendum if it is to be removed. Now TVNZ is reported that the National party is considering a massive reversal, by sticking with the status quo.

    The only clear advantage is to remove the issue from the attack points that Labour had been able to create as part of a grander strategy showing Don Brash (National, List) and his 'flip-flops' especially on foreign policy.

    So the question is, whether there is a distinction between a policy flip-flop or trying to cover up the gaffes by members of the party caucus, especially the senior members of the caucus? if yes, why is this issue not rectified? if not the problem still remains, what stops the party from recreating the same situation; ambiguous and unclear statements on party policy? More importantly, who can believe them, especially seeing the massive shift in the policy direction?

    I doubt there would be that many that supported National, purely on the basis of their nuclear policy, but the rapid shifts in policy regarding the treaty and now nuclear-free legislation makes one wonder...how committed was the party to stick to it's promises? Was the party using 'mainstream New Zealand' as a tool of populism? What are National’s deepest values? And does the leadership believe in them?

    It only places more emphasis on the idea that National may have reached a high tide point in their support. At least the general public can understand that the party needs to change its position before the next election and the party's support will probably not plummet.

    And for those who wished to have a thorough debate on the merits of nuclear propulsion bans in New Zealand territorial waters in the public discourse will feel especially upset at the decision. It is unlikely that the debate will ever reach the streets, tearooms and halls of power any time soon.

    UPDATE: Labour has jumped on the latest flip-flop

    Police to test their new stun guns

    The tasers will undergo their trial in North Shore/Waitakere Rodney, Auckland City, Counties Manukau and Wellington (including Wairarapa) districts. So a reasonable belnd of urban and rural zones, and large enough to get reliable results to make a final decision.

    I love this quote:

    "The research clearly identifies the advantages of Taser as an effective less lethal intervention option when dealing with:

    • unarmed (or lightly armed) but highly aggressive people,

    • persons under the influence of mind altering substances, solvents or alcohol."

    I wonder how police will train officers to identify 'highly aggressive people'?

    I'm also happy that it provides police with another method to restrain people without using firearms, but it's a tool that has serious limitations and there's always the risk that the tasers may be just as ineffective as say pepper spray on people who fall into the second cateogory above.

    From the Beehive

    Funding of $11.4 million will create an extra 344 places for children at new and expanding early childhood education centres, Education Minister Steve Maharey announced today.

    "This investment reflects the government's commitment to make quality early childhood education accessible and affordable for all New Zealand families," Steve Maharey said.

    "The funding will increase participation in quality early childhood services around the country, in particular for children from low socio-economic and isolated communities. As well as creating an additional 344 places, and allowing another 196 to be retained, it will support centres with their ongoing planning and operations.

    "The investment will also support the roll-out of the government's policy of 20 hours free early childhood education for all three and four year-olds in teacher-led services from July 2007.

    "Both national and international research tells us that quality early childhood education makes a significant difference to the way children develop and achieve later in life. We also know that access to quality early childhood education has the greatest benefits for children who are the least likely to participate."

    The funding, which comes from the second round of the annual $20.8 million Discretionary Grants Scheme, provides planning and capital assistance to early childhood education centres in areas of need. It includes:

    ·$9.8million in capital grants for 15 early childhood centres, to create 344 new places and retain 196 places

    ·$600,000 in grants to help cover planning costs for 36 early childhood services

    ·$1 million for health and safety projects and additional funding for some services to complete projects already underway.

    A longly needed measure finally implemented. It also looks like the Brits are also having problems with the rising costs of childcare

    I have waited until the media frenzy was over before I commented on this topic of the Mohammed Cartoons. I'm certain that I don't have to provide any background on the matter. I found a series of material that provided some useful debate;

    Amnesty International wrote a piece on the matter, urging Governemnts to protect against 'hate-speech'

    The Timaru Herald blasts the Press and the Dominion Post for their hollow arguements in publishing the story, but suggests a better reason.

    A op-ed on the DW website (for those in Auckland who watch Triangle TV, DW is shown on there, in both English and German) demanding calm and reasoned debate within the public discourse.

    My favourite is this group wirtten piece, from people with different stakeholdings and perspectives, this piece is closest to my thinking:

    But (to take only Britain as an example) absolute freedom of speech doesn't exist – from incitement to racial hatred to libel laws, from the official secrets act to incitement to violence, from banning images of child abuse to the proposed glorification of terrorism, many western societies have no shortage of laws that censor speech...

    every society weighs the right of speech against other important values such as justice, security, dignity, or building community cohesion. The same is true for any freedom. If freedom trumped every other value, no one would be forced to pay taxes, the media would not censor pictures of dead soldiers out of concern for their families, and there would be no need for confidentiality agreements in various walks of life...

