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Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

28 December 2015 Leave a comment

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In May 2013, I first reported on National’s gutting of Solid Energy, detailing how Finance Minister Bill English and then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, had used the State Owned Enterprise as a cash-cow, to assist the government to balance it’s books;

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Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

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The story details National’s ministerial interference on Solid’s Energy’s financial affairs; under-mining (pun unintended) it’s bio-fuels programme; and extracting huge dividends, as well as taxes paid, to fill government coffers.

At the end, as Solid Energy teetered on collapse, National ministers did what National ministers do in time of crisis; they blamed others for the crisis;

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Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

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Solid Energy was in debt. But not to “diversify” as Key claimed. The Prime Minister lied.

The debt was due in large part to Ministerial demands that Solid Energy borrow BIG, and pass those borrowings onto the government. This was a piece of accounting trickery, so National could claim, hand-on-heart, that it was not borrowing billions more. In actuality, the SOEs were doing the borrowing, and then passing the cash on to it’s shareholder, the government. This was borrowing-by-proxy by the government.

That is how desperate National was to claw back as much lost revenue due to the Global Financial Crisis/Recession, and unaffordable two tax cuts (2009, 2010) which they had promised during their 2008 election campaign and which has cost government an estimated $4.5 billion annually.

In 2009, English instructed all SOEs to increase their debt. This Statement of  Corporate Intent is clear in National’s expectations;

I would like all SOEs to increase their gearing from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Solid Energy may have the capacity to sustain a 40% gearing ratio.

I urge the Solid Energy Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends. “

Not only was National instructing SOEs (including Solid Energy) to borrow more (and then pass the cash on to the Government’s Consolidated Fund), it was also openly raiding their bank accounts by demanding “all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

Furthermore,  not only were English and Power expecting higher profits diverted from SOEs, they  demanded two dividends per year instead of just one;

“I would also like to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more consistent share of profits is returned to the Crown as shareholder.

In this regard, I propose that the Solid Energy Board give serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 65% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.”

On  18 August 2009, Bill English met with Solid Energy’s then-Chairperson, John Palmer. After that meeting, Solid Energy increased its gearing (borrowing/debt) from around 25% to 35%, and changed the way it  accounted for mine rehabilitation costs.

This was a cash-grab on an unprecedented scale, and one that went largely un-noticed by media, Parliamentary Opposition, and the public.

On 13 March 2013, soon after Solid Energy’s massive $389 million debt became public, English was forced to concede that  National has mishandled governance of Solid Energy;

“The decisions about how much debt to incur was made by the board.

In Solid Energy’s case it turned out that a company operating in the world coal market, which is now so volatile, would have been better off with no debt – in retrospect that’s easy to see, at the time it wasn’t.”

However, in claiming that “decisions about how much debt to incur was made by the board“, the Finance Minister lied.

Solid Energy had been directed to increase it’s debt by Ministers English and Power – not by the SOE’s Board. The Treasury document above are a paper-trail evidencing National’s determination to increase it’s revenue at any costs (literally).

Both Key and English have consistently lied on this issue.

More recently, on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on Friday 14 August, Guyon Espiner interviewed Finance Minister, Bill English, on Solid Energy’s corporate demise.

At one point, under persistent questioning by ‘Checkpoint‘ host, Guyon Espiner, English admitted National’s role in Solid Energy’s financial woes;

Espiner: But I’ll tell you what you also did, and you’ll remember this well in 2009, you looked at the balance sheets of SOEs and you decided that many of them could carry more debt and in fact you presided over a massive expansion in Solid Energy’s debt and in formal letters your government encouraged them to significantly increase their debt. That was a mistake wasn’t it?

English: Well, at the time it was valued, well actually that time, was valued about $3 billion and they took debt up to $300 million. It was a… As it turned out it was the pressure that put on the cash flow, well, the issues it raised, that got the government and, ah, the officials differing with the Board and that’s all on the record.

Espiner: Yes, so why did you, because you took their gearing ratio from about 14% in 09 up to 35% in 2010, 41% in 2012. So you presided, in fact, encouraged Solid Energy to take on the debt that they have eventually drowned in.

English: Well we worked with the Board over , over making sure the Crown was actually getting something out of the business. Um, certainly, in retrospect the debt levels got too high [garbled].

Espiner: So do you take the blame for that? Because, you failed there. You encouraged them to take on more debt and they’ve drowned in it.

English: Ahh, between us and the company, yes, we’re responsible for that.

There we have it. Under Espiner’s persistant questioning and quoting of facts, English had no place to hide; no one else to blame; and no lies he could resort to.

English had admitted that his government had gutted Solid Energy, and used it as a proxy for borrowing.

Then, under further questioning, English made one of the more bizarre assertions ever made by a politician (incest, chem-trails, and  moonlanding hoaxes notwithstanding);

Espiner: What about the dividend programme? You stripped more than $160 million in dividends out of this company over four years. Was that a good thing to do, given the state of the company, and couldn’t if they’d reinvested that money in the company been in some sort of position to keep the thing afloat?

