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Archive for June, 2015

Letter to the Editor – Just how witless is our PM?!?!

30 June 2015 5 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Mon, Jun 29, 2015
subject: Letter to the Editor

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The Editor

Dominion Post

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When National recently announced that it will consider selling State houses to overseas buyers – I had to check the calendar, just to ensure it wasn’t April 1.

This has to be the most bizarre and ill-considered policy announcement, in the annals of New Zealand’s political history.

When interviewed by Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report”,  on 29 June, Key admitted;

“I don’t know a huge amount about them…but they’re a charity, I think,  in Queensland.”

And,

“I don’t know a tremendous amount about them…”

Just what our most poor and vulnerable families need – a Prime Minister who seems to be utterly clueless about who will be buying taxpayer-built State houses.

The most curious thing is that Key’s government plans to sell houses that are – allegedly – “in the wrong place and wrong size” for Housing NZ’s requirements.

In which case, why would a  charitable organisation, from another country, with little knowledge of our local community needs – be buying up such properties? How would they know what we needed?

Very little of this makes any sense. One can only assume that this is yet another money-raising venture from Bill English, who desperately needs a budget surplus next year.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[Address and phone number supplied]

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Foreign buyers eyeing up state house sell-off


 

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“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

29 June 2015 7 comments

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anne tolley - corin dann - tvnz - q+a - poverty - ministry of development

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On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 21 June,  political reporter Corin Dann interviewed Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. To describe the interview as pathetic would be generous.

To describe it as illustrative of how National views the poorest people of this country with barely-concealed disdain would be an understatement.

Tolley was former Minister of Corrections and Police, from 2011 to 2014.  Her crowning “achievement” was showing off  the destruction and compacting of a seized motor vehicle;

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anne-tolley

Then Police Minister, Anne Tolley, triumphantly standing atop a crushed ‘boy racer’ car (with camera-carting media in attendance) – June 2012. (More)

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Her other “achievement” was over-seeing the awarding of a twentyfive year long contract to multi-national company, Serco, to manage the newly opened 960-bed Wiri Prison. That contract will sting tax-payers to the tune of $900 million – almost a billion  tax-dollars over quarter of a century.

Tolley’s latest ministerial ‘gig’  is to hold the portfolio of Minister for Social Development.

Last year, two year old old Emma-Lita Bourne died last year from a brain haemorrhage. Emma-Lita had been suffering from a pneumonia-like illness in the final days of her short, misery-filled, life, leading up to her death.

In a coronial  inquest, Coroner Brandt Shortland concluded;

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to her health status.”

Corin Dann pointedly asked Tolley about Emma-Lita’s  death;

@ 6.35 –

“Some would argue with the recent case, for example, with Emma-Lita Bourne who died in the state house, [a] damp house, why not just give those families more money to pay their power bill, rather than give the organisations money to come in and work and all the rest of it?”

Tolley responded;

@ 6.54 –

“And, and, when you look at something like Whanua Ora, they are doing some of that. See, see, what we’ve got with the focus on individual programmes and agencies working in silos, families don’t work like that. They’re very complex issues so if I don’t know the details of that particular family…”

Tolley admitted not knowing the details of that particular family!

Let’s re-cap;

  •  This was a family living in circumstances within her ministerial ambit.
  •  A child died from illness which the coroner has stated was, at the least, exacerbated, by her living conditions.

Any normal, rational  individual in a position of responsibility in such a situation would have called for a full report on the incident, as well as a copy of the coroner’s findings.

Yet, according to her own statement, Tolley has evidently not done so.

She does not  “know the details of that particular family”.

Dann suggested to the Minister “in charge” of Social Development that a solution would be to  provide heating for cold, damp State houses;

“One solution though, one solution at least is that the child, if there are children in that family, they get a guarantee of a warm house.”

Tolley’s response was dismissive, followed by bureacratic gobbledegook double-speak;

“Well, not necessarily. Not necessarily. Um, and, and, you can have a warm house that is completely enclosed, that is high moisture content, and you can have related illnesses to that as well.

So what I’m saying is, one part of that, you can solve one part of that. But actually all the other problems are going to continue. And what we’re trying to do is get, um, much more joined up work from the State agencies, but our focus [is] on actually changing the outcomes for those families.”

So, there you have it.

Heating cold, damp houses is “not necessarily” a solution.

But “joining up State agencies” will somehow provide the warmth to keep children out of hospitals.

This is ‘Pythonesque’ humour at it’s darkest and comes at the expense of sick and dying children.

No wonder Tolley made this eye-brow-raising comment a few minutes into the interview;

@3.40 –

“I liken it to National Standards.”

National Standards – another of National’s misguided, moronic, and messy experiments.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping comment from  Tolley also came at the very beginning of the interview, when she complained;

@ 0.40

“One of the main difficulties that we have is that we don’t know what works. We haven’t got good evidence. We haven’t got good data.”

There is good reason why we do not have “good evidence” and “good data” –  because former Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett did not want it;

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Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett

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Because having hard data on poverty means government having a measurable, defined problem dumped into its lap. And three years ago, Bennett was having none of that.

As Labour MP, Jacinda Ardern, said at the time;

“The message is clear. Either Paula Bennett doesn’t want to admit to the scale of the problem, or she is afraid of exposing her government’s lack of progress in fixing it.”

Bennett’s excuses ranged from this;

“One week they can be in poverty, then their parent can get a job or increase their income and they are no longer in poverty … This is the real world, and actually children move in and out of poverty at times on a weekly basis.”

… to parroting neo-liberal clap-trap like this on TVNZ’s Q+A, in November 2013;

“At the end of the day, what is going to make the biggest difference for child poverty, in my opinion and this government’s opinion, and it is tackling the tough stuff. That is long-term welfare dependence. It’s actually more jobs, yeah, so that’s business growth. It feels like to me that Labour’s more interested in welfare growth and not business growth, and as a consequence, are we ever going to agree on that? Probably not.”

… and finally, this garbled ‘gem’ for why she refused to measure child poverty, in the same interview;

“So why do an official measure that then by very definition still has, quite frankly, you know, it’s, sort of, wherever you put the measure, you’re always going to have people in poverty, because you’re taking a median income, taking housing prices off it, so there’s always going to be people- “

Hopefully Minister Tolley will read this and understand why the department she inherited from her predecessor (Paula Bennett) has no “good evidence” or “good data”.

As for solving the life-threatening problem of cold, damp houses that are killing our children – Tolley’s plans to ‘re-jig’ government departments  and NGOs will not heat one single house.

Not. One. House.

But it will result in more children becoming ill, and dying.

This is happening on your watch, Minister Tolley.

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Emma-Lita Bourne – 2012-2014

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 June 2015.

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References

TVNZ Q+A:  Revolutionary changes in store for social services (14:11)

Green Party: $900 million for empty beds

NZ Herald:  Ana Apatu – Disempowered living in poverty

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

TVNZ: Q+A – Paula Bennett interview

Additional

Bryan Bruce – Inside Child Poverty (2011)

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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Blogger threatened with lawsuit over questions of conflict-of-interest regarding Mediaworks

25 June 2015 4 comments

The following story elicited a thinly veiled defamation threat by a senior Mediaworks boardmember.

