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Archive for March, 2018

Worse than “fake news” – sloppy news!

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What’s worse than “fake news”? Sloppy news.

Sloppy as in: where a supposedly reputable mainstream media outlet presents a news story, but with a glaring error.  Case in point, TVNZ’s story on 25 March, reporting that “$1.7 million of taxpater’s money had been spent last year on airfares and escorts to deport overstayers – more than in any of the last five years“;

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The figures  presented were accurate enough.

The presentation, though, was misleading, with the intro statement reading;

The Government is spending a startling amount of money to get rid of overstayers in New Zealand, but few people are being deported and very little of that money is being recovered.

The most recent figure of $1.7 million related to 2017. (See image above).

The money had been spent by the previous, National government – not by the current Labour-NZ First-Green Coalition. By referring to “the government”,  TVNZ’s story suggested that responsibility for this spending lies with the current Coalition.

Silly slip-ups of this nature present an unfair critical picture of the newly elected Coalition government and let’s the National Party off the hook when it comes to owning their chronic mismanagement and waste of taxpayer’s money.

It may seem trivial to some, but it is inaccurate and misleading. It is sloppy news.

Not many people would have picked up on that error. The public may likely assume that the news reader’s reference to “the government” refers to the current Coalition.

The Coalition will have enough problems cleaning up nine years of National’s toxic legacies  without the msm trying to point responsibility to Labour, NZ First, and the Greens. (They’ll have their own stuff-ups to own up to in the future.)

Not good enough, TVNZ.

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References

TVNZ:   More than 10,000 overstayers in NZ and Immigration not actively looking for most of them

Previous related blogposts

How biased is the media? A Patrick Gower case study

When the mainstream media go feral

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 March 2018.

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Mark Mitchell – Flights of fancy?!

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Former Defence Minister; failed National Party leader aspirant;  one-time mercenary-for-hire, and current (for the moment) National defence spokesman, Mark Mitchell, may have opened a 44-gallon drum-of-worms with his assertion that Coalition Defence Minister, Ron Mark, has been “using the Air Force as a personal taxi service“.

Mitchell kept repeating a common meme;

“This is an incredibly inappropriate use of Defence resources, and I am sure the public would be interested to know why the Minister is opting to use already stretched Defence assets rather than the Ministerial Crown Cars that are available to him.”

And;

“Mr Mark has even used an NH90 to travel from Masterton to Waiouru and back in the same day – a three hour trip each way by car.

Why did he not save the taxpayer the cost and the NZDF the time and use a much cheaper Crown car instead? It’s happening so regularly locals are asking questions about it.”

Ron Mark refuted Mitchell’s undocumented claims, stating;

“Each of the flights was taken to an official engagement.

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“I wish to emphasise that none of these flights was for personal use. Please note that on a number of these flights I have been accompanied by NZDF officials, MPs from other parties, and/or media representatives. If at any point the Defence Force advises me that such travel is inappropriate or outside policy then I would naturally comply.”

Minister Ron Mark replied;

“What I will do is run a benchmark across all use of military aircraft over the last 10 years, and I’m already receiving messages that actually there’s some interesting stuff in there.

Let’s put it out in the media, and let’s hope Mr Mitchell isn’t embarrassed.”

Ron mark was correct. There appears to be solid evidence that ministers from the previous National-led government  have indeed used Air Force helicopters as their own private taxi service.

In May 2013, TV3 reported;

The Prime Minister, his MPs and ministers – including the leaders of ACT and United Future – have travelled to Tolaga Bay for the tangi of Parekura Horomia.

[…]

Today was the final day of the tangi – John Key flew in on one of the Defence Force’s new $100 million helicopters, with ministers in tow.

A screenshot image showed one of Key’s ministers – former ACT-leader John Banks – alighting from said $100 million helicopter;

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The same helicopter contained former Dear Leader John Key and “his MPs and ministers – including the leaders of ACT and United Future”.

Fairfax media reported at the time;

Key arrived by helicopter at the Tolaga Bay Area School and was welcomed onto Hauiti Marae with 15 Government MPs and the Speaker of the house David Carter.

National MPs seem to be acutely susceptible to shooting themselves in their own foot (in Mitchell’s case, as an ex-mercenary, that may be the literal truth).