    Every society has its important symbols of reverence. In the United States it is the constitution, the founding fathers and the flag. In France it is the republic. Britain reveres the institution of parliament and the country's war heroes. For the Jewish people it is the Torah and perhaps the holocaust. Muslims revere God, the Qu'ran and the prophets. Each community feels a deep-rooted passion and strong emotional attachment to these symbols. Intelligent people of all civilisations usually understand this and are sensitive to these feelings, even when they disagree with the substance these symbols represent.

    Dialouge has to occur between parties who can respect each other, noone will tolerate having their most revered symbols insulted, even in jest and then be expected to enter a rational debate.

    On a slightly related note, a group of Musilms in San Francisco have been attending other liquor stores in the poorer areas of Oakland, predominantly owned by muslims, to stop selling liqour.

    Sir Geoffrey Palmer and the Treaty

    The NZ Herald published a piece today by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, that is very similar to his presentation at the Treaty Debate Series, albeit a condensed version. Here it is below:

    Geoffrey Palmer: Time for a pause to reflect on Treaty politics
    The politics of the Treaty of Waitangi has become a battlefield upon which people have become increasingly reluctant to tread.

    Political debates on the Treaty, and what the law ought to be, appear to have become unmanageable. Meanwhile, Treaty jurisprudence continues to grow larger and more complex.

    We cannot pretend the Treaty does not exist, ignore it and remove all traces of it from the New Zealand statute book. Not even the most muscular solutions offered in recent times go so far. Neither can we rewrite our own history.

    But what we should do now in policy terms is another issue. While we cannot go back, there is no widespread will to go forward either. We are stuck in a place from which neither advance nor retreat is readily available.

    This may be no bad thing, looked at in the larger view. There has always been an ebb and flow in the attitudes towards the Treaty in New Zealand.

    The great modern advances for the Treaty began in 1975 with the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal. A decade later, its jurisdiction was widened to deal with claims back to 1840.

    References to the Treaty in legislation began to be made, followed by the state-owned enterprises case of 1987, where the Treaty began to be enforced in the courts.

    Then came direct negotiations with the Crown concerning Treaty grievances and the Maori Fisheries settlements. Policies began devolving responsibility in the social areas to Maori organisations and introducing measures to protect Te Reo Maori.

    These were huge advances in protecting the interests of Maori under the Treaty. All this happened under first-past-the-post parliaments. There was a significant measure of accord among the two main political parties of those days.

    A lot was achieved from 1985 to 1996, most of it controversial. But in 2006 the level of controversy is so high that it seems further steps are at an end, at least for the time being.

    The implicit bipartisan approach that once characterised these issues has been shattered. It was inevitable this would occur in a democracy, especially an MMP democracy with all main viewpoints represented in the political marketplace.

    The legal doctrine of customary rights that so consumed New Zealand in the foreshore and seabed saga is not, strictly speaking, part of the Treaty debate at all. Those legal rights derive not from the Treaty but from New Zealand common law. But the debate did nothing to improve the atmosphere on these questions.

    We are in a better space now than during the 1980s.

    Maori are taking advantage of the opportunities that have become available to them. Policies have added to the capacity of Maori to take positive measures in health, education and commercial development.

    So the issue becomes, given where we are, what is to be done?

    Once the historical grievances are out of the way and there has been a period of consultation and reflection, New Zealand will be in a better position to decide upon the next steps we need to take on the Treaty.

    After a pause, we will be able to assess how the resources in health and education, and from settlement assets and the policies of devolution have worked in practice.

    Treaty issues do move in cycles. Further change will come but its time is not now. The immediate way forward lies in the development of ideas and policy options outside the political and government environment.

    When a sufficient body of work has been done and some serious debate has been conducted about it, new approaches may arise.

    * Sir Geoffrey Palmer is President of the Law Commission.

    After weeks of the media (including the blogosphere) posting material on the ructions within the National party leadership, it has come to the point where the NZH is reporting that the caucus isn't happy with John Key (National, Helensville), and Don Brash (National, List) taking partial responsibility for the whole mess.