Just when you thought Mediaworks couldn’t possibly dumb-down their television service any further;

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Come Dine with Me to replace Campbell Live

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When I first heard this, my initial reaction was someone on Facebook, with a wry sense of humour, was playing ‘silly buggers’ at Mediaworks’ expense.

Then I was pointed to the media report on Fairfax’s website.

Honestly – how does one react to a decision like this? Deep sobbing tears and face-palming – or maniacal laughter that might do The Joker proud?!

If this is Mediaworks’ idea of a joke – exacted against Campbell Live supporters as revenge for daring to question executive decisions – then someone has a rather cruel, demented sense of humour.

If this is what passes for sound business decision-making in Mediaworks’ boardrooms these days – then their next round of bankruptcy will not be far away. I’m picking three months.

Whoever was responsible for this awful programming decision would be wise to never, ever admit  their part in this insanity. Their career would be in tatters if word got out. To quote a Mediaworks press release describing ‘Come Dine With Me‘;

“Week one features Monika, a Slovakian child carer, who’s all about silly with a side of spice; Tony, an eccentric real estate agent with some cutting critiques and a few ‘endearing quirks’; Hinemoa, a part-time tattooist and full-time eyebrow enthusiast; motor-bike riding, insurance broker Kyle; and stylish yoga enthusiast Sarah.”

Perhaps an answer to this incomprehensible decision to replace a highly successful, well-respected current affair show like ‘Campbell Live‘ with another (and somewhat gormless-sounding) “reality” programme lies with Mediaworks’ board member, Julie Christie.

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julie christie - gerry brownlee - mediaworks - minister - national government - TV3

“Politicians have also had a strong affection for her over the years. Murray McCully and Gerry Brownlee have been photographed out and about at her bar in the Viaduct.” John Drinnan, 15 February 2013

Image acknowledgement: Postman Productions

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In 1991 Christie founded television production-company, Touchdown Productions.The company was responsible for “reality” (aka “unscripted television“) programmes such as ‘My House My Castle’, ‘Whose House Is It Anyway’, ‘DIY Rescue’, ‘Trading Places’, ‘Treasure Island’,Game of Two Halves’,  ‘Pioneer House’,  ‘Dragons’ Den’, and others.

Julie Christie quickly acquired a reputation for being New Zealand’s own television “Reality Queen“, as TV3 itself described her, two years ago;

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Reality TV queen quits production firm  - Julie Christie - Mediaworks - Eyeworks - Campbell Live - John Campbell

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More on Christie’s involvement with reality-TV and TV3 in a moment.

In February 2006, Touchdown was sold to Dutch media group, Eyeworks. She remained as CEO of Eyeworks NZ until 31 October 2012, when she resigned. Eight months later, in June the following year as Mediaworks was put into receivership, Julie Christie was appointed to the board of directors.

There is no telling how much earlier  Christie’s June appointment had been planned by parties involved, though this had been tipped by NZ Herald media columnist, John Drinnan four months earlier.

Julie Christie remained closely involved with the company, as confirmed by Eyeworks on their website;

Former CEO Julie Christie will no longer work for Eyeworks New Zealand but remain connected to the Eyeworks Group (15 territories, HQ Amsterdam) working in an international creative role.

There is indeed a strong, formal link between Christie and Eyeworks.

The directors of Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd are;

  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (NZ)
  • Johannes Petrus Christoffel KERSTENS (Netherlands)
  • Peter LANGENBERG (United Kingdom)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY (NZ)

The parent company of Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd is Eyeworks Holding New Zealand Ltd. It’s directors are the same four individuals;

  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (NZ)
  • Johannes Petrus Christoffel KERSTENS (Netherlands)
  • Peter LANGENBERG (United Kingdom)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY (NZ)

Christie has a separate company, JGM Investments Ltd, whose directors happen to be;

  • Julie Claire CHRISTIE
  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (Director)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY

And JGM Investments No2 Ltd, whose directors are also;

  • Julie Claire CHRISTIE
  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY

Christie’s JGM Investments No2 Ltd company is described as;

JGM Investments No. 2 Ltd. is a public hotels and motel founded in 2010. With 11 employees, the company is larger than the average hotels and motel.

By “coincidence”, the New Zealand version of ‘Come Dine With Me‘ – which has taken ‘Campbell Live’s‘ “plum” 7pm time-slot – is produced by none other than – Eyeworks NZ.

Eyeworks was not wrong when it stated that Christie “remains connected to the Eyeworks Group”.

Not exactly conspiracy theory stuff – but a possible conflict of interest?

I contacted Eyeworks and Mediaworks and put certain questions to them;

To Eyeworks I posed these questions;

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(1) Is Eyeworks currently involved in any projects intended for TV3 that might (or is intended) to be broadcast at that time?

(2) Is Julie Christie involved in any projects intended for TV3?

(3) Was Julie Christie involved in the production of ‘Come Dine with me’?

(4) Was Julie Christie involved in any way in production of ‘Come Dine with me’?

(5) Is Julie Christie involved in any production associated with your company, either currently, or planned for the future?

(6) Julie Christie resigned from Eyeworks on 31 October 2012. Your website states that she “no longer work for Eyeworks New Zealand but remain connected to the Eyeworks Group”. Can you provide details as to what capacity she ” remains connected to the Eyeworks Group”, and is she receiving any form of remuneration for her work?

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As at time of publication, Eyeworks has not replied to my enquiries.

Through a Mediaworks staffer, I asked Board member, Julie Christie;

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According to the Eyeworks website, you “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group”. This refers to your previous role as CEO of Eyeworks NZ until your resignation from that company, effective around 31 October 2012.

Can you shed some light on what your “connection to Eyeworks Group” consists/consisted of?

Did this “connection” remain in place after your appointment to Mediaworks’ Board, in June 2013?

Does the “connection to Eyeworks Group” involve two of the Board directors of Eyeworks?

Do you receive any form of remuneration from Eyeworks?

When did Mediaworks commission ‘Come Dine With Me’?

Were you connected with commissioning ‘Come Dine With Me’ for TV3?

Who initiated the project ‘Come Dine With Me’?

Were you connected in anyway with the production of ‘Come Dine With Me’, especially in the light of Eyeworks comment that you “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group” ?

What was your role in determining the programming schedule for ‘Come Dine With Me’?

What in-put, if any, did you have in deciding that ‘Come Dine With Me’ would fill the 7pm to 7.30pm timeslot, weekdays.

When was that decision made?

Do you perceive any possible conflict-of-interest between your membership of Mediaworks’ Board, and “remaining connected to the Eyeworks Group”?

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As at time of publication, Christie has not replied to my enquiries.

