Home > The Body Politic > Four Ways to Madness, Kiwi-style – a day in our media

Four Ways to Madness, Kiwi-style – a day in our media

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crazy-promises

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September 15 – A day in our history when four items of news were reported in our media, and few people seemed aware of  the new depths of craziness that our country has sunk to.

It was said that the old Soviet system was riddled with contradictions that, by 1991, led to it’s demise.

That charge could just as easily be levelled against the neo-liberal system, where the pursuit of the almighty dollar/euro/yen/etc has resulted in levels of crazy contradictions that are becoming more apparent with each passing day, and  increasingly difficult to sustain and justify by it’s proponents.

Those contradictions, I suspect, were part of the reason of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension in the British Labour Party, and left-wing governments gaining ground in France, Greece, and elsewhere.

New Zealand has often been behind the times, so it may take a wee while longer for voters to fully comprehend that the neo-liberal system is a fraud, with only a few benefitting.

Four headlines. Four more examples of “free” market, corporate quackery. Four more nails in the neo-liberal coffin.

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Nail #1

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Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in - radio nz - Bright Foods - China - state owned enterprise

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The purchaser of Silver Fern is Shanghai Making Aquarius Group. Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group will be purchasing a 50% shareholding of Silver Fern, paying $261 million for the buy-in.

Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group is one of four subsidiaries of Bright Foods, a State Owned Enterprise, 100% owned by the Chinese government (though registered in the Cayman Islands – no doubt for tax-avoidance purposes). Bright Foods owns 39.12% (as of September 2015) of Synlait Milk Ltd, which it bought into five years ago.

At $261 million, the purchase price is still a small fraction of the estimated US$4 trillion it has “in foreign currency reserves, which it is determined to invest overseas to earn a profit and exert its influence“, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

As usual, our National-led government has turned a blind eye to yet another buy-up of one of New Zealand’s primary industry producers.

Yet, with a 50% holding, that almost guarantees that half of Silver Fern’s profits will end up going back to Bright Foods and the Chinese government.

Another report states that investors from China are set to invest US$10.9 billion in our real estate, according to said Andrew Taylor, Juwai.com’s co-chief executive;

“Juwai.com projects that the pilot program will enable US$11 billion of new Chinese money to flow into New Zealand’s real estate market. That’s based on wealthy Chinese investing 10 per cent of their assets into international property, including commercial. It’s also based on NZ getting about 3.3 per cent of that property-specific investment, as it has in the past.

The question is; why is it permissable for a  foreign State Owned Enterprise to buy up New Zealand companies – whilst our own government is busy shedding ownership of Genesis Energy, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand, land owned by Landcorp, and houses owned by Housing NZ?

Why does National think that State ownership by the NZ Government in our productive industries is undesirable – but State ownership by foreign nations is perfectly acceptable?

This appears to be a major flaw in  neo-liberal ideology and one that National has yet to confront head-on.

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Nail #2

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Radio NZ - Politicians fling flag barbs - flag referendum - john key - red peak - andrew little

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It has been fairly obvious that the flag referendum has been foisted upon New Zealand for two reasons,

  1. A distraction to deflect public and media attention away from the deepening economic downturn that has every indication of turning into another full-blown recession,
  2. A personal vanity-project for John Key, because eradicating child poverty; addressing the Auckland housing crisis; or making meaningful inroads into New Zealand’s worsening greenhouse gas emissions is not the kind of legacy our esteemed Dear Leader thinks is important enough to warrant his attention (he is a busy man).

On 14 September, John Key surprised many people by “reaching out” to the NZ Labour Party to assist National to include the so-called “red peak” flag in  the up-coming referendum. As Radio NZ reported Key’s comments;

“If I drop out one of them, if I drop out one particular flag, there will be a group that will say that was wrong because I was going to vote for that – there will be another group that will say ‘I just didn’t realise this was a process that could be influenced through social campaign’.

If you look at Labour, they’ve been very disingenuous throughout the whole process so if I’ve got to go back to Parliament and change the law to have five, are you really telling me they wouldn’t then run a campaign that said I’m wasting Parliament’s time because I’m now going back to it?

I mean, these people can play games forever.