English: Ah, no, precisely the opposite. And this has been the case with SOEs for years. If you leave the cash in there, generally, ah, they waste it. And, ah, in fact, one of the interactions here was we required a dividend because it was a company that was making money –

Espiner: Well hang on. Sorry to interrupt you but that’s an extraordinary statement to make, ‘You leave the cash in there and they waste it’?

National, of course, never wastes money. They never waste money on subsidising Rio Tinto; subsidising SkyCity; subsidising Charter Schools; subsidising Hollywood corporations like Warner Bros; subsidising Saudi businessmen to the tune of $11.5 million. Nor does National waste money on two tax cuts which were utterly unaffordable, being funded by  heavy overseas borrowing.

Espiner quite rightly mocked English’s ludicrous justification for government looting of Solid Energy;

Espiner: So it was better for you to take the money out, put it in the Consolidated Fund, let the company take on more debt, and they’ve eventually blown up.

This is the party that many New Zealanders believe is a “fiscally responsible manager of our economy”?!

Unfortunately, National’s mis-management does not end there.

The latest SOE to disclose financial difficulties is Landcorp;

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Landcorp in 'pretty tight situation' – English

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Landcorp’s current liabilities amount to $359 million, whilst it’s assets amount to $1.846 billion, according to the company’s half-yearly statement.

What is not mentioned anywhere is that, according to a document from Treasury’s Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit (CCMAU), the National Government sent a letter to Landcorp’s Board  making similar demands for higher dividends that it made to Solid Energy;

Firstly, as the CCMAU chart below shows, National’s expectations were that Landcorp increase its “gearing” (borrowed funds against a company’s equity) from 11% to 20% – a near doubling;

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CCMAU - SOE gearing and dividend expectations - national government

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Note also that National demanded 75% of Landcorp’s net operating profit as a dividend; two dividend payments per year;  and  as much as  100% of operating cash flow.

In a 2009 letter to Landcorp, Ministers Bill English and Simon Power demanded the following from the SOE’s Board;

“I am minded to increase the gearing of all SOEs from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Landcorp may have the capacity to sustain a 20% gearing ratio. I urge the Landcorp Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends.

I am also minded to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more reliable share of profits is returned to the Crown, as shareholder. In this regard, I propose that the Landcorp Board gives serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 100% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.”

In the same letter, English and Powers  outlined revising “the land sale moratorium imposed on Landcorp as part of the Protected Land Agreement (PLA)“.

The letter to Solid Energy followed the same pattern;

I would like all SOEs to increase their gearing from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Solid Energy may have the capacity to sustain a 40% gearing ratio. I urge the Solid Energy Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends. I note that Solid Energy currently has a gearing target of 35%, including the company’s rehabilitation liability as if it were debt.

Given that the nature of the rehabilitation liability is significantly different from debt, I am sceptical that this is an appropriate treatment. I have asked my officials to engage with you on this issue.

I would also like to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more consistent share of profits is returned to the Crown as shareholder.

In this regard, I propose that the Solid Energy Board give serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 65% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.

Almost identical letters. Except for the 20% gearing ratio, which differed from Solid Energy’s more onerous 40%, the demands placed on Landcorp were the same; high gearing (borrowing); higher dividends; and all surplus cash to be paid over to the Crown.

National was looting every SOE of every spare dollar.

The questions now demanding  answers;

  • How many other SOEs have been left in a similar parlous state to Solid Energy and Landcorp?
  • How much damage has been caused to SOEs due to unreasonable dividend and cash demands made to their Boards?
  • How much longer are New Zealanders willing to maintain the fiction that National is a “prudent fiscal manager of the economy”?

And the last question;

  • Which SOE will be next to disclose a dire financial state?

For Bill English and John Key, a whole bunch of chickens have suddenly come home to roost.

Some very, very expensive chickens.

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References

Radio NZ: Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

Green Party: Asset sales bring in less than cost of National’s tax cuts to top 10%

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1875419)

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1732352)

TV3 News: Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

Radio NZ: Morning Report – English defends Govt’s record over Solid Energy (alt. link)

TV3 News: Landcorp in ‘pretty tight situation’ – English

New Zealand Farming Landcorp Farming Limited: Half year report for the six months ended 31 December 2014

Additional

Radio NZ: When is an asset sale not an asset sale?

Previous related blogposts

The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies?

Dirty Dealings with Solid Energy

That was Then, This is Now #18 (Solid Energy)

Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis (Part Rua)

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

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solid energy - english - ryall

 

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Welcome back, Collins

15 December 2015 Leave a comment

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Judith Collins' return to Cabinet - John Key had no choice but to reinstate 'the Crusher' - NZ Herald

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I’m happy-as-larry to have Judith Collins back as a Minister in this scandal-prone government.

I don’t know what possessed our esteemed Dear Leader to re-appoint her. One of them obviously has something on the other. But truth tell – I don’t much care.

Fellow blogger, Curwen Rolinson, has already detailed her impressively lengthy list of stuff-ups.