To Mark Weldon, CEO of Mediaworks since August last year, I put the following;

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According to the Eyeworks website, one of your Board members, Julie Christie “remains connected to the Eyeworks Group”. This refers to her previous role as CEO of Eyeworks NZ until her resignation from that company, effective around 31 October 2012.Can you shed some light on what your understanding of her “connection to Eyeworks Group” consists/consisted of?

To your knowledge, does this “connection” remain in place subsequent to her appointment to Mediaworks’ Board, in June 2013?

To your knowledge, has Julie Christie received any form of remuneration from Eyeworks?

Are you aware that two of the Board directors of Eyeworks are also Board directors of her own company, JGM Investments Ltd and JGM Investments No2 Ltd, namely;

  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY

When did Mediaworks commission ‘Come Dine With Me’?

Were you or Julie Christie connected with commissioning ‘Come Dine With Me’ for TV3?

Was Julie Christie in any way involved with the production of ‘Come Dine With Me’?

Who initiated the project ‘Come Dine With Me’? Was it Mediaworks, or did Eyeworks “pitch” the project to Mediaworks?

What was your role in determining the programming schedule for ‘Come Dine With Me’?

What in-put, if any, did you have in deciding that ‘Come Dine With Me’ would fill the 7pm to 7.30pm timeslot, weekdays.

When was that decision made?

Does Mediaworks have a Conflicts of Interests Register for Board Members?

If so, has Julie Christie registered any conflicts of interest on such a Register?

Do you perceive any possible conflict-of-interest between Julie Christie’s membership of Mediaworks’ Board; Ms Christie “remaining connected to the Eyeworks Group”; whilst Mediaworks purchases productions from Eyeworks?

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Mark Weldon did not reply, but Rod McGeoch, Chairperson of Mediaworks sent this response the following day;

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Dear Mr Macskasy
I am the Chairman of Mediaworks. I have been a lawyer for more than 40 years and a director of many companies over the last 20 years.
Mediaworks is a private company with one shareholder. Short of breaking the law it is entitled to run its affairs as it wishes.
As it happens Julie Christie has made all the appropriate disclosures. The board and the owner value very much her experience and connections. My views as expressed here ,mean I believe, that the answers to your enquires are unnecessary.
Any suggestion that her behaviour or interests have in any way interfered with her duties would in my view be likely to be defamatory of her.
Yours faithfully
Rod McGeoch

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I seem to have “touched a nerve”. When thinly-veiled threats of defamation lawsuits start flying, it suggests that someone finds the tenor of questioning to be uncomfortable.

To make it crystal clear for Mr McGeoch and his 40 year old lawyering career, I am asking questions, not making assertions. It would be a fairly simple matter to refute the questions with simple answers.

Thus far, no refutations or clarifications have been forthcoming.

However, an apparent conflict-of-interest still remains to be addressed by Mediaworks. Especially when the programme that replaced ‘Campbell Live‘ was created by a company – Eyeworks – with which Julie Christie is still associated, and whose Board members also sit on two companies with which Christie is involved with.

The perception of murkiness in all this cannot easily be overlooked.

The Director’s Guide, from the Financial Market’s Authority, refers specifically to potential conflicts of interests;

• Be aware of possible conflicts of interest

Make sure any conflicts you personally have are officially recorded. All companies should have an Interests Register and a process for managing potential conflicts

Where you have an ‘interest’ in a transaction, you need to be able to show how your company (or your parent company if your constitution allows this) benefits and gets fair value from it.

• Check if your company constitution allows related party transactions (transactions between related companies). If so, do any special
conditions apply and are they in the best interests of your company?  Related party transactions are also likely to be material to investors and should be disclosed in any disclosure documents.

• Ensure you have a good understanding about what falls within the definition of a related party.

There is no telling how Christie has benefitted from Eyeworks acquiring the contract to produce ‘Come Dine with Me‘. But what we do know – from Eyeworks’ own admission – is that Christie continues to “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group… working in an international creative role”.

Whilst Christie is no longer a Director of Eyeworks, she is still closely associated with two  Eyeworks Directors via two other companies.

We do not know how Eyeworks acquired the contract to produce ‘Come Dine with Me‘. But we do know that Christie is on Mediaworks’ Board of Directors.

We do not know what role Christie played in the production of ‘Come Dine with Me‘, except;

  • her involvement in the reality TV industry is well known
  • Eyeworks admits that she continues to “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group… working in an international creative role

The 7pm-7.30pm time slot is prime time, and a lucrative slot for advertising within programmes, as  Rod McGeoch, Chairperson of Mediaworks, stated candidly on 11 April 2015;

“We put news on, but only because it rates. And we sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about.”

For Eyeworks to produce a product and schedule it at prime time would have meant a profitable exercise for the company. That required, first of all, to get rid of ‘Campbell Live‘, thereby leaving the slot open.

As usual, it boils down to money.

Someone has made a lot of money out of this.

The final question; is Mediaworks new owners – Oaktree Finance – aware of all this? They should be.

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In a rare moment of sanity (hopefully) prevailing, this also appeared in  Fairfax stories (9 June);

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John Campbell talks to Radio New Zealand about possible role

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There is hope yet, that the corporate lunatics have not gained complete control of  Asylum Aotearoa. John Campbell and Mihingarangi Forbes is a Dream Team, second only to a full non-commercial, public-service television broadcaster being re-established in this neuron-deprived nation of ours.

This must be one of the top priorities (along with addressing child poverty, polluted waterways,  and housing problems) of any incoming Labour-Green(-NZ First?) government. Every New Zealander with a conscience and deep, abiding interest in the future of our country, must be on the back of a new progressive government to get this done.

I know I will.

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References

Fairfax media: Come Dine with Me to replace Campbell Live

TV3 “News”: Come Dine with Me launches on Monday

Mediaworks: Management

NZ on Air: Julie Christie

Wikipedia: Eyeworks Touchdown

TV3 News: Reality TV queen quits production firm

Scoop media: Sale of Touchdown Television to Eyeworks Group

NZ Herald: Julie Christie quits Eyeworks

NBR:  MediaWorks in receivership

NZ Herald: Media – MediaWorks eyes TV queen Julie Christie

NZ Herald: Anger over Campbell Live’s replacement Come Dine With Me

Business.govt.nz – Companies Office: Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd

Business.govt.nz – Companies Office: Eyeworks Holding New Zealand Ltd

Business.govt.nz – Companies Office: JGM Investments Ltd

Business Profiles: Greg Anthony Heathcote

Business.govt.nz – Companies Office: JGM Investments No2 Ltd

Find the Company: JGM Investments No. 2 Ltd.

Financial Markets Authority: A Director’s Guide

NZ Herald: New majority owner for Mediaworks

NZ Herald: John Campbell enlists lawyer as replacement rumours swirl

Fairfax media: John Campbell talks to Radio New Zealand about possible role

Additional

NZ Herald: Prime News outrates TV3 as audience numbers halve

Previous related blogposts

Campbell still Live, not gone

The Curious World of the Main Stream Media

Producer of ‘The Nation’ hits back at “interference” allegations over ‘Campbell Live’

This is news?!