Simon Bridges, Michael WoodhouseBill English, Steven Joyce, Judith Collins, and others, have all attempted to fling mud at Coalition ministers – only to have the fan blow it straight back into their own faces.

National’s members of parliament  have apparently forgotten a simple, salient fact: after nine years in government they each have plenty of skeletons in their own closets. Every time they point an accusatory finger at a Coalition minister – those same National MPs will be held to account for their own shortcomings, mistakes, abuses of ministerial power, and downright incompetance.

As I pointed out in November last year;

It may be the National Opposition that is held to account.

Meanwhile, we award National MP Mark Mitchell with this dubious distinction:

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Well done, champ. Hope the bullet-hole in your foot heels soon.

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Postscript

Latest info on former National politicians using RNZAF aircraft as a personal “Uber” service;

While the V8 Supercars were screaming around the streets of Hamilton, it was helicopters – such as one ferrying the Prime Minister – that were revving up residents.

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The three helicopters hovering above Hamilton skies were unrelated to the event – a police helicopter on a pursuit, a Defence Force helicopter transporting Prime Minister John Key and his son to and from Auckland  and a random helicopter passing over.

The Prime Minister was  criticised by some at the time for using the air force Iriquois to transport him from  Waikato Stadium back to Auckland in time for a swanky Royal Auckland Golf Club dinner on April 16.

Hat-tip: “Roy“.

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References

Fairfax media:  Dear Mark Mitchell – New Zealand deserves answers, not insults, on war for profit

Mediaworks:  Ron Mark refutes claims he made personal use of military aircraft

NewstalkZB:  Defence Minister Ron Mark accused of using the Air Force as taxi service

TVNZ:  Defence Minister Ron Mark defends using military aircraft to get to and from home

Mediaworks: PM arrives on eve of funeral

Fairfax media:  Thousands gather for Horomia’s tangi

Fairfax media: Helicopters too noisy?

Additional

Mediaworks: Pansy Wong’s political future in jeopardy

Other Blogs

My Thinks:  Severe and extreme outrage expressed over Ron Mark’s use of a helicopter

The Daily Blog:  National’s Anti-Aircraft Fire At Ron Mark Proves To Be Blanks

Previous related blogposts

“Fool me once”…

11 May: End of the Week Bouquets, Brickbats, & Epic Fails

Nats, Lies, and Videotape

So who’s a “conspiracy theorist” now?!

National’s Ohariu candidate admits contact by Simon Lusk

National MP Mark Mitchell and his breath-taking display of arrogance

Key on Banks; Staunch, stupid, or stuck?

But will he remember this helicopter flight in one year’s time?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 March 2018.

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Labour and NZ First sign up to TPPA – “is this capitalism with a human face”?

17 March 2018 3 comments

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

 

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“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.” – Winston Peters, 19 October 2017

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8 March, Wellington, New Zealand:  As Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker flew to Chile to  sign the TPPA in Santiago,  around a hundred people gathered in Parliament’s grounds to oppose the Coalition government’s decision to accept the deal;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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The message from speakers and the assembled people was best summed up with this message;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking

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Grant Brookes, from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation was one of several speakers to address the protest. He was highly critical of the so-called “revised” agreement;

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He said;

“The NZ Nurses organisation objects to this government’s intention to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement in Chile later today. We assert that despite some improvements, the CPTTP is not ready to be signed. Trade Minister David Parker  […]  acknowledges that the deal is not perfect. Speaking on Newshub last week he said he would give it a score of seven out of 10 for New Zealand.

Let’s imagine for one minute that that score is accurate, but what does seven out of ten mean when it comes to your health?

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What if you turned up to the Emergency Department with a serious cut, and you were told you could have stitches to seven tenths of your wound? What does it mean if you were in pain and you were given a treatment that left you 30% sore?”

On 3 March, Minister David Parker was interviewed by Lisa Owen for TV3’s The Nation. He told Ms Owen;

Lisa Owen: Yes, exactly. Scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being out of this galaxy, deal of the century – what grade do you give it?

David Parker: Probably a 7 to good, improved access into Japan, where beef exports have been dropping; they’ve dropped by 38 per cent recently because of Australian competition with lower tariffs. That’ll be fixed. Not an especially good deal for dairy but better than nothing, and relatively more important than it was before the attacks on the World Trade Organization architecture that are happening because of some other countries who seem to want to blow the system up.