She is the gift that keeps giving and I’m waiting how long before the next pratfall, scandal, mis-use of ministerial power, and links to right-wing loony bloggers, hits our headlines. The woman just can’t help herself. Her bloated attitude of entitlement/power over-rides any modicum of common sense she might possess.

I’m betting the entire Press Gallery will be keeping a close eye on her.  As will be every opposition politician, political scientist, blogger, pundit, etc.

Scrutiny of her activities will be unlike anything ever experienced by past or contemporary members of parliament. Media will be falling over themselves to be the first ‘break’ news of her next cluster-f**k.

Worse still, Collins’ next stuff-up will damage not just her career, as well as undermine Key’s perceived reputation for sound decision-making (for reinstating her) – but also the National Party’s future ability to govern, with “the Crusher” as a potential Leader-in-waiting. New Zealanders are not ready for a third-rate, self-absorbed “Kiwi Donald Trump” – one prone to “errors of judgement” on a seemingly regular basis.

‘Fun’ days ahead.

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References

NZ Herald: Judith Collins’ return to Cabinet: John Key had no choice but to reinstate ‘the Crusher’

Previous related blogposts

Letter to the Editor: Judith Collins

Letter to the Editor: Mana, Internet Party, Judith Collins, and “coat-tailing”

Judith Collins – Minister of Talking Crap

Judith Collins – Hypocrite of the Week

Are Cameron Slater and Judith Collins bare-faced liars?

Judith Collins – the Gift that keeps Giving to the Opposition?

Other bloggers

Bowalley Road: The Secret Agreement

The Daily Blog: “Judith Collins Is An Unaccountable Monster. It Believes It Is Outside The Law”: On Collins, the SuperCity, Democratic Solution-Making & Accountability

The Standard: Hey Tracy Watkins – Judith Collins was not “cleared” of dirty politics

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 December 2015.

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Categories: The Body Politic Tags:

Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

7 December 2015 2 comments

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official-information-act-OIA-NZ

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A formal complaint has been laid with the Ombudsman’s Office after Education Minister, Hekia Parata, failed to comply with the Official Information Act.

A OIA request was lodged with the Minister’s Office by this blogger, seeking details of National’s Food In Schools programme, which was announced in May 2013. The limited programme, costed at $9.5 million, offered low decile 1-4 schools free milk and Weet-Bix throughout the school week. It would be run in conjunction with Fonterra, Sanitarium and children’s charity KidsCan.

The $9.5 million would be spread over a five year period, from 2013 to 2018.

More critically for National, the expanded “Kick Start” breakfast programme was promoted to directly counter Hone Harawira’s more comprehensive Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill which at the time was rapidly gaining traction throughout the country.

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food in schools

 

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Mana Party leader and then-MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira, said on 24 January, 2013;

It’s a pretty simple bill really. Invest in making sure the 80,000 kids going to school hungry each week are fed and ready to learn and realise the benefits in better educated and healthier school leavers down the track”.

In Parliament, Harawira was clear on the benefits of his Food in Schools Bill;

It is nice to know that KidsCan feeds some 10,000 of them on most days, and that the KickStart Breakfast programme feeds about 12,000 a day, but the reality is that even with the Government’s announcement in last year’s Budget, nearly 80,000 children are still going to school hungry in Aotearoa every single day. Yes, schools around the country have started their own breakfast clubs with support from teachers, students, parents, local businesses, and the wider community, but they tell us that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of goodwill to keep them going, and that having secure funding would be a godsend.

The really embarrassing thing is that nearly every country in the OECD, apart from us, already runs programmes to feed kids at school. Some countries like Finland and Sweden provide fully State-funded meals to every school student as part of a wider framework of child well-being. It is a commitment that sees them regularly top the international surveys in child health and educational achievement. Some countries provide free meals to kids with parents on low incomes, and others provide free meals to schools in areas of high deprivation. But although the approaches differ, they all share the same view, backed up by the same kind of research and information from teachers, doctors, nurses, and policy analysts that is available to us here: kids need a good feed every day if they are to develop into healthy and well-educated adults. New Zealand really needs to join the rest of the enlightened world and make a commitment to feeding our kids, starting with those in greatest need, to help them to grow well and learn well.

Harawira’s Bill was supported by a range of diverse groups and individuals ranging from Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, the NZ Educational Institute, as well as Child Poverty Action Group, Every Child Counts, Unicef NZ, Save the Children, IHC, Poverty Action Waikato, the Methodist and Anglican Churches (Methodist Public Issues and Anglican Action), Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League), PPTA, NZ Principals’ Federation, CTU Rūnanga, the NZ Nurses’ Organisation, and Te Ora – the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association.

Harawira’s Bill was estimated to cost upwards of $100 million.

This contrasts with the  Children Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, which reported in December 2012 that the total economic costs of child poverty ranged up to $8 billion;

Currently, the economic costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 billion per year
and considerable sums of public money are spent annually on remedial interventions. Failure
to alleviate child poverty now will damage the nation’s long-term prosperity. It will also
undermine the achievement of other important policy priorities, such as reducing child abuse,
lifting educational attainment and improving skill levels.