Radio NZ – Mediawatch for 24 May 2015 – TV3’s Mark Jennings interviewed re Campbell Live

Friends, Kiwis, Countrymen! I come to praise John Campbell, not bury him

Other bloggers

Postman Productions: Media ‘crack whores’ & dirty deals

The Daily Blog: Dirty Politics – Coming To A TV Station Near You

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Sam Caughey - @peachysam - twitter - John Campbell - TV3 - Come Dance with me

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 June 2015.

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Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: Tue, Jun 23, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
Sunday Star Times

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Prime Minister John Key has called on tenants of State houses to report cold, damp, neglected conditions of their homes. Key says;

“We want to make sure people get assistance. I mean I accept that there’s a lot of people and the Government’s record actually of improving those houses (has) been a strong one over the course of the last four or five years.

We’ve worked hard on trying to improve them. But I accept that some people are cold and some people have, you know, less resources and on the back of that they should definitely reach out for more help.” (Radio NZ, “More state housing action needed – English”, 23 June)

Mr Key seems unaware that government claims that Housing NZ has sufficient money to fix up delapidated properties is at variance with HNZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report which stated, in part;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Part of the problem is that the National Government has demanded tens of millions of dollars in dividends from Housing NZ. This year alone, Housing NZ will pay $90 million to the government in dividends – money that could be better spent on maintaining run-down, leaking, mouldy, cold houses. Heating vouchers for the poorest families would also help alleviate illnesses like rheumatic fever.

That should be our esteemed Prime Minister’s first priority.

How many more children must die before this government acts?

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-Frank Macskasy

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[Address & phone number supplied]


 

References

Radio NZ:  More state housing action needed – English

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable – Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

Housing NZ: 2013/14 Annual Report

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Letter to the Editor – User Pays is not a very clever solution

19 June 2015 6 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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Some of these “free market types” don’t really follow through on their “bright ideas”…

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dominion post - 18 june 2015 - alan waller - public transport

 

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Mr response;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jun 19, 2015
subject: Letter to the ed

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The Editor
Dominion Post

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Alan Waller demands  “what is wrong with user pays” and complains about “regional ratepayers subsidising a train service that is bleeding money and has never made money and is continually bleeding passenger numbers”. (Letters, 18 June)

Perhaps Mr Waller would realise what is “wrong with user pays” if train fares rose to full market rates, pushing thousands of commuters back into private vehicles, further clogging our already congested roads.

The cost to our local economy would be horrendous.

The purpose of public transport is not to make money. It is to take cars of our roads, thereby lessening congestion; pollution; increased fuel imports; and adding to greenhouses gas-emissions.

The problem with “user pays”, as Mr Waller advocates, is that full costs are often hidden – a fact he might consider next time he is stuck in traffic.

As for claiming “bleeding passenger numbers”, a Fairfax story dated 11 February this year, stated,

“A record 11.9 million passenger trips were taken on Tranz Metro trains last year, a 5.2 per cent increase on the 11.3m in 2013.”  (Ref: ‘Record Wellington train use set to stave off fare increases’)

Mr Waller should check his fun-facts first.  Something he can also do next time he is stuck in traffic.

-Frank Macskasy

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[Address and phone number supplied.]

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References

Fairfax media:  Record Wellington train use set to stave off fare increases

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Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Another broken promise from National…

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National Party - 2014 election - social housing policy - Housing NZ

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On 12 June, Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennet was interviewed on Radio NZ’s ‘Nine to Noon‘ programme. Kathryn Ryan asked why there were so many  thousands of State houses in desperate need on maintenance.

In the interview, Bennett claimed that money was not a problem in Housing NZ’s maintenance programme;

@ 4.29

“What I will say is that it’s not a money problem. So there is enough money there for us to get that stock up. It is a big programme of work that is constantly ongoing…

[…]

…So it’s not a matter of neglect.”

And again @ 5.41

“Which is really my point. So we’re saying it’s not actually about the money. The money is there to be spent for maintenance.”

Bennett’s statements were a parroting of  Bill English’s previous claim, made on 5 June  on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, who also denied  money was the core problem of run-down Housing NZ properties;

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

Bennett and English have both blamed lack of tradesmen and other spurious excuses for rundown houses.

But according to Housing NZ, the reason for our run-down State housing stock is very much a matter of lack of money, as I pointed out to Kathryn Ryan in an email I sent to her during her interview with Bennett;
from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jun 12, 2015
subject: Paula Bennet on Housing maintenance funding
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Kia ora Kathryn,Paula Bennett’s assertion that Housing NZ has plenty of funds for maintenance is at variance with this statement from Housing NZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

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The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Furthermore, on page 36 of the 2013/14 Annual Report, Repairs and Maintenance is given as $220 million for the period.This is $1 billion less than the $1.2 billion quoted by Bill English to TVNZ’s Corin Dann on 24 March, this year.

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Either Bennett is ignorant, or she is spinning.

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Either way, not a good look.

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-Frank Macskasy

Ms Ryan read out my email, on air, subsequent to the interview.

Hopefully, the media will pick up on what is obviously a gross distortion from National’s spin doctors. By asserting that  there is no lack of money available, this shifts responsibility from  government to blaming others for lack of maintenance.

It also deflects attention from the fact that National has used Housing NZ as a cash cow by demanding dividends, in a futile attempt by Bill English to balance the government books and post a surplus (which he has also failed at spectacularly), as this ‘Dominion Post‘ editorial highlighted;

This year the Government expects to get $220m in tax and dividends from the corporation. It wants profits as well as social services. And it is also in thrall to its ideology of semi-privatisation.

Housing NZ was explicit in it’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

It is up to the media to challenge Ministers when they make assertions that are patently untrue.

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References

Radio NZ: The state of state housing

Radio NZ: The state of state housing (audio) (alt. link)

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 June 2015.

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The Curious Case of Cameron Slater, the Hacker, and the unforgivable crime of stupidity

12 June 2015 2 comments

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tv3 - the nation - more dirtypolitics - whaleoil - cameron slater - ben rachinger

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Cameron Slater is not a well man.

A recent exposé by TV3’s ‘The Nation‘ revealed that Cameron Slater has allegedly been conspiring with IT consultant, Ben Rachinger, to hack left-wing blogsite, ‘The Standard‘ to steal personal information.

According to a NZ Herald report, the matter is now evidently a matter of a Police investigation;

“The complaint is being investigated by Counties Manukau CIB.

There are a number of complexities to the investigation, including the posting online of documentation which has already compromised the investigation and is making our inquires more difficult.

Police are taking a cautious approach, and working through a number of complex steps to gather the necessary information to advance the enquiry.

Any decision on charges is some way off at this stage, and will be made after a thorough assessment of all relevant information.”

Any potential charges would most likely relate to attempting to procure a crime, if the allegations are found to have merit.

This alleged txt-message from Slater to Rachinger alone, seems to be an admission that he was fully aware of the dubious, and potentially illegal, nature of his activities;

“It’s no small thing I’m doing this, I could be being set up in a sting by a media person or cops.”