Though Parker defended the signing of the agreement, he appeared lukewarm to the deal, adding;

“I don’t think it’s the best trade agreement; that’s why I gave it a seven.”

Parker’s lack of enthusiasm echoed criticisms made by  Grant Brookes at the protest;

“Although there have been improvements, threats to population health and all that sustains it, remain in the text. There are, for example, intellectual property provisions which have been suspended but they are still there, and they could still delay access for new medicines.

The same is true for the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions. They remain [in] the text. And these privileges benefit multinational corporations over our sovereign and indigenous interests.”

He specifically mentioned;

“The Treaty of Waitangi exception, as it’s called in the text, is not robust enough that indigenous rights are protected and is not consistent with the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal. This means that Maori efforts to address health disparities could be undermined.”

Perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of the trade agreement lay in it’s omissions;

“The environment chapter – it doesn’t even mention climate change which the World Health Organisation has called the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”

He added;

“The defenders of this deal […] point to possible economic gains, although no one is saying today these are going to be huge.”

Some estimates put any economic benefit to this country at around 1% of New Zealand’s economy – over time.

As if to underscore  Grant’s list of flaws with the TPPA, this protestor listed each one;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Following Grant was Rick Zwann, from Action Stations;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Rick pointed out the large number of Labour MPs who had attended anti-TPPA protests in previous years, and who were now nowhere to be seen. He also pointed out some fairly basic flaws in  the process by which National, Labour, and NZ First had signed up to the deal;

“When we did polling around this, 75% of New Zealanders wanted independent analysis of this agreement before it was signed. […] This is an issue that New Zealanders right across the board, no matter what political party they voted for, no matter their age, no matter their backgrounds, they want to know actually what this deal would do and mean for us.

They don’t trust the MFAT analysis that has happened which is basically a re-write of the analysis that happened for the initial agreement […] the analysis that many of the parties who now voting for it, heavily critiqued. It just makes sense that we should have some independent analysis so we’re able to really look at what this deal would mean for us.”

He added;

“It makes sense because if you’re buying a house […] you wouldn’t just trust what the real estate agent is saying. You’d go and get a builder to look at that house and give you an independent report on what that house would actually be like to live in. If you’re going to do that for an investment like a house, why wouldn’t you do that for something as massive as this agreement which affects all parts of our society and all parts of our economy?”

While Labour and NZ First were noticeably “missing in action” from the protest, the one party in Parliament to stay true to it’s pre-election commitments was prominent;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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One thing that can be said about the Greens – they rarely back-track on what they say.

Following Rick, Lisa McLaren spoke for Generation Zero;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Lisa raised concerns how the TPPA would impact on climate-change legislation currently being drafted by the Coalition government. Her speech was brief but straight to the heart of the matter;

“We’re really lucky because the new government has come in and said they’re going to create this new climate law and they’re going to pass it through next year. In fact it’s being drafted across the road as we speak.

But we’re really concerned about what this new TPP deal will do to this new climate law. What policies are not going to be able to be put in place for future generations to reduce emissions. We’re really, really concerned that there hasn’t been any independent analysis […] We’re calling for the government if they do sign on, to go through that independent process before this deal is ratified. They have the opportunity to do that.”

Lisa raised the very real spectre of future generations being bound by a flawed international agreement;

“Personally, I’m worried about when my kids are in Parliament, I want them to aim for the stars and be the leaders. But I’m really really concerned by what they’re going to be bound by if we don’t get this right. So I’m calling on them to get it right, for my future.”

Other citizens had their messages for the Coalition government;

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Exclusions?

On 9 March, Trade Minister David Parker announced that “side letters” had been signed with five participating nations of the TPPA, prohibiting   investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) lawsuits. The five are;

  • Brunei Darussalam,
  • Malaysia
  • Peru
  • Viet Nam
  • Australia

Parker announced through a Beehive press statement;

I’m pleased we have been able to make so much progress in just a few months. We haven’t been able to get every country on board, but signing letters with this many CPTPP partners is a real achievement.

He added;

A further two countries, Canada and Chile, have joined New Zealand in a declaration that they will use investor-state dispute settlement responsibly.