In July 2013, Herald journalist, Kate Shuttleworth, reported;

In December 2012 the Expert Advisory Group on solutions to Child Poverty – a group comprising policy, public health and law experts – recommended that a food programme starting with decile 1-to-4 primary and intermediate schools, be implemented as one of their six initial priorities for immediate release.

[…]

Figures show 270,000 children in New Zealand – one in four – live in poverty.

Dennis McKinlay, Chairman of ‘Every Child Counts‘,  stated that 169 countries had a food in schools programme.

Shockingly, the Bill was eventually defeated in a Parliamentary vote of 61 votes to 59, with ACT and Peter Dunne also voting against it. The New Zealand government spends billions on school infra-structure, but not to feed hungry school-children from poverty-stricken families.

On 27 October, this blogger lodged a OIA request with Education minister, Hekia Parata. The request sought answers to the following;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response or even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Readers of The Daily Blog will be kept updated as this issue progresses.

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Addendum1

Parata has apparently “gone to ground” on this issue. It is not the first time she failed failed to respond to media enquiries; requests for interviews; or fronted at events for which she has direct responsibility.

From a blogpost published on 18 January 2013;

Muppet #1 – Hekia Parata

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I actually think she’s a very effective communicator; in fact if you look at her history in politics, she’s been one of the smoothest communicators we’ve actually had.” – John Key, 18 January 2013

See: Parata safe in her job – Key

Prime Minister John Key says Education Minister Hekia Parata will be safe in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, … because she is hugely talented and one of National’s best communicators.

See: Parata’s job safe in shuffle

*snort!*

I’d be a happy chappy if the Nats DID have more like her in Cabinet!!

If she’s one of the Nat’s “best communicators”, I’d luv to know why she’s kept ducking calls for media interviews and instead sent Lesley Longstone to cover for Parata’s f**k-ups,

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2 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (2)

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3 October 2012

Ministry of Education admits some errors in data

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4 October 2012

Education Minister avoids her critics

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26 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (3)

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29 October 2013

Longstone challenged to find solutions

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14 November 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (1)

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28 November 2012

lesley longstone Schools still beset by Novopay problems

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When Lesley Longstone’s resignation was announced last year on 19 December, Hekia Parata was still nowhere to be seen. The announcement was handled by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie (see:  Education secretary quits),

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19 December 2012

lesley longstone Education secretary quits

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20 December 2012

lesley longstone Parata, Key refuse to front over education debacle

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Parata’s office explained why she couldn’t front,

Parata is currently on holiday and has refused to front on Longstone’s resignation, but in a statement released this afternoon she thanked Longstone for her efforts in leading the Ministry.

See: Education Ministry boss quits after ‘strained relationship’

Hmmmm, judging by Parata not fronting for most of last year, was she on holiday for most of 2012?!

“Smooth communicator…”!?

Ye gods, this deserves a Tui billboard.

Roll on 2013 – it’s going to be a great year.

Addendum2

In January 2013, Hekia Parata’s responsibilities surrounding Novopay were transferred to Minister For Everything, Steven Joyce. Joyce was not above publicly denouncing those responsible for the Novopay debacle;

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government-sticking-with-novopay-for-now

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References

Kickstart Breakfast Programme

Radio NZ: Food in schools ‘could get good results’

Feedthekids: Support grows for MANA’s Feed the Kids Bill

Parliament: Harawira, Hone: Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Feedthekids: Feed the Kids Bill a “good initiative” – Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

NZEI: Food in schools bill will help children learn

NZ Herald: Food in schools bill delayed for second time

Commissioner for Children:  Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty

NZ Herald: Head boy disappointed in Dunne over food bill

ODT: Joyce to take on handling of Novopay

Every Child Counts

Radio NZ: Government sticking with Novopay for now

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

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The hypocrisy from world leaders overCharlie begins to rattle observers. NZ's John Key's words of January 8 in particular raised many eyebrows amongst the'4th Estate'. Rod Emmerson 14/01/15

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

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Media stories of the Week: Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

6 December 2015 2 comments

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Every so often, the mainstream news media do their job well, and little nuggets of insights are revealed…

Also on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, Police Commissioner Mike Bush was interviewed by veteran journalist-broadcaster, Lisa Owen.

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commisioner mike bush - the nation - 28 november 2015

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Some of the responses she elicited from the country’s most senior policeman were revealing.

Issue 1: The troubling case of Dr Jarrod Gilbert

On Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, this country woke to disturbing news that NZ Police hierarchy were censoring academic researchers and preventing the use of collated data if it did not meet with their “standards”.

As reported by Radio NZ;

Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury, said police had told him he could not get simple data on where incidents such as assaults happen because of his association with gangs.

He said that association should come as no surprise.

“I entered the field as an academic and did the two largest studies on gangs this country’s ever seen.