His ISP may also take a dim view if he has been using his internet connection for nefarious purposes.

Aside from the sheer illegality of these allegations, three things stand out in this grubby affair;

1. If proven, it seems that Cameron Slater’s desire for revenge on those he perceives have slighted him, is a psychopathy that reveals a deeply troubled human being.

In which case, Slater requires psychiatric attention, not prison or a fine.

2.If proven, it demonstrates that Slater has little hesitation in circumventing or breaking the law. He was convicted in September 2010 of eight counts of breaching name suppression orders and one count of identifying a victim in a sex case on his  blog. He is currently being sued  by Auckland businessman, Matthew Blomfield, in a defamation case.

3.If proven, Slater’s behaviour is worse than a simple matter of law-breaking – it shows his sheer stupidity in thinking that an attempt to hack another website could be done without being discovered.

Has he learned nothing from Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’, in that it is virtually impossible to keep secrets in a small country like ours?

With certain exceptions, stupidity is the most unforgiving crime of all. It appears that Slater has learned nothing from recent experiences. Life’s lessons seem to have little value for this tragic character.

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References

TV3: The Nation – More Dirty Politics?

NZ Herald: Right-wing blogger accused of paying off hacker

Fairfax media: Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater guilty

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #25 – Keeping the buggers “honest”

Latest from Whaledump2 – Jordan Williams and Cameron Slater

When Karma caught up with Cameron Slater

Are Cameron Slater and Judith Collins bare-faced liars?

The Slater-Key Txt-Messages Trip-Up – Did Cameron Slater Plan this?

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Dead Whale.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 June 2015.

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Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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a-country-of-opportunity

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The last few weeks have produced some curious stories from the media, relating to the current government that, at first glance, have no common thread linking them.

Closer scrutiny yields a different perspective…

1 April 2009

National implements first round of tax cuts.

According to Dear Leader Key, the 2009 tax cuts cost the government $1 billion;

“…The tax cuts we have delivered today will inject an extra $1 billion into the economy over the coming year, thereby helping to stimulate the economy during this recession. More important, over the longer term these tax cuts will reward hard work and help to encourage people to invest in their own skills, in order to earn and keep more money.”

1 October 2010

National carries out second round of tax cuts.

According to information obtained from Parliamentary Library in May 2012, and released by the Greens, the 2010 tax cuts cost the country an additional $2 billion;

The Green Party has today revealed that the National Government has so far had to borrow an additional $2 billion dollars to fund their 2010 tax cut package for upper income earners.

New information prepared for the Green Party by the Parliamentary Library show that the estimated lost tax revenues from National’s 2010 tax cut package are between $1.6–$2.2 billion. The lost revenue calculation includes company and personal income tax revenues offset by increases in GST.

Cost of both tax cuts, in terms of lost revenue: $2.6 billion – $3.2 billion, per annum.

8 May 2014

Then-Minister for Housing, Nick Smith confirms in Parliament that National has been demanding multi-million dollar dividends from Housing New Zealand;

“The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year is $90 million.”

The dividend payable does not include taxes paid by Housing NZ.

24 September 2014

Fonterra cuts payout to farmers for dairy milk solids  by 70 cents to $5.30/kg milk solids.

6 October 2014

Dear Leader Key reveals that the international fall in dairy prices will affect the government’ tax revenue. Key states;

It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as $5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year...”

Reported by TV3’s Brook Sabin on the same day;

“A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.”

10 December 2014

Fonterra announced that payouts to farmers would drop from $5.30/kg of milk solids to $4.70/kg. A Fairfax report states;

The predicted payout could hurt the national economy for a couple of years, including tax revenue.

28 January

Dear Leader Key announced the sale of 1,000 to 2,000 state houses within the year, and suggested there might be further sales later.

30 April

Fonterra announces further reduction of milk solid payout to farmers from $4.70/kg milk solids to $4.50/kg of milk solids.

6 May

National announced that it’s entire stock of 370 state houses in Invercargill, and 1,250 in Tauranga, would be put on the market to be sold off.

22 May

National’s 2015 Budget included;

  • Dumping the $1,000 Kiwisaver ‘kick-start’ government contribution
  • $684 million deficit for 2014/2015
  • a new travel tax on arriving/departing airport travellers
  • extension of a telecommunications tax to fund government’s rural broadband expansion programme

31 May

A story in the NZ Herald by Lynley Bilby reported that schools throughout the country were cutting back on their activities due to funding constraints;

Financially strapped secondary schools are cutting back on classroom activities, dropping field trips, ditching science experiments and even removing courses after a crackdown on parent donation rules.

[…]

In one case a secondary school had to abandon an NCEA Level 2 biology field trip to the beach because it could not afford to hire a bus.

The science teacher had to apply to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to alter the data collection assessment so the students would not fail.

Another school was forced to alter its science curriculum by reducing experiments to trim costs.

One school said it had done away with activities outside the school gates, including a sea kayaking standard for year 12 physical education students.

Principals reported outdoor education programmes, food, hospitality and technology courses could be affected by the funding guidelines.

[…]

The recently released Budget saw the Government fund school operational grants to the tune of $1.32 billion for the 2015/16 financial year.

But the NZSPC  [New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council] said that was not enough to meet costs, particularly for low decile schools.

It is apparent that state funding of education  is inadequate, and schools are either having to make drastic cuts to  “classroom activities, dropping field trips, ditching science experiments and even removing courses” – or raise “voluntary donations” from parents. Those “donations” and fundraising events by parents and teachers raised more than $357 million in  2012, an increase of  $16 million from 2011.

Nearly a third of a billion dollars – that is the shortfall of full funding of education in this country.

1 June

National announced the launch of so-called “social bonds“, where;

…the Government will pay a return to investors, determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved.

The Government said social bonds were about the private and public sector organisations operating together to fund and deliver services.

This year’s Budget set aside $28.8 million to fund what is essentially contracting  out some mental-health services to private investors. As Health Minister, Dr Jonathan Coleman explained in Parliament the next day;

” One of the benefits of social bonds is that they protect service providers by shifting financial risk away from the providers and on to investors who provide the funding and who are better placed to absorb risk…

[…]

…social bonds are an exciting financial instrument with the potential to revitalise social policy delivery and inject private sector funding and innovation into the sector.”

Note the term used by Dr Coleman (quoting from a Dept of Internal Affairs report); “financial instruments”. According to investopedia.com, a “financial instrument is defined as;

A real or virtual document representing a legal agreement involving some sort of monetary value. In today’s financial marketplace, financial instruments can be classified generally as equity based, representing ownership of the asset, or debt based, representing a loan made by an investor to the owner of the asset.

[…]

Financial instruments can be thought of as easily tradeable packages of capital, each having their own unique characteristics and structure. The wide array of financial instruments in today’s marketplace allows for the efficient flow of capital amongst the world’s investors.

In effect, funding for mental health services is being transferred from the State – the traditional source – to private investors. Plainly put – National is seeking investment funding for mental health services.