    To say that the entire situation could have been avoided, massively misses the complexity. First of all, who is responsible for bringing these allegations so much attention. To me, there are three possible groups, ignoring all of the media that has been produced on this:

    1. Supporters of Key inside the caucus (that may or may not include Key himself)

    2. People inside the caucus, intentionally trying to undermine Key by making him the head of a fiat destabilisation in the party (to either strengthen Brash or another contender as leader)

    3. The media, solely to create buzz, especially when there is so little to write about ;)

    So obviously, the media gains in any case so it's a question of how determined they are to make waves and I think that it's less likely when compared to the other two. Also, if you believe Dr Brash, then Key's not the propogator. So, that leaves option two. With Brash taking partial 'blame', there is still no certainty as to if he is the victim or the suspect, again it's all a matter of trusting his word.

    As long as no one is going to emerge from the shadows and identify their complete complicity, there's still as much uncertainty in who's trying to destablise the leadership.

    Buzzword: Rodney Hide - Looking Forward for New Zealand

    Speech transcript used for the analysis here. this speech did not repeat a lot, but a few phrases of note:

    all stated twice

    'the economy will dominate'

    'taxpayer bill of rights'

    'goes for our immigrants'

    'a free and prosperous new zealand'

    'for a clean green new zealand'

    'keep more of their own money'

    Upon looking at the results, while the wordage is non repeatative, the talking points (or point, depending on how you look at this) is pushed constantly: the state of the economy and tax cuts. So in highlighting the direction of ACT for at least the next 12 months, it seems that the party wants to try and grab some of the same real estate as the National party on attacking the government on economic matters.

    I'm also certain that the Greens will have to object to ACT's dedication to the environment, but that will be a topic for later.

    I had been wondering how long it was going to take before there was a comparison of the situations of Palestine and Eire, in the light of the recent Hamas victory in the PA elections.

    While lacking depth, the piece is well supported by personal accounts, and shows a realtively successful example of renoucing terror, with a genuine wish for political reform and peace.

    The transcript is available here.

    Treaty Debate Series 2006

    After a well attended series last year, whihc looked at the historical context of the treaty, this years series takes a look at the contemporary issues and projects into the future: ‘Where to from Here? Looking Back to Move Forward’

    Last night's session had Chief Judge Joe Williams and the Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer. If I had to summarise their presentations, then:

    Joe Williams: The rise in the neo-polynesians: A resurgance in cultural identity, and economic contribution. Referring to statistical projections, Maori will emerge from a situation of a minority in grivence mode, to a member of non dominant groups, commited to development. Concurrently, the issues that currently seem so marginalised will become matters not just of wider concern, but will be at the centre of New Zealand's interest and identity.

    Geoffrey Palmer: Paradime before policy. Palmer explains that when there was still a two party system, decisions were made much faster, and a bipartisan arrangement was made to pass legislation that was, both with the respective caucuses and the general public, to be controversial. With MMP, the diversification of debate has meant more discussion, concession and less progress. He proposes that there is still a lot that the average New Zealander is not aware of (in not just the treaty, but race relations, constituionalism and jurisprudence), and everyone is responsible to encourage a healthy discourse of the issues, so that there can emerge a paradime of concensus. Without that concensus, no policy reform can evolve.

    Stephen Franks, former ACT MP did point out that the absence of panelists that could expand an alternate view meant that the debate was not genuine. I am inclined to agree, if for no other reason but to support the challenge that Sir Geoffrey had made.

    Radio NZ will be replaying the event on National Radio, on this Sunday, at 4.06pm (and also on next Tuesday)

    Next week's event will feature Pat Sneddon and Apriana Mahuika (a short biography of both speakers can be found here)

    Two editorials to the latest Orewa speech

    Don Brash's (National, List) speech captures more mixed reviews from the media.

    Brash's best bet is the economy (Manawatu Standard);

    ...His best bet then would seem to be on a deteriorating economy because single issues rarely win elections, as his famous race relations speech showed. The short-term gain it engendered eventually dissipated as other issues crowded the public's agenda. But a worsening economy is something else, especially if it manifests in such concrete ways as rising unemployment and other forms of social distress.

    At least that one was not as bad for Brash as the next piece shows

    Dr Brash will not be Prime Minister (Marlborough Express)

    Dr Brash reconfirmed his desire to be the Prime Minister of a National-led Government within three years. He wants to deal with unfinished business, but it is Dr Brash who will soon finish as National's leader. He is not the leader the party or the country will want to go into that next election...