“So in effect I’m being banned from studying crime, because I hang out with criminals, it’s just insane.”

Dr Gilbert said that Police insisted that academics sign a contract binding them to produce reports that did not have “negative results”;

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police contract with academics

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police contract with academics (2)

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police contract with academics (3)

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Acknowledgement for above screen-shots: Jarrod Gilbert’s Blog

Most reasonable people would be aghast that a State agency – especially one with uniquely coercive powers such as the NZ Police – would think it acceptable behaviour to impose such restrictions on free academic research. Such controls are rarely seen outside of autocratic regimes such as dictatorships, one-party states, and governments operating under war-time conditions and/or a State of Emergency.

What might have been appropriate under Pinochet’s Chile; Gaddafi’s Libya, or the former East German Democratic Republic, has been playing out under our noses in good old, laid-back, “She’ll Be Right“, New Zealand.

As Dr Gilbert’s story went from Radio NZ to the rest of the msm (temporarily setting aside stories relating to Ritchie McCaw’s knighthood and latest hero-worship of our esteemed Dear Leader), and criticism of the Police’s authoritarian stance drew more criticism,  Deputy Chief Executive [of? for?] Strategy Mark Evans defended his organisation’s quasi-Stalinistic controls over the free-flow of information.

At 1.40pm on the same day Dr Gilbert went public, Deputy Chief Executive Strategy Mark Evans issued this statement;

Police places a high value in academic research which provides evidence to improve Police policy and practice. It is essential that our policing strategies and tactics are effective and focused. Having an evidence-based approach towards policing enables us to understand ‘what works’ best, and then put that into practice. Police has strong links with academic institutions and individual researchers who are involved in a range of research to encourage debate on various aspects of police work.

Police receives a large number of individual requests for academic research – 37 applications in 2014.  While Police already publishes large volumes of data, such research requests often involve access to confidential information, which can include personal identifiers. There can also be a substantial resourcing commitment involved in providing such information. 

To ensure appropriate decisions are made about such applications there is a robust process in place to ensure that they have benefits for Police, are of good standard, meet our privacy obligations and are feasible in relation to the demands on Police time and resources.   This process includes a Police vetting check on individuals involved in a research application.

The research agreement which academics are expected to sign with Police sets out our expectations, including that research is accurate, balanced and constructive.  Police reserves the right to discuss research findings with the academic if it misunderstands or misrepresents police data and information. Police also reserves the right to prevent further access to Police resources if a researcher commits any breach of the agreement.

Our priority is always to ensure that an appropriate balance is drawn between the privacy of individuals and academic freedom.  To date Police have not prevented access by any academic under this clause in the agreement.

While we will not discuss specific matters regarding Dr Gilbert, we can say that we have communicated to him that further consideration will be given to our decision regarding the security clearance (police vetting) check.

END

It is as if the Police have never heard of the Official Information Act 1982.

However, this was far from the “END” as Evans put at the conclusion of his statement.

Three days later, Commissioner Mike Bush was forced to accept that Police policy was out of step with a supposedly open, transparent, and democratic society. On ‘The Nation‘, interviewed by Lisa Owen at National Police Headquarters (?), Bush stated;

“So, what’s happened in the last week has caused us to really have a look at our policy. It was possibly fit for purpose at one stage. It’s not fit for purpose now. We work in a dynamic environment. So that’s being reviewed as we speak, both the policy and the decision that was made in respect of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, and I’m sure you’ll hear more about our review of that next week. But it’s also important to point out that the intent of that was to keep people’s information private, and that’s why we have some policies and rules.

[…]

Yeah, that’s why we will be changing the wording of that policy and what it’s about, because the frustrating thing is it’s the opposite that’s true in terms of where we’re at at the moment. We’re wanting to build great relationships with academia because we’re determined to be a very evidence-based police service.”

It took three days, but hopefully the Police hierarchy have realised that this is not former East Germany or Pinochet’s Chile, and they are not the Kiwi-equivalent of the Stasi.

What should concern all New Zealanders, regardless of political persuasion, is not that the Police made this outrageous policy blunder – but that they thought it was appropriate in the first place.

It is my contention that Police actions in this area are symptomatic of a wider malaise in our country. Attitudes held by National, and others in positions of  State power, believe that State Authority over-rides freedom of information; civil liberties; and that the public are beholden to politicians and their state agency employees.

On 10 March 2014 John Key stated in an interview on ‘The Nation‘;

“You’ve got to think, we’ve been way more transparent than any other Government that’s been around…”

When a Prime Minister has to try to convince us that his government is “transparent”, there is a problem.

We shouldn’t have to be convinced if it’s true.

Issue 2: Police Budget

Lisa Owen raised the issue of funding for the Police. She asked;

“Okay. Well, you’re monitoring these detainees, and that is an example of the more jobs that you are being asked to do without extra funding, because, if you look at the figures, you’ve had to suck up, I think it is, about 300 million in new costs in the past four years without real budget increases. So where are you trimming to make ends meet?”