These so-called “social bonds” appear to be a continuation of privatisation-by-stealth.

Interestingly, the right-wing think-tank, ‘New Zealand Initiative‘ (formerly the Business Roundtable and NZ Institute) published a report in March advocating the use of  social  bonds, and calling for the government to implement them. Three months later, National did precisely that.

As the government’s tax revenue was slashed by between $2.6 billion – $3.2 billion, per annum, after the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts, National’s tax-take and expenditure was further put under pressure by the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis; the resulting Great Recession; rising unemployment; tumbling dairy pay-outs; and the Christchurch re-build.

National’s much heralded prediction of a  $372 million Budget surplus this year collapsed into a massive $684 million deficit – a turn-around of nearly a billion dollars.

A billion dollars – the cost of the 2009 tax cuts.

But added to the fiscal deficit is another deficit; the hidden social costs which New Zealanders are slowly, belatedly, waking up to.

Community organisations are winding back, or closing down completely;

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womens-refuge-cuts-may-lead-to-waiting-lists

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Relationships Aortearoa - funding cuts - Anne Tolley - budget 2015

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State assets such as housing and schools are suffering a lack of maintenance, the likes of which we have seen only in Third World nations. The recent case of Northland College in Kaikohe revealed a badly run-down facility that was so delapidated that police  asked to use them for training simulations because they represented the closest thing available to a “ghetto environment”, according to school principal, Jim Luders.

Luders’ description of his school is hard to believe in 21st century New Zealand;

“The conditions are appalling. They’re unsafe. There’s water leaks, mould, asbestos in parts. It’s without doubt the worst school stock in New Zealand.

I would challenge any school to send in photos that are worse.”

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Northland College students stuck with 'worst classrooms in New Zealand'

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Back in 2008, an ERO report highlighted the poor state of Northland College. Seven years later, the problem remains unchanged.

New Zealand’s State housing does not fare better. TVNZ’s Corin Dann wrote this piece on 24 March, which should have raised alarm bells throughout the nation (it did not);

The Finance Minister is signalling a deferred maintenance bill for the country’s state houses of $1.2 billion will have to be met by the government in future.

Community housing providers looking to buy state houses off the government say they believe Housing New Zealand has failed to carry around $1.2 billion in maintenance on state houses.

[…]

Mr English says the lack of maintenance on state houses is concerning and that in the long run the government will need to invest the $1.2 billion dollars in state houses to get them up to scratch.

[…]

When asked why Housing New Zealand had not spent as much money as it should have on maintenance, Mr English put the blame partly on the previous Labour government saying they had chosen to build new state houses rather than fix up old ones.

However, when pressed he conceded that “looking back everyone could have performed better”.

$1.2 billion dollars. Half the cost of the 2010 tax cuts.

Which, in part, explained why the Salvation Army assessed National’s offer to buy some State houses – and promptly ran a mile. As the SA’s spokesperson, Major Campbell Roberts stated, with crystal clarity;

“We would be faced with significant maintenance issues, houses which have got the wrong tenants … we would also need to do extensive development.

We would be putting so much resource into this that we could not actually put resource into anything else.

We can’t guarantee that we would be able to improve things for the state tenants, which is exactly what we would want to do by taking [the properties] over at this stage, on our own.”

Community Housing Aotearoa director, Scott Figenshow, was even more to the point;

“Our members are very concerned about the families they work with, and are only interested if they can do a better job than Housing New Zealand. At the moment the sums simply don’t stack up.

Last month the Government confirmed $1.2 billion of deferred maintenance on the state housing stock. Why would a provider want to purchase a liability?” 

Figenshow suggested, instead, that Government reinvest the $220 million it was forecast to receive in tax and dividends from Housing NZ, back into much needed maintenance and upgrades.

For two year old Emma-Lita Bourne, tenant of a State house in Otara, South Auckland, the situation is academic. She died last August living in an environment that was clearly not conducive for human health and well-being;

Two-year-old Emma-Lita Bourne died in Auckland’s Starship Hospital in August last year following a brain haemorrhage.

She had been taken to hospital with a fever, which turned out to be a form of pneumonia.

In his findings, released on Thursday, coroner Brandt Shortland said pneumonia played a part in Emma-Lita’s death and the Housing New Zealand home in Otara where her family lived may have been to blame for her ill-health.

Other children in the family also became sick while the family was living there, with one suffering from rheumatic fever.

[…]

In May 2014, Emma-Lita’s family had been fast-tracked up the waiting list to be transferred to a better state house, because of the rheumatic fever risk.

Although they’re now living in a different home, the move didn’t happen before Emma-Lita’s death.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the government’s policy to fast-track those at risk of rheumatic fever into better homes has helped 270 families.

As Radio NZ reported Coroner Brandt Shortland’s findings;

“In my view, the house unfortunately was unhealthy for this family.

I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s health status.”

Housing NZ’s general manager of tenancy services, Kay Read,  accepted the likelihood of a link;

“Our responsibility is to provide warm, safe and dry housing and, from the reports in this situation, it appears that we’ve failed.”

The above Radio NZ story features photos of another Housing NZ property also in a delapidated condition, with mould and condensation streaming down the walls. The property is tenanted.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, Minister for Housing, Bill English,  denied that money was the core problem of run-down Housing NZ properties;

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

English’s assurance that Housing NZ “not short of money to do the job” appears to be contradicted by Housing NZ’s  2013/14 Annual Report;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Furthermore, on page 36 of the 2013/14 Annual Report, Repairs and Maintenance is given as $220 million for the period.

This is $1 billion less than the $1.2 billion quoted by Bill English to TVNZ’s Corin Dann on 24 March, this year.

Whilst clouded in waffle, English admitted that “the system” (ie; government and Housing NZ) was responsible for this little girl’s death;

“Regardless of the cause it’s a tragedy for this family. It appears that while the system worked to some extent, we’ve got to test whether it was responsive enough quickly enough to the very real needs of this family.

They didn’t really have the option of ordering a higher grade of insulation for the house.

We’ve got a strong focus on organising the government services around vulnerable families – and this is a vulnerable family – rather than expecting those vulnerable families to find their way around various government departments.

This type of case should illustrate I think to the people making public policy, including us, that we’ve got some way to go yet to be as responsive as we should be when there’s serious issues going on in this family.”

. English responds to criticism of state houses - radio nz - morning report - audio.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that New Zealanders have died for lack of adequate state funding of social services. For Minister Bill English, this is no doubt a matter of déjà vu, bringing back memories of late Northlander, Rau Williams, and late Southland farmer, Colin Morrison;

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Died waiting for by-pass - Otago Daily Times, 6 April  1998  (1)

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The 6 April 1998 ‘Otago Daily Times’ story stated;

Riverton dairy farmer Colin Morrison (42) has lost his race for a triple heart by-pass, dying of complications and leaving his widow, Christine, and his doctor blaming Health Minister Bill English and the health system for his death.

[…]

Mrs Morrison last night did not want to speak to Mr English, who is also her local MP. She said the minister and the health system had  failed her family and her husband.