A cynic (or realist) would immediately want to know the definition of what constitutes “using investor-state dispute settlement responsibly” ?

The real problem is that the TPPA has eleven signatories – not just the five listed above. The others are;

  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Singapore

Five countries have not agreed to signing “side letters” prohibiting ISDS lawsuits.

It would be a simple matter for a company to relocate it’s Head Office from a signatory-state to a “side letter” (eg, Peru) to a non-signatory state (eg; Mexico).

As Green Party leader James Shaw said on 21 February;

There is the continued existence of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms for some countries and that allows large multi-national companies to what we call ‘jurisdiction shop’ and simply locate where they still have that possibility.”

This is precisely what took place in November 2011, when tobacco corporation Philip Morris sued the Australian government to prevent implementation of plain-packaging laws;

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing the Australian government over a new law making plain packaging mandatory for cigarettes from December 2012.

Australia’s parliament has passed legislation that means all tobacco will need to be sold in plain olive-brown packets with graphic health warnings.

Canberra said the law was “one of the most momentous public health measures in Australia’s history”.

But Philip Morris Asia  said the move breached a bilateral investment treaty.

It said it had served a notice of arbitration under Australia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong.

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Philip Morris Asia said it wanted the legislation to be suspended. It said it would ask for compensation for the billions of dollars it said the new law would cost it.

To carry out it’s law-suit under the 1993 Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty, Philip Morris first had to move it’s registered office from Australia to Hong Kong.

Once that step was accomplished, Philip Morris had the legal right to sue the Australia government using the ISDS provisions of the Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty. Which it did so in 2011.

After a protracted four year court battle, Philip Morris lost its case. But not before the Australian government spent an estimated A$50 million in taxpayers’ money to defend it’s sovereign right to pass health-related legislation. Philip Morris is resisting paying legal costs incurred by the Australian government.

Now imagine a New Zealand government having to stand up against a billion-dollar corporation and spend tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars dollars to pass legislation to protect the health of it’s citizens.

If the previous National government’s timidity in the face of it’s own proposed plain-packaging legislation in 2016 was any indication, our own politicians may be extremely “risk averse” when it comes to confronting multi-nationals.

When asked if  National would proceed with plain-packaging legislation in the face of potential billion-dollar lawsuits, then-Dear Leader, John Key responded;

Late last year I asked for advice on that matter, and the advice I got back was that they felt we were on very firm ground and didn’t feel there was really any issues.

“No real issues”? Yet Key was cautious enough to tread carefully on the fear-threat of possible litigation;

It was waiting, and I think the view I initially took was given Australia was in the middle of this court case it probably didn’t make sense for us to embark on that, and then potentially face exactly the same costs for the taxpayer in defending another legal action.

National revealed how risk-averse it was to litigation when it caved in the face of an alleged threat to be sued by Saudi Arabian businessman, Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf ;

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Parliament that Saudi businessman Hmood Alali Alkhalaf had a potential $20m-$30m lawsuit against the New Zealand Government, after he lost money when a ban on live exports for slaughter was continued.

The Government then spent $11.5m setting up a demonstration farm in the Saudi desert, including a $4m facilitation payment to Alkhalaf.

(Side-note: There is now a very real question hanging over Murray McCully’s assertions that the New Zealand government was in fact facing a multi-million dollar  lawsuit from Al Khalaf . It has been suggested that McCully fabricated or exaggerated the whole story.)

New Zealanders have just cause to doubt whether their own government would have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to a multi-national with deep corporate pockets to launch a lawsuit against us.

We caved in the face of French demands to release two agents convicted of sabotage and murder.

We caved to (apparent) threats from Warner Bros to  move production of The Hobbit to another country. (The threat turned out to be baseless – but it nevertheless succeeded in ‘spooking’ the public.)

We (apparently) caved to demands from a lone Saudi businessman.

And then there was this curious event in June 2013, when the Chinese government may have exerted heavy pressure on the National government over a proposed fta with Taiwan – an island-state it considers a “renegade province”;

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The frightening possibility is that we, the public, might never even know if the threat of litigation under ISDS clauses forced a government-of-the-day to comply with demands from a multi-national.

When it comes to political self-interest and corporate “commercial sensitivity”, we have the makings of a toxic brew of secret back-door machinations.