Commissioner Bush replied;

“So, the first thing is we have had an increase in our budget by 41 million recently.”

As this blogger reported on  30 October;

On top of which, using the Reserve Bank inflation calculator, it is fairly simple to determine that the Police budget has not kept pace with inflation.

Research going back to 2008 shows that Vote Police has  dropped in dollar-terms (using 2008 Dollars as the base), and in 2015/16, the Police will be allocated $1.422 billion (in 2008 dollars) – compared to the $1.445 billion in 2008.

‘Vote Police’ – Budgets 2008-2015 – Total Annual and Permanent Appropriations

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* Using Reserve Bank NZ Inflation Adjuster from Budget Month/Year Q2 dollars into 2008 Q2 dollars. (http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/monetary_policy/inflation_calculator/)

The figures do not support the claims made by the Commissioner of any increase to the Police budget.

Which raises the question why Commissioner Bush would make a statement that, as the country’s “top cop”, he must know is factually incorrect?  Claiming that the Police budget has increased when actually the opposite has occurred sounds like he is covering for the current National government.

Which is a distinct possibility recently raised by another blogger, Curwen Rolinson;

There is very much a two-way relationship between the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand National Party. They each work together to cover each other’s backs and to make the other partner look good. They’ve got it down to such a fine art that they don’t even necessarily need to sotto-voce instruct one another to make this happen. When something happens that might embarrass the Police, certain parts of the Government will step in or look the other way to ensure it doesn’t untowardly scandalize them (or, heaven forbid, actually provide serious impetus for change). Equally, when the Police turn up something that might take some of the luster out of the Government’s sails, they’ll deliberately hide, lie and obfuscate in order to make sure the “right” outcomes come out for their pals. Not necessarily as an organization, mind – occasionally as isolated individuals or as small-scale units … but the effect is all the same.

Admitting that the Police budget has suffered ongoing cuts (after inflation is factored in) would definitely “take some of the luster out of the Government’s sails” – something embarrassing to a party that has made a fetish out of being “staying strong on crime“.

Commissioner Bush’s statement on the Police budget was revealing, but not quite as he intended.

Issue 3: ISIS/terrorism

On 24 February 2015, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee announced that National would be sending troops to Iraq to “train Iraqi soldiers” in their fight against ISIS.

Chipping in for his mate, Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, said at the time;

“The New Zealand government has been very clear that in addition to deploying non-combat troops to help train Iraqi forces, we also need to take steps to combat ISIL at the diplomatic level and provide humanitarian support to those displaced by the fighting in the region.”

The deployment was roundly condemed by Labour, Greens, Maori Party, Peter Dunne, and NZ First, saying that National had no mandate to commit troops to Iraq, even for so-called “training” purposes.  Maori Party co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell was prescient when he issued this warning in Parliament;

“So let us be under no illusion that by sending training troops and other personnel to the region we are not effectively raising our heads above the parapet. This decision increases the chances of Aotearoa being a target for rogue ISIS attacks.”

Nine months later, and ISIS has discovered New Zealand’s involvement in American adventurism in the Middle East. As TV3 News  reported;

Islamic State (IS) has vowed to destroy New Zealand in a chilling new propaganda video.

The New Zealand flag appears among 60 others in the slick video published by the group’s media arm.

In the video, New Zealand is named among its allies as part of the “coalition against Islamic State”.

New Zealand made the list because of humanitarian and military aid efforts abroad.

The screen-shot from the ISIS propaganda video clearly shows our flag, “Old Blue”, encircled in red;

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It seems that the similarity of our flag to Australia’s may not be much use to us now. So much for “camouflage”.

On ‘The Nation‘, Commissioner Bush attempted to make reassuring noises to quell any public disquiet on potential terrorist attacks;

“We are very practised and very ready and very well trained if something does occur in New Zealand, so we’re really ready to respond.”

Which is not very reassuring at all.

If a terrorist incident does occur in New Zealand – the first since one of our “allies” bombed an unarmed vessel in one of our harbours in 1985 – responsibility for any injuries or deaths can be sheeted home to one man, and one man alone: John Key.

The responsibility for putting our nation in harms way rests solely on his head.

Issue 4: Lies, Damned Lies, and Bogus Statistics

The story of bogus statistics broke in the Herald in July, last year;

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Police made burglaries vanish - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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It took journalist Eugene Bingham two years to uncover information requested under the Official Information Act;

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Two-year search for 'ghost crimes' truth - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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When the Herald finally received the information they had requested, a startling item of incriminating nature was discovered;

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Calls for 'ghost crimes' inquiry after police note revealed - commissioner bush

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A damning internal police document has emerged that appears to show senior officers discussed not releasing embarrassing details about the “ghost crimes” controversy in which 700 burglaries vanished from official crime statistics.

[..]

The memo, known within police as a job sheet, states John Tims had been advised by then-deputy commissioner Bush and assistant commissioner Allan Boreham not to respond to the [OIA] request. Brady [see image above] wrote: “(Tims) had been advised to let the request sit and when and if (3rd Degree) followed up with a request the matter would be addressed then.