“I don’t think I could cope. I know I can’t blame one person but I have got to have something or someone to blame. I wrote him a letter saying I blamed him [Mr English] but I blame the system as well”, she said.

His GP, Dr Russell Pridgeon, of Riverton, last night called on Mr English to resign, saying he held him morally responsible for Mr Morrison’s death.

A month later, then-Health Minister Bill English conceded that his government’s “booking system” was a failure – but not before others died on his watch as Health Minister;

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four-forced-off-waiting-list-die-the-press-15-march-1999

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Bill English did not resign, though National were swept from office the following year by Helen Clark’s Labour-led coalition.

English is now Minister for Housing.

And once again, people are dying.

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Addendum1

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Addendum2

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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Addendum3

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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References

Parliament: Hansards – Tax Cuts – Implementation

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable—Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

Agrimoney.com: Dairy rout spurs $4bn cut to Fonterra milk payout

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Fairfax media: Slashed Fonterra payout will affect all NZers

Radio NZ: PM states housing intentions

Otago Daily Times: Fonterra cuts dairy payout forecast

Radio NZ: Tauranga, Invercargill state houses to be sold

Radio NZ: Budget 2015 – What you need to know

Fairfax media: International airfares will rise new departure tax

Radio NZ: Telecommunications tax will hit consumers

NZ Herald:  Secondary schools to slash spending

Radio NZ: Social bond system to target mental health

Parliament: Hansards – 5. Mental Health Services—Social Bonds

Investopedia.com:  Financial Instrument

NBR:  Roundtable and NZ Institute morph into new libertarian think tank

NZ Intiative: Social Impact Bonds

Government Economics Networks: The case for social bonds: A new way of financing and delivering social services

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – The essential guide

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

TV1 News: ‘Devastating news for vulnerable Kiwis’ – Relationships Aotearoa struggling to stay afloat

Fairfax media: Government may let Relationships Aotearoa fold

TV1 News: Relationships Aotearoa hanging on at ‘awful’ 11th hour

Radio NZ: Counselling service rejects claim it’s badly run

NZ Herald: Northland College students stuck with ‘worst classrooms in New Zealand’

Radio NZ: Northland ‘slum’ school fix-up very slow

TV1 News: English concerned by State House deferred maintenance bill

Radio NZ: Salvation Army won’t buy state houses

Fairfax media: Salvation Army says no to state houses

NZCity:  Girl’s death should spur action – Greens

Radio NZ: Damp state house linked to child death

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

Housing NZ: 2013/14 Annual Report

Radio NZ: English responds to criticism of state houses (Alt. Link) (audio)

Dunedin Star: Death – the Northland Way

NZPA: English agrees system flawed

TV1 News:  Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

NZ Herald: John Key defends cost of flag referendums

Additional information

Mana News: Housing under neoliberalism

NBR: Matthew Hooton – Gulf games fail to deliver

NBR: Matthew Hooton – Flying sheep endanger McCully

NZ Herald: Bryce Edwards – Political roundup – The bizarre ‘bribery’ and flying sheep scandal

NZ Herald: Dita De Boni – Kiwis hoodwinked over state housing

Radio NZ: Demand increasing on schools to fund out classroom activities

Radio NZ: Government hikes up Housing NZ dividend almost 20 percent (audio)

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, this is Now #6

Budget 2013: petrol taxes

“It’s fundamentally a fairness issue”- Peter Dunne

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 June 2015.

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Nothing quite reinforces ‘Privilege’ than an ‘Us and Them’ Attitude

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When , drunk, dumb,  and ultimately doomed National backbencher, Aaron Gilmore, uttered his now-infamous words,  “Don’t you know who I am?“, it revealed to the public a glimpse of the attitude of those who – in their minds – are Born To Rule (over us).

For a certain type of persons who happens to be blessed with wealth, power, business acumen, and/or other talents, they consider themselves to have “earned” the right to be superior to those around them not-quite-as-fortunate. (Or even, gods-forbid, not particularly interested in wealth, power, business acumen, etc.)

It is this arrogance – born from success in their chosen field of endeavour – which results in attitudes such as the law (or social “niceties”) not applying to them.

Case in Point #1: In Aaron Gilmore’s case, he became angry that the waiter refused to serve him any more alcohol. The waiter’s decision was based on a simple law-of-the-land; that intoxicated persons shall not be sold/served any more liquor. Failure to comply can mean hefty fines; suspension (or full cancellation) of liquor license; and having employment terminated.

But Gilmore didn’t care. He just wanted more booze to flow down his gullet. When his demands were declined, he attempted to use his position of authority (an elected member of Parliament) to get his way. When that failed, he invoked the Office of the Prime Minister. That, too, failed.

But what was it about Gilmore’s position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law did not apply to him?

Case in Point #2: When government minister, Gerry Brownlee walked through security doors at Christchurch airport, he obviously held a view that being late for his flight was just cause to ignore Civil Aviation rules;

Gerry Brownlee is standing by his version of how his airport security breach took place – after being contradicted by an airport staffer.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s released a heavily-redacted report into the July incident at Christchurch Airport.

Mr Brownlee said he knocked on a secure door and asked to be let through, because he was late for a flight.

But the airport employee told the inquiry that one of Mr Brownlee’s staff pulled the secure door open, and the trio walked past him without seeking permission.

Gerry Brownlee was later fined $2000.

Despite being fined for his rule-breaking, a spokesman for Brownlee said that the minister  “stands by his testimony“. So not only did Brownlee consider himself (a) above the law, (b) acted on that belief, but (c) when found guilty, and fined,  showed no acceptance of his wrong-doing.

What was it about Brownlee’s position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law did not apply to him?

Case in Point #3: Multimillionaire property developer, Bob Jones, was recently thrown off an Air New Zealand flight for not following an on-board safety briefing, reported the  Civil Aviation Authority.

According to CAA spokesperson, Mike Richards;

“The passenger was basically ignoring what was going on and wearing headphones. The crew member complained to someone in command and said, ‘I don’t want passengers on the flight who aren’t following instructions of the crew’.”

So, basically, Bob Jones couldn’t be arsed following the rules and paying attention, despite being asked to? Did Jones believe that, in the event of an emergency, somehow his wealth would be sufficient to circumvent the laws of gravity, and he would descend gently to the ground?

What was it about Jones’ position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law (both Parliamentary and gravitational) did not apply to him?

Is the answer to the question posed at the end of each case, simply because society allows status, based on political power and/or  wealth, to gain privileges which are not accorded to the rest of us (99% of us)?

If Air New Zealand’s “Elite Priority One” is any indication, then political power and wealth  invites special privilege that other paying customers for the airline’s service apparently do not deserve;

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Air New Zealand offers secret invite only Elite Priority One lounge

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New Zealand – the nation that once prided itself on it’s egalitarianism – now has an airline trading on our name, and offering services to the “elite” that the ordinary folk of this country were not even aware of.