After all, the entire TPPA negotiation was conducted in secrecy. Not exactly an auspicious start for such a supposedly beneficial trade agreement.

And not exactly a good start for Labour and NZ First.

Postscript

At the protest, Bryan Bruce of “Inside Child Poverty” fame, conducting an interview for his latest  documentary-project;

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Based on his past documentaries exposing poverty, homelessness, and growing inequality, an exposé on the TPPA should prove illuminating for middle New Zealanders.

Thank the gods for independent documentary-makers. It will be refreshing to see an investigative doco on the TPPA, even if ‘sandwiched’ between “reality” tv shows such as  My Kitchen Rules, Real Housewives of Eketahuna, The Block, Survivor ‘Wherever’, etc.

Refreshing indeed, to watch some real reality for a change.

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References

Scoop media:  Peters – Post-Election Announcement Speech

Radio NZ:  New TPP deal signed by NZ in Chile

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews David Parker

Radio NZ:  New TPP deal signed by NZ in Chile

Action Station

Generation Zero

Beehive:  New Zealand signs side letters curbing investor-state dispute settlement

Radio NZ:  Greens remain opposed to TPP

BBC:  Philip Morris sues Australia over cigarette packaging

NZDRC: 1993 Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty

Sydney Morning Herald:  Australia versus Philip Morris. How we took on big tobacco and won

The Guardian: Secrecy over costs in Philip Morris plain packaging case stokes TPP fears

Fairfax media:  Tobacco plain packaging likely to be law by end of year – John Key

Fairfax media:  Govt accused of telling Saudi businessman to sue

Radio NZ:  Saudi sheep deal – MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

SBS News: NZ at risk of losing the Hobbit

NZ Herald:  Sir Peter – Actors no threat to Hobbit

NZ Herald:  Strong reaction to damning TV child poverty doco

Additional

It’s our Future

Other Blogposts

The Daily Blog: Let’s be clear – when Labour & NZ First sign the TPPA this week – it will be as cheap traitors for less than 30 pieces of silver

The Daily Blog: Open letter to Trade Minister David Parker

The Standard:  TPPA rally at parliament today

The Standard: March 8 2018 – the TPPA and our nuclear free moment

The Standard:  TPP2 – Electric Boogaloo

Previous related blogposts

Key’s TPPA Falsehoods – “We’ve never, ever been sued” ***up-date ***

Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington, send message to National govt: “Yeah, nah!”

Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington: Did Police hide tasers at TPPA march?

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 15: John Key lies to NZ on consultation and ratification of TPPA

What’s the beef, guv?

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

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 March 2018.

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The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

5 March 2018 2 comments

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The Left are disappointed; the Toxic Twins – Judith Collins and  Steven Joyce – failed to seize leadership of the National Party. The coldly psychopathic eyes of  Collins, and the menacingly malignant grin of Joyce, will not be scaring New Zealand voters witless in 2020.

Instead, the boyish grin of Simon Bridges will be leading the National Party – until he won’t, after their inevitable defeat at the next election.

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Speaking with Radio NZ’s Checkpoint host, John Campbell, Bridges first interview as leader of the Nats began with an inanely cliched reference to “asperational”  young New Zealanders;

@ 14.28:

“We’ve got a very strong economy at the moment… To build on that, and ensure that is is a place where young New Zealanders can get ahead and do well, don’t feel they need to get on a plane to go overseas, probably to Australia, that’s really important to me…”

Bridges was parroting a speech filled with almost identical rhetoric by his former boss and mentor, Dear Leader Key;

“When the going gets this tough, is it any wonder that Kiwis look longingly at our Aussie cousins? Our Aussie cousins, who get paid a third more than us for doing the same job […] Too many Kiwis are looking at those stats and choosing to join their cousins across the ditch. We have to give them better reasons to stay.”

Key made those comment in January 2008 – a little over a decade ago.

Since then, migration has risen sharply under National’s watch, pushing up demands on housing, education, healthcare, roading, and other services/infrastructure.

In essence, Bridges referenced a problem that no longer exists.

But perhaps the worst moment came a few minutes later, when he referred to National’s “legacies”. Amongst Bridge’s list of “crowning achievements” over the last nine years, Bridges listed;

@ 16.18

“But what is true, John, is that if you look at my record as a Minister whether is in Transport where I led, I think, incredibly progressive moves in public transport, in cycleways, in electric vehicles, in a range of areas, people can see a very modern face of National…”

Bridges’ “progressive moves” on electric vehicles are in his mind only.