    DOL December 2005 Job Vacancy Monitor

    The JVM is an unofficial Index of job vacancies published in 25 local newspapers, assesed monthly.

    The latest index report shows a third consecutive month in which an annual decrease in total advertised job vacancies, the worst since the Index began, but there was no change in the rate for 'highly skilled' occupations (including the broad cateogories of Professionals, Admin, Management, Technicians and legislators) compared to a decrease in offerings for skilled and semi skilled occupations.

    A reasonable snapshot, the economy still needing highly qualified employees and the job market shrinking for skilled workers. More political fodder for those signalling doom and gloom for the economy.

    Reading List

    Hamas take note

    If you follow the calls from the EU, US, NZ, Egypt and your leader in renoucing terror and disarming, you'll still going to be under intense scrutiny, remember your one time 'revolutionary brothers' in Eire:

    IRA challenged for 'holding on to weapons'

    Rodney, Brash and the leadership challenge

    Rodney Hide (ACT, Epsom) is, according to the Herald about to challenge Don Brash (National, List) to solidifying his leadership of the National party.

    In a pretty over-reaching suggestion, He intends to suggest Brash demand a vote of confidence from the party membership.

    I previously posted that Hide could very well benefit from having Brash in charge of National come the next election, so time will tell what benefit Hide's remarks today will have on the fortunes of ACT, let alone if the party will re-brand themselves as the 'liberal party'.

    Well, what do the numbers tell us?

  • 17,000 drop in benefit recipients

  • 14,543 drop in UB

  • 1,200 increase in Sickness Benefits

  • 1,900 increase in Invalid's Benefits

  • 3,037 decrease in DPB

    So, first of all, there is no major shift from one benefit to another, rather it should be suggested that some, maybe most are moving onto work or are on their way to improving themselves in the modern workplace, through training.

    TVNZ is reporting that part of the increase in invalids and sickness benefits are from people formerly on the ACC's books. Irrespective of whom you believe in, this contribution to the benefit increases is minor in the grand scheme (11% of 3100, is not equal to the ~17,000 of other benefits) and I wonder what was holding back the (thrifty) National Government from 'removing the culture of dependancy' during the early 1990s

    I would have prefered to see the data projected as a proportion of the active labour force, so as to see how the situation is improving. Is it dangerous to assume that a growing population will have some sort of actual growth in beneficiaries (or as long as the current system exists), so the real challenge would be to minimize the growth in numbers (as a proportion of the nation) as much as possible?

    I also wonder that all those people who think that the numbers indicate every person off a benefit is in work also believe that all people on sickness and invalid's benefits are actually able to work?

    One thing I am certain of, the numbers will probably not get any better than these, for a while.

  • Kenyans Slam Drummond

    "absurd", "insulting", "offensive" and "immoral"

    And reading this article, you can see that the gesture, in spite of being appreciated was not suprisingly seen as being highly insulting. The largest problem is one of producing a rather bad light for NZ in the eyes of Africans. Drummond hasn't certainly helped the situation, by only refering to her eccentric passion for her own product, and appearing naive to the backlash that was going to happen overseas, let alone back here.

    Buzzword: Orewa III (or IV, but who's counting)

    Last night's annual 'state of the nation' speech by Don Brash (National, List) at Orewa (speech available here) has provided some mixed reviews. I decided to follow the buzzword method I utilised for the address in reply series last year for the speech. Here are the results:

    'the government' 10

    'in other developed countries' 4

    'want new zealand to be a country where' 7

    'the economy' 7

    'productivity growth' 6

    'in australia' 5

    'immigration' 7

    'maori' 1

    'welfare' 3

    'prime minister' 1

    On the data presented above, the expectations of media before the speech of the major issues that were to be covered were met, apart from any heavy referencing to his commitment to the party leadership.

    It's important to remember that what Buzzword can never show is the rhetorical power of a speech (or lack thereof) that contains these topics and key phrases, and considering that the expectations of the speech had been tacitly lowered by the National party, it would be a massive surprise to see a huge poll boost on the basis of this speech, in contrast to previous years.

    Blogger Drinks

    Last night's drinks were a lot of fun. Plenty of beers, and chit chat: DPF has a post on the night's events.
    Me and Keith Ng left early (and he may have to talk to someone about paying for something ;)) for poker, so I diddn't stay to see the end. But here (as promised) are the photos I took of the event: (Photos may take a while to load)

    So looking foward to the next bloggers night and hopefully bigger and better than last night's.


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