Well, they would need to go back and change their position on the flag process, instead of lying to the public and saying they’re opposed to this when their policy is actually to change the flag.

If they want to treat the whole process with respect, they’re welcome to come and have a discussion with me, but that is not the way they’ve played this thing.

And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

There seemed an element of desperation in Key’s plaintive demand for Labour’s support on the issue.

Which is hardly surprising, as support for the “red peak” option had surpassed 50,000 in an on-line petition – a number equivalent to the 50,000 who marched through Auckland in May 2010, opposing National’s proposed mining in protected Schedule 4 DoC conservation land and marine reserves. The sheer number forced National to back down, and on 20 July 2010, then-Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced;

“At the time the discussion document was released, I made it clear that it was a discussion. There were no preconceived positions from the Government. We have no intention of mining national parks.”

The question though is, who is playing games here?

Andrew Little explained;

“The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

A brief explanation on what is an Order In Council;

Order in Council
A type of Legislative Instrument that is made by the Executive Council presided over by the Governor-General. Most Legislative Instruments are made by way of Order in Council. For more information about the Executive Council, see the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website. To find Orders in Council on this website, search or browse under Legislative Instruments.

Source: Parliament – Legislation – Glossary

Executive Council

The Executive Council is the highest formal instrument of government. It is the part of the executive branch of government that carries out formal acts of government.

By convention, the Executive Council comprises all Ministers of the Crown, whether those Ministers are inside or outside Cabinet. The Governor-General presides over, but is not a member of, the Executive Council. When a new Cabinet is sworn in, Ministers are first appointed as Executive Councillors and then receive warrants for their respective Ministerial portfolios.

The principal function of the Executive Council is to advise the Governor-General to make Orders in Council that are required to give effect to the Government’s decisions. Apart from Acts of parliament, Orders in Council are the main method by which the government implements decisions that need legal force. The Executive Council also meets from time to time to carry out formal acts of state.

Meetings

The Executive Council generally meets every Monday. At the meetings, the Executive Council gives formal advice to the Governor-General to sign Orders in Council (to make, for example, regulations or appointments). The meetings also provide an opportunity for Ministers to brief the Governor-General on significant political and constitutional issues that may have arisen during the week.

Source: Department of the Priome Minister and Cabinet – Executive

So apparently, unless I am missing something else, Andrew Little is 100% correct; “The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

Which then begs the question; why is John Key trying to strong-arm Labour into supporting the addition of  the “red peak” option onto the ballot paper?

Answer: He is attempting to manufacture “cross party support” to extricate his government from a tricky situation. The flag referendum appears to be spiralling out of control with popular support growing for a flag design that is not simply a pathetic branding exercise (ie; silver fern) – but has become popular with a significant portion of the country.

If Key is to bow to popular pressure, he desperately needs Labour to come on-board, to neutralise a  guarenteed attack from the Opposition benches. As Key himself said on 15 September;

“And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

In effect, Key is employing precisely the same tactic Labour employed in 2007, where Helen Clark sought cross-party support to pass the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act (a.k.a the ‘Anti-Smacking Act’).

National’s parliamentary support, fronted by the then-Opposition Leader, John Key, gave a “seal of approval” from the Political Liberal-Right, to an otherwise contentious piece of legislation that was provoking howls of hysterical outrage from certain quarters.

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Key - Clarke- section 59 repeal

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Bringing Key on-board was risky for Labour, as it elevated Key to a near-equal position with then-Prime Minister, Helen Clark. But it was seen as necessary, to attempt to dilute the perception that this was “social engineering” inspired by Labour-Green “extremists”.

Eight years later, and this time John Key needs Labour to stifle a growing disenchantment with his personal vanity-project, which is threatening to take on a life of it’s own.

Key cannot afford to lose control of the flag debate. There is a reason that this is a binding referendum –  the framing of the debate; the four choices; and the sequence of questions (#1, which alternative flag do you want, followed by #2, pick one of two flags, an alternative or the current one) – are all under his personal control, via the Executive Council.

Andrew Little is correct, our esteemed Dear Leader could choose to add the “red peak” option by an Order in Council. Key does not require Labour’s assistance, either constitutionally or legally. But he doesn’t want to leave himself open to ridicule from Labour, and the perception that he has “lost control”.