In 2016, he actively decided not to electrify the state fleet, opting instead for traditional vehicles;

Cabinet has pulled the handbrake on its Electric Vehicles plan, pulling proposals to help agencies cover the extra cost, documents show.

But Transport Minister Simon Bridges says he canned the two proposals, in order to be “more ambitious” later.

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Bridges’ explanation was mealy-mouthed, to put it mildly;

“Given this, it is likely that government agencies will favour cheaper conventional vehicles over an EV equivalent […] But I decided, in the end, that the bulk buying proposal that is now being investigated – and I hope implemented – is much more significant than the kickstarter and the demonstration programme.” “

No wonder the Green Party’s transport spokeswoman, Julie Anne Genter, was critical of Bridges’ luke-warm response to EVs;

“So far Simon Bridges has seemed keen to appear in every possible photo-op, and be seen to do something without actually committing any resources or policy that would be effective.

It can hardly be considered ambitious. But it does seem to suggest he knows that the announcement is totally ineffective and won’t lead to an increase in the number of electric vehicles.

He’s chosen a target he thinks will happen without any Government intervention or support.”

A year later, only eight of 2,000 vehicles bought for various government bodies were EVs.

Eight.

That was the “legacy” that Simon Bridges ‘crowed’ about to John Campbell.

Not exactly a glowing start to his temporary tenure as National’s leader. In fact, Bridges’ “legacy” could be better summed up as one of the architects of repressive legislation designed to prevent protest against deep sea mining off New Zealand’s coast;

…Simon Bridges, announced a new law with heavy sanctions against protesters who “want to stop other people going about their lawful business and doing what they have a permit to do and they are legally entitled to do“

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Is it any surprise the Greens wanted nothing to do with National during coalition talks last year?

Simon Bridges, Leader of the National Party: more of the same.

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References

Radio NZ:  Checkpoint with John Campbell, Tuesday 27th February 2018 (alt.link: Youtube)

NZ Herald:  John Key – State of the Nation speech

Fairfax media:  Cabinet handbrake proves ‘government lack of leadership’ on electric vehicles – Greens

Radio NZ: Govt advised to rev up electric car roll-out

Radio NZ: Govt plans hefty fines for offshore mining protests

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins owes an explanation to voters

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

It’s official: Political Dissent Discouraged in NZ!

A message from Greenpeace about Simon Bridges

Letter to the Editor: Simon Bridges is a very naughty little boy!

Mining, Drilling, Arresting, Imprisoning – Simon Bridges

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 March 2018.

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The “free” market can’t even build a bloody hotel?!

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Our crisis in construction reaches tipping point

According to recent reports in the media, New Zealand is no longer able to build and complete major projects;

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Speaking to Radio NZ on 8 February,  Building Recruitment managing director, Kevin Everett, lamented our chronic shortage of skilled building staff;

“There’s astronomical demand, there’s shortages everywhere from skilled to semi-skilled, to labours. We just can’t get reliable people.

The feedback we’re getting for 2018 from our clients is that they’re all expecting a big year this year and that’s putting pressures on everyone because they just can’t get the manpower.

I’ve heard of people going in and getting 40, 50 people in one hit. We’re looking at doing a campaign just now to go across to the UK, so we’re going to go to London, Manchester, and Glasgow and try and bring people in. We’re looking for at least 100 people in all different skill sets, in residential and commercial.”

The $200 million Park Hyatt hotel project was first announced on 4 July 2016 as a j.v. (joint venture) between Hawkins Group and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the latter being one of the world’s largest construction companies;

In 2012, The Economist named CSCEC as the world’s biggest builder by revenue, then at US72.6 billion, ahead of China Railway Construction, China Railway Engineering and giant French builder Vinci which in 2003 had been the world’s biggest construction company.

Now, CSCEC has revenue of about US$100 billion.

The Economist article said Japanese builders had now disappeared from the world’s top 10 builders, overtaken by Chinese construction companies.

Fu Wah International Group itself is is a Chinese-owned multi-billion corporation. According to Forbes Fu Wah’s chairman, Chan Laiwa, ranked number 36 on the China Rich List and was worth an estimated  US$5.9 billion.  The hotel project is being built by a Chinese construction firm for it’s Chinese owners.