“The direction to me was to not respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.”

[…]

However, Brady, when contacted by the Herald on Sunday, stood firmly behind his job sheet. “The job sheet records my conversation with Superintendent Tims and that’s about as far as I’m going to go with it. I think the job sheet is self-explanatory.

“My job sheet is my job sheet. It’s the record of my conversation and I have no other comment to make about that document.”

Lisa Owen pointedly asked Commissioner Bush;

“One last thing I want to ask you about before I go, Commissioner. Last night I spoke to the ombudsman about a complaint that relates to you. It’s an allegation that you instructed staff to let an Official Information Act request sit to stall the release of information relating to doctored burglary stats. So I want to give you the opportunity to answer to that. Did you do that?”

Commissioner Bush replied;

“Absolutely not. For obvious reasons, I kept myself well away from everything that was going on in that space because I was the district commander at the time. So that’s absolutely not correct, and, yeah, I distance myself for obvious reasons.”

Ms Owen persisted;

Owen: Okay, well, I’m wondering why a police officer would record in his job sheet that you did do that, then. Is that person lying when they say that you did, and I’ve got the job sheet here if you needed to refresh your memory. The job sheet says , ‘The direction to me was not to respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.’ Have you seen it? I’ve got it.

Bush: I have seen it, yeah.

Owen: Yeah. So was that officer lying or…?

Bush: That officer is absolutely incorrect. That did not occur.

Owen: So why would that officer write that on a job sheet?

Bush: I have no idea, but I can say it’s absolutely incorrect.

Commissioner Bush’s facial expression and voice tone  is worth considering when he denies instructing an investigating police officer to withhold responding to an OIA request.

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I leave it to the viewer to make his/her own determination on the matter.

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Jarrod Gilbert

Radio NZ: Police block gang expert’s data access

Dr Gilbert’s Blog: The Police research contract

New Zealand Police: Deputy Chief Executive Strategy

New Zealand Police: Police statement on academic research applications

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Prime Minister John Key

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Commissioner Mike Bush

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Commissioner Mike Bush (Transcript)

Treasury: Budget 2008

Treasury: Budget 2014

Treasury: Budget 2015

Radio NZ: Brownlee outlines Iraq deployment

Radio NZ: Iraq deployment condemned

Parliament: Ministerial Statements — Iraq—Deployment of Military Personnel

Fairfax media: NZ flag shown in Islamic State video on group’s enemies

TV3 News: NZ on list of Islamic State targets in new video

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald: Calls for ‘ghost crimes’ inquiry after police note revealed

Previous related blogposts

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Is There A “Special Relationship” Between The National Party And NZ Police?

The Standard: Jarrod Gilbert is tilting at windmills

The Standard: Jarrod Gilbert 1 – Windmills 0

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 November 2015.

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Media stories of the Week: ISIS revealed by Middle East expert

5 December 2015 6 comments

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Every so often, the mainstream news media do their job well, and little nuggets of insights are revealed…

An interview on Radio NZ on 27 November with  Damascus-based Syrian historian, political analyst, and journalist, Sami Moubayed gives valuable information on the origins and rise of ISIS.

Rather unsurprisingly, the genesis of ISIS lay with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003;

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Under the Black Flag What is daily life like under ISIS - radio nz

 

 

This is the background story that is too complex for our nightly TV “News” broadcasts and only a dedicated current affairs broadcaster can allocate the necessary time to analyse the issue.

In fact, the TV News broadcasts, being constrained by micro-brief sound bites and superficial, five-minute formats achieve nothing except reinforce myths, confusion, fear, and the official government party line of “evil Islamic fanatics”.

Once upon a time, TVNZ and TV3 used to air documentary specials such as Bryan Bruce’s Inside Child Poverty (2011) or John Pilger’s The New Rulers of the World (early 2000s?). Now, we get a nightly diet of brutal crime “dramas”; inane US sitcoms; and “reality television” (The Block, X Factor, Highway Cops, Masterchef, The GC, et al) which actually are as far removed from our real world as is Disneyland.

The sugary diet we consume in the West is not confined to beverages and processed foods – it is in our nightly TV viewing. The “empty calories” of junk TV is as unhealthy for our minds, as soft drinks and many breakfast “cereals” is for our bodies.

Lecture over.

Now listen to Kathryn Ryan talk with Sami Moubayed.

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References

Radio NZ: Under the Black Flag – What is daily life like under ISIS?

TV3/Bryan Bruce:  Inside Poverty Poverty

John Pilger: The New Rulers of the World

Previous related blogposts

The Mendacities of Mr Key #8: A roof over your head, and boots on the ground

That was Then, This is Now #26 – John Key will let slip the dogs of war

The Mendacities of Mr Key #10: “Only two years!!”

The Mendacities of Mr Key #11: Sorry, Prime Minister, what ‘mandate’ were you referring to?!

Mike Hosking – Minister for War Propaganda?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 November 2015.