When John Key stated on 15 September;

“I’m more than happy to meet with him but only on the condition it’s not about a yes or no vote. A yes or no vote doesn’t work. It doesn’t deliver what New Zealanders want.”

–  he was not talking about “what New Zealanders want”.

He was talking about what he, John Key, wants. And he needs Labour to do it.

The question is: why should Labour help Key?

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Nail #3

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This next bit comes courtesy from Paula Bennett, currently  Minister for Social Housing.

Radio NZ reported on 15 September,

A government think tank has released its final report on the country’s social services and is urging major reform.

But the Productivity Commission is unable to offer specific solutions as to how the government should deal with the group that is most difficult to look after.

Every year, the country spends $34 billion on social services, more than 10 percent of the GDP.

Read today’s final report into social services by the Productivity Commission (PDF, 4.3MB)

The commission recommends a move away from the current top-down approach, with more responsibility given to providers.

But it could not decide how to deal with the people with the most complex needs, instead suggesting that the government look at two possible solutions.

One option would be a standalone agency which oversees a client’s case across a number of agencies.

The second would be to fund District Health Boards (DHBs) to be responsible for the country’s most disadvantaged people.

It also recommends establishing a Ministerial Committee of Social Services, rather than an Office of Social Services, which had been recommended in its draft report. The ministerial committee would be responsible for reform of the sector.

The commission has defined social services as those including health care, social care, education and training, employment services and community services.

It has looked at agencies and services including Housing New Zealand, Work and Income, Whanau Ora, services for people with disabilities, and home care for the elderly.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, Paula Bennett was quick to reassure listeners that National was not penny-pinching at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society;

@ 2.47

“But we’ve never thought that money was the problem as such. If it needs more money, we will.”

The usual lie from a National Minister, considering the severe funding cutbacks to community organisations such as Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, community health organisations, Relationship Aotearoa, and many others.

But the following words to gush from her mouth simply beggared belief;

“What we’ve been really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that we’re targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them.”

“Data analytics”?!

Bennett was adamant that  National has been  “really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that”  they are  “targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them

Let’s take a moment to step back in time.

Specifically, set temporal co-ordinates of your Toyota Tardis to 16 August 2012. This NZ Herald story, from that year, tells the story;

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Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett

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The question here is; How can Bennett “target the right services to the right kids and more importantly get actual results for them” – when three years ago she stated categorically that finding the “data analytics” was not a priority?

What “data analytics” is she talking about?

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Nail #4

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The fiasco surrounding  the private company running Mt Eden and Wiri prisons got more bizarre on 15 September when it was revealed that  Serco had been let off $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

Fines for breaching the contract between Serco and the Crown are one of the few sanctions that the government can levy on the company for not upholding contractual obligations.

A 15 September report from Radio NZ revealed;

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Serco let off $270k in fines - Minister

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The story then explained why  the heading – “$270k in fines’ – was an under-estimation;

Under questioning from Green Party corrections spokesperson David Clendon this afternoon, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-liga spelt out the sum of Serco’s cancelled fines.

“Mr Speaker, since Serco took over management of Mt Eden Prison in 2011, I’m advised that Corrections has issued a total of 55 performance notices to Serco – seven have been withdrawn,” Mr Lotu-liga said.

“And the total amount of the withdrawals is $275,000.”

But it seems there are more fines that Serco has had cancelled and Mr Clendon asked the minister about one of them.

“Does the minister approve of Corrections’ decision to excuse the $100,000 fine that was imposed when Serco failed to take back razors that had been issued to prisoners, to inmates, if so why?” Mr Clendon asked.

Mr Lotu-liga responded that that was not one of the seven withdrawn fines he was referring too.

The chronically inept and terminally-tragic Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-liga, was either unaware of the $100,000 fine – or was wilfully engaged in a cover-up.

However, whether the actual figure of $275,000 or $375,000 is actually irrelevant.