The Park Hyatt will be Fu Wah’s first project in New Zealand. The company has agreed to spend  an additional $2.5 million on  a public promenade, walkway and art display in the vicinity of the hotel.

In the Hawkins Construction 2016 press release Fu Wah New Zealand General Manager, Richard Aitken, said;

“Together with China Construction, they have the resources, experience and skills to deliver an outstanding outcome for Auckland.”

Panuku Development is a Auckland Council CCO responsible for the regeneration of eighteen hectares of Auckland Council-owned land in the Wynyard Quarter. This includes the Park Hyatt hotel construction site, which it apparently retains ownership ofPanuku Development’s  then-Chief Executive, John Dalzell, echoed the sentiment;

“This appointment by Fu Wah International Group is a testament to the quality of work Hawkins has delivered on a number of Wynyard Quarter projects to date.”

In September 2015, as the Park  Hyatt project gained resource consent, then-PM John Key was singing the “benefits” accruing to the region;

“ The new $200 million Park Hyatt in Auckland and the $35 million Sofitel in Wellington will create jobs during construction and when the hotels are up and running.”

Gambling with promises of jobs

The arrangement sounds remarkably similar to a deal in between the National government and SkyCity Casino. In 2012, SkyCity was granted approval for up to 500 new pokie machines in return for a $350 million international convention centre in downtown Auckland.

At the time, Key also touted the promise of 900-plus construction jobs from the the Skycity development. This optimistic promise  was quickly revealed to be another of his shonkey “loose connections with the truth”;

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By June 2016, the reality of the Skycity deal revealed at least a hundred jobs going to offshore to an American contractor in Thailand. National’s response? This was “how the free market operated“.

Increasing tourism and “more jobs” appear to be the two main reasons touted for the Park Hyatt project.

But even the prospect of more jobs has recently been questioned.

Earlier this month (8 February), concerns were voiced that two hundred extra  workers from  China would have to be brought in from China, to “help the 300 local staff already on site“. According to Building Recruitment managing director, Kevin Everett, New Zealand evidently lacks the prerequite skills to complete the Hyatt project;

“There’ll be a number of skills mainly around fine decorating including stone work, tiling, wallpapering, painting, veneer work – there’s quite a lot timber veneer within the hotel, so they’ll bring those skills to us.”

Which is remarkable, as New Zealand once built and completed vast construction projects such as the Clyde Dam with minimal foreign labour;

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Clyde Dam is the largest concrete gravity dam in New Zealand consisting of one million cubic metres of concrete. It's height is 100 metres, width at base is 70 metres, width at crest 10 metres and length at crest 490 metres.

Clyde Dam is the largest concrete gravity dam in New Zealand consisting of one million cubic metres of concrete. It’s height is 100 metres, width at base is 70 metres, width at crest 10 metres and length at crest 490 metres.

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Plans to bring in two hundred Chinese workers appears to be part of China’s long-term strategy to engage and strengthen their state-owned construction companies. As The Economist pointed out in October 2012;

China’s construction firms have become good at finishing big projects on time. But analysts doubt whether they are ready for rich countries. Julian Bu of Jefferies, an investment bank, says their main advantage – low labour costs – is little help in places where they cannot bring lots of Chinese workers over

So much for claims that the project would create more jobs.

Fu Wah even issued a veiled warning that the Hyatt project could face disruptions and delays if  Chinese workers were not allowed into the country immediatly.

At a time when unemployment is still at 122,000 (most likely that figure is an under-estimation as Stats NZ has a narrow definition of unemployment) and under-employment has increased;

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– it is difficult to understand why New Zealand continues to import labour from overseas. Suggestions from some on the Right that these 122,000 constitute a group “unwilling” to work is not credible when taking into account that the under-employed group has risen sharply by a massive 7,000.

The economy – a legacy from nine years of National’s indifference to job-training and thirtyfive years of neo-liberal free market “hands off” ideology – appears paralysed and unable to engage with unemployed and under-employed for re-training. The new Coalition government Minister for Workplace Relations and Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, said as much on 8 February;

“We know that construction is a sector where the previous government failed to invest in the skills that New Zealanders need to participate in that sector, and there are significant shortages in the construction sector as we’re seeing a lot of infrastructure and a lot of construction being undertaken at the moment.”