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Media stories of the Week: US Ambassador dismissive of our laws

4 December 2015 1 comment

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Every so often, the mainstream news media do their job well, and little nuggets of insights are revealed…

TV3’s ‘The Nation‘ on 28 November had host and highly-experienced journalist, Lisa Owen, interview current US Ambassador, Mark Gilbert.

Amongst topics covered was National’s determination to invite an American warship to New Zealand.

Since 1987,  this country has been a nuclear weapons and nuclear-propelled* free-zone and even National grudgingly acceded to Labour’s then-revolutionary policy. At a time when the Cold War between super-powers held the entire planet at the precipice to atomic armageddon, a tiny little country of barely three million held up it’s collective hand and refused to participate in the madness.

In 2004, then-leader of the opposition National Party, Don Brash made secret promises to a US Congressional delegation that New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation ban would be ‘gone by lunchtime‘. The story hit headlines, though Brash denied making any such promise. Two years later, after losing an election; personal-life problems; and unable to take Helen Clark head-on in debates; Brash was ousted as National’s leader.

Shortly after rolling Brash and seizing power in the National Party, newly-elected leader John Key vowed that his party would maintain New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation, asserting;

“National’s position has been in limbo in relation to nuclear ships, so I want to make it perfectly clear that I support the nuclear-free legislation.

For as long as I am leader of the National Party, the nuclear-free legislation will remain intact.

I think New Zealanders have a long-held view that this is important to our nation-building. I think they see it as New Zealand standing up strongly for something it believes in.

I believe in that position and I see absolutely no reason to change it.”

In 2012, Key repeated his promise to maintain New Zealand’s status as nuclear-free;

“There’ll be no change to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation, no change to the provisions about boats that would come to New Zealand.”

This year, Key has been making noises to invite a US warship to New Zealand, with an invitation issued at the beginning of November;

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US naval ships invited to visit NZ

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When challenged whether or not National would take steps to seek guarantees that a visiting warship would neither be nuclear armed nor propelled, Key replied it was not necessary. In effect, he referred people to use Google;

“There’s plenty of open source documentation and qualification that would allow you to form a view – for instance, I don’t think anyone’s ever argued that a US coastguard is either nuclear-powered nor nuclear-armed.

There’s enough stuff there, depending on the vessel that they send, for an assessment to be made.”

Despite the supposed removal of all atomic weapons from US warships announced by President Bush in September 1991, the US military still maintains a “neither confirm, nor deny” policy, as stated unequivocally by Ambassador Gilbert on 28 November;

“We will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy.”

Yet, as President Bush maintained on 28 September 1991;

“… the United States will withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from its surface ships and attack submarines, as well as those nuclear weapons associated with our land-based naval aircraft. This means removing all nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. ships and submarines, as well as nuclear bombs aboard aircraft carriers. The bottom line is that under normal circumstances, our ships will not carry tactical nuclear weapons.”

Bush has stated categorically that atomic weapons were removed from all US warships.

Why is Ambassador Gilbert unwilling to confirm that?

Furthermore,  Lisa Owen extracted this admission from the Ambassador;

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Lisa Owen: Okay, so will you send a ship that complies with our laws? Let me put it that way.

Mark Gilbert: First of all, a decision has not been made whether we’re going to be able to send a ship or not.

Lisa Owen: If you were to send one, would you send one that complied with our laws?

Mark Gilbert: We will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy.

Lisa Owen: You’re going to stick hard and fast with that?

Mark Gilbert: We always have.

Note that not only did the Ambassador refuse to confirm President Bush’s removal of atomic weapons from US warships – but he also refused to comply with our laws.

This is a shocking admission that the United States is prepared to ignore our laws, and that our esteemed dear Leader is prepared to turn a blind eye.

There is nothing from Key’s or Gilbert’s assertions that fills me with confidence that either men are willing to uphold this country’s nuclear free legislation.

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* The sinkings of the Lermontov and Rena perhaps offer sound reasons why the ban on nuclear propulsion should remain alongside atomic weapons.

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References

TV3: The Nation – Interview and transcript – US Ambassador Mark Gilbert

NZ History: Nuclear-free New Zealand

Beehive: Not yet gone by lunchtime

Radio NZ: Gone by lunchtime stoush erupts again

NZ Herald: Key’s vow makes National anti-nuke

TV3: NZ will stay nuclear-free – Key

Radio NZ: US naval ships invited to visit NZ

New York Times: Bush’s Arms Plan – Remarks by President Bush on Reducing U.S. and Soviet Nuclear Weapons

NZ National Maritime Museum: The Last Cruise of the Mikhail Lermontov

Transport Accident Investigation Commission: Marine Inquiry 11-204: Container ship MV Rena grounding on Astrolabe Reef, 5 October 2011

Other bloggers

No Right Turn: Against a US ship visit

The Daily Blog:  Is a US warship finally coming to New Zealand?

The Standard: US ship visit and nuclear free NZ

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 November 2015.

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