That is real privilege accorded to the wealthy and powerful – when the masses aren’t even aware that Jack is no longer as good as his Master.

So when an MP expects that liquor laws can be flouted so he can get more inebriated; when a Minister expects that Civil Aviation laws apply to others, but not him; and when a millionaire thumbs his nose at critical safety information – let us be clear that they deeply believe they are entitled to hold those views.

They are, after all, better than us.

Air New Zealand says as much. They are, after all, Elite, Priority One.

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References

NZ Herald: ‘Rude’ MP tweets apology over drunken night out

Fairfax media: Sir Bob Jones escorted from Air NZ flight

NewstalkZB: Brownlee contradicted on airport security breach

Fairfax media:  Air New Zealand offers secret invite only Elite Priority One lounge

Previous related blogposts

And so it came to pass

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Glass half full.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 June 2015.

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The Mendacities of Mr Key # 13: Kiwisaver – another broken promise

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In the past, when governments broke promises, they were clumsy, heavy-handed, and were punished at the polls.

Political parties and their strategists have learned from those mistakes. Now, when promises are broken, they are done gradually, by incremental steps.  So when the media picks up on it and reports, the public barely notices nor cares.

One such recent broken promise was National’s dumping of the Kiwisaver $1,000 kick-start government contribution, revealed in this year’s Budget.

On 9 July 2008, Key gave a hint as to National’s intentions toward Kiwisaver;

“There won’t be radical changes. There will be some modest changes to KiwiSaver. We will announce that pretty soon.”

On 8 October 2008 – precisely one month before the general election that year – Bill English outlined National’s policy toward Kiwisaver if they became government;

National is proposing three changes to KiwiSaver. These changes will make KiwiSaver fairer, more affordable for current and future members, and more enduring in the long-term.

The three changes National is planning are:

First, a reduction in the minimum contributions demanded of employees.

At the moment, most KiwiSaver members are required to contribute 4% of their income to KiwiSaver. In return, they receive a contribution from their employer equal to 1% of their income. As an interim measure, Labour has allowed some KiwiSaver members to make a more affordable contribution, of 2%. In return they receive an equal contribution from their employer.

National thinks this 2 +2 arrangement is fair and affordable. We disagree with Labour’s plans to ramp-up KiwiSaver over the next three years.

National will make KiwiSaver a 2+2 scheme. Once this is bedded down, however, we will consider offering an alternative 3+3 scheme option, as and when economic conditions permit.

Let me stress that those who want to contribute more than 2% of their wages to KiwiSaver will still have that option. And employers who want to match contributions beyond 2% will still have that option, too.

Second, National will remove the tax credit that is currently paid to employers whose staff are enrolled in KiwiSaver. This will have no effect on the amount of money that goes into New Zealanders’ KiwiSaver accounts.

This subsidy was a transitional tool but it creates a complex money-go-round. It simply doesn’t meet National’s test for effective, disciplined government spending.

I note that the net effect for employers will be small, once they take into account the lower minimum contribution rate.

Finally, National will repeal recent legislation which effectively discriminates against some employees who can’t afford to join KiwiSaver.

However, we will keep a safeguard in place, by amending the KiwiSaver Act to make it explicit that no employee can have their gross taxable pay reduced as a consequence of joining KiwiSaver.

National believes that these three changes to KiwiSaver will make it a fairer, more affordable and more enduring savings scheme.

No mention of cutting the $1,000 kickstart  contribution by government.

In fact, National made no mention whatsoever of removing the $,1000 kickstart contribution at the last election. Claire Trevett at the NZ Herald wrote this informative piece on the issue;

A broken promise is when someone reneges on something they promised to do or not do.

If you were silent, say, about axing the $1000 kickstart payment for new KiwiSaver members, it is not a broken promise, strictly speaking.

But it is an act of bad faith, especially when it happens in the first Budget following an election in which kickstart payments were not mentioned.

The amount of tinkering and tampering with the KiwiSaver scheme since it was announced in 2005 is incredible.

Most of Labour’s changes served to benefit the saver at the expense of the public purse. Not surprising seeing as it began the scheme.

And most of National’s tampering has reduced benefits to the saver and helped the public purse.

Very few other media commentators and columnists have taken National to task for what is undeniably a blatant election broken promise.

Cutting the $1,000 kick-start contribution is short-sighted. Even English had to admit on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, on 23 May;

“…and New Zealand savings rates are now— have been positive for five years for the first time in decades.”

Our improved saving record has not come about because of anything National has done (despite English’s insistence). In fact, National has undermined every effort to improve this country’s dismal savings record.

In 1975, the then-Muldoon-led National government dumped the previous Labour government’s superannuation savings-policy. This cost our nation an estimated $278 billion (according to Infometrics and  the Financial Services Council).

The 2014 Infometrics report calculated that;

“… a worker on the average wage would have saved $256,000 in the scheme over the past 40 years.”

But Muldoon could not wait to get his meddling hands on the scheme, and like many things he touched, it died.

The same applies to the current Kiwisaver scheme.

The current Key-led National government’s piece by piece  gutting of Kiwisaver – ongoing since 2008 – confirms that no superannuation savings scheme is safe from that party’s political interference.

In this instance, removing the $1,000 kick-start contribution is a direct consequence of National’s ill-conceived tax cuts in 2009 and 2010, which left a gaping hole in National’s taxation-revenue.

In effect, New Zealanders continue to pay for those two unaffordable tax-cuts, whether by cutting back on government services such as bio-security; under-funding social organisations such as Relationships Aotearoa; increasing government user-charges such as Family Court fees, medical prescriptions; taxing children; introducing new taxes, etc, etc, etc.

National was so desperate to win the 2008 general election that despite the Global Financial Crisis, it proceeded with tax cuts that we simply could not afford.

National must now cut every form of expenditure it thinks it can get away with, if it is to escape the prospect of another Budget deficit next year.

We are the ones paying for what, essentially, was an election bribe.

On this occasion, though, our children will end up paying as well.

Addendum1

For more invaluable information, refer to Audrey Young’s excellent piece in the Herald, Why axing kickstart is an act of bad faith.

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References

Radio NZ: PM defends scrapping of KiwiSaver kickstart

NBR: Key signals ‘modest changes’ to KiwiSaver

Wikipedia: 2008 General Election

Bill English: National’s Economic Management Plan

NZ Herald:  Why axing kickstart is an act of bad faith

Fairfax media: Compulsory super ‘would be worth $278b’

Scoop media: National Reveals Biosecurity Cuts

NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse: Changes signalled to funding of community organisations; Relationships Aotearoa may close

Scoop media: Vulnerable children at risk from Family Court fees increase

NZ Herald: Prescription fees increase

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 ‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media: International airfares will rise new departure tax

Additional

NZ Herald:  National denies it misled voters over taxes

Previous related blogposts

Regret at dumping compulsory super – only 37 years too late

Did National knowingly commit economic sabotage post-2008?

Budget 2013: Suffer the little children… to starve

National guts Kiwisaver

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 12: No More Asset Sales (Kind of)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 May 2015.

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