What is truly astounding is that someone within either the Minister’s office or the Corrections Dept had made the decision to scrub $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

The obvious questions which beg to be asked and answered are;

  1. Who made the decision to dismiss $375,000 in fines issued to Serco?
  2. Why was the decision made to dismiss the fines?
  3. Does the same principle  of waiving fines extend to every citizen in New Zealand who has exceeded the speed limit; parked illegally; or committed  some other offence which resulted in a monetary penalty?
  4. What the hell is going on?!

The next time our esteemed Dear Leader or some other National minister utter the phrase, “One law for all” – they should be immediatly reminded that obviously “One Law for All” does not extend to companies like Serco.

15 September – one hell of a day for National. It got about as crazy as crazy can be in this country.

Or is there more to come?

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References

Radio NZ: Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in

Wikipedia: Bright Foods

NZ Companies Office: Synlait Milk Limited

China Daily: China’s Bright Dairy invests in NZ’s Synlait

NY Times: China’s Global Ambitions, With Loans and Strings Attached

NZ Herald: Chinese investment set to boom

Radio NZ: Red Peak – Politicians fling flag barbs

Ministry for the Environment:  New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2013

Radio NZ: A flutter of hope for Red Peak?

NZ Herald: Red Peak – 50,000 strong petition handed over at Parliament

Fairfax media: Thousands march against mining

TV3: Govt confirms no mining Schedule 4, national parks

Te Ara – The NZ Enclyclopedia: Cross-party negotiation on legislation

Radio NZ: Major social service changes recommended

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Government willing to spend more on social services (alt. link)

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

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

Scoop media: Relationships Aotearoa – our story

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Radio NZ: Serco let off $270k in fines – Minister

Radio NZ: Serco let off $375k in fines (alt. link)

Previous related blogposts

Kiwis, Cows, and Canadian singers

That was Then, this is Now #10

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

Three Questions to Key, Williamson, Coleman, et al

Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

Why Labour should NEVER play the “race card”

Letter to the editor: An idea regarding a new(ish) flag

The Flag Referendum – A strategy for Calm Resistance

Flying the flags of discontent – MOBILISE!

It’s a Man’s World, I guess

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

So what is the rationale for private prisons?

Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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184mupp

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 Septembr 2015.

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= fs =

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  1. Deb Kean
    22 September 2015 at 12:55 pm

    That’s a good summary, Frank – thank you!
    Deb 🙂

  2. 23 September 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Hey Frank…. Still wondering, like me, why they decided to add the Red Peak flag today, but not save ourselves the time, money and energy by adding the current flag onto the ballot too? Bad enough watching John Key blame Andrew Little for the impasse. Laughs.

    As for Paula Bennett and Sam Lotu-liga: nothing is new with this self-serving, hypocritical government. By the time we’re talking about Silver Fern farms, I just give up.

    The meme is appropriate, as always.

    • Deb Kean
      23 September 2015 at 5:05 pm

      I truly believe that our new flag will be Red Peak (thanks, Greens). The guy behind Red Peak and the promotion of it is described on Radio New Zealand as a “venture capitalist” after all..
      Deb

      • 23 September 2015 at 11:24 pm

        Well, I guess it gives folks another option, Deb.

        It’ll be interesting to see polling done, to assess public opinion, with the ‘red peak’ option thrown into the mix.

    • 23 September 2015 at 11:23 pm

      Hi Michael.

      I suspect Key agreed to add the “red peak” option because of it’s seeming popularity. His own preference is a silver fern, but I’m guessing he’ll settle for something else, as long as there is a change of some description. If the poll fails to deliver a new flag (whether fern or peak) his credibility will be dented and his one desperate legacy-venture will have collapsed.

      The motivator in all this? The recent TV3 poll showing 69% of respondents supporting the current flag. That has really spooked him.

      One thought that occurred to me about Paula Bennett and Sam Lotu-liga (and other National ministerial stuff-ups) – I doubt this government would still be popular if prime time tv broadcast serious, critical current affairs programmes, rather than the crass pap we’re served up now.

      The real reason the Nats are still high in the polls? Because the blow-torch of scrutiny, analysis, and criticism, has been relegegated to weekend mornings, and Radio NZ.

      TV1, TV3, Fairfax, and the Herald, are now critical-thought-free-zones, for all intents and purposes…

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