It seems cheaper simply to import labour when needed, and return them to their home countries when that need has ended. That let’s businesses off the hook having to invest heavily in training local workers. It also increases labour exploitation by unscrupulous bosses.

The Property Council’s acting CEO, Matt Paterson, frankly admitted that foreign companies and labour could be used as a weapon to lowering prices (including wages), when he disclosed in July 2016;

“One of the issues holding back the development and construction market in New Zealand is high prices, so any additional competition we get is good. We do need to make sure competition is also bringing us quality and they’re not taking short cuts with materials or labour. Construction costs have been high in New Zealand for a long time. We need to develop a stronger, more competitive, capable construction sector. In the short term, there’s work that needs to be done and overseas firms can play a part in that. But we need to build stronger New Zealand industry.”

In the case of Fu Wah and the Hyatt hotel project, at least one construction company disclosed to Radio NZ that they had attempted to tender for the contract;

However an Auckland company, which did not want to be named for fear of losing out on future work, told RNZ they had voiced their interest at the start of the project in 2016.

A staff member said soon after Hawkins and China Construction were appointed as the main contractors, his company was contacted about what the programme of work would be and asked whether they would be able to do it.

“We went back and said ‘yes, everything’s fine, things are going to be a little bit tight here, things will be fine here’, but nothing major that would lead us to believe we’d been crossed off as a potential subcontractor.”

He said while it was emphasised that they should lock in subcontractors early because of a busy schedule to meet the deadline, it was never an issue of lack of skills.

“At that point in time we more or less had a year or two to lock in labour resource, to build up the labour teams that we have if necessary. But we heard nothing for a couple of years, in fact we never even heard back in the end on whether we could tender for the main package.”

When asked whether they had the staff to do the work now, he said they did.

There appear to be several aspects to this story – all inter-related;

Globalisation

The US’s economic model over the past 40 years has been predicated on a kind of globalisation that encourages low wages and outsourcing. The idea was that cheaper stuff would offset the loss of jobs and lower wages. But in an economy made up of 70 per cent consumer spending in which wages haven’t risen for most of the population since the 1990s, that maths stops working. “Globalisation can’t be just about outsourcing and low wages,” says [former General Electric CEO] [Jeff] Immelt (there’s an increasing body of research showing that low wages are a cause, rather than just a symptom, of the problems of globalisation).

In 2014, our own right-wing think-tank, the NZ Initiative (formerly Business Roundtable) said;

As technology improves, many of the unskilled jobs in advanced economies such as New Zealand will simply be replaced.

Even more pertinent, those unskilled jobs that can’t be replaced by technology are likely to be outsourced to those who can provide the cheapest labour, namely, developing countries.

Globalisation has already seen this effect occurring to a large extent.

Leaving labour to Market Supply & Demand

The free market sees unionised protection for workers as anathema to the concept of Supply and Demand for skilled, semi-skilled, and low-skilled workers.

During last year’s election, the supposedly “free market”  party, ACT, promised to increase teacher’s salaries – but with strings attached;

David Seymour is proposing to boost funding for schools – but only if they agree to take teachers out of collective pay agreements.

He said teachers had lost ground against the average wage over the past 30 years.

And Mr Seymour said the reason was a 1970s style pay system.

“The unions insist on paying the best teacher and the worst teacher in New Zealand exactly the same and often protecting under-performing teachers.

“What we’re saying is that we’ll raise teacher pay on average by $20k, but we won’t have that model anymore.”

The ACT Party education policy encourages “…schools to opt out of union contracts”. (Which seems to forget that teachers unions are already voluntary. People have a choice and can already opt-out of membership. Though the ACT Party espouses “personal freedom”, the word “choice” is strangely missing from their Principles statement.)

So what’s gone wrong?!

So if New Zealand has a free-market economy that according to one group is the third most open in the global economy – what’s gone wrong? Why do we have 126,000 unemployed and a further 108,700 under-employed when we have a skills shortage in the construction trade? (Note: Stats NZ’s definition of what constitutes an unemployed person is narrow and actual  numbers are most likely even higher than “official data” states.)

The Christchurch earthquakes of 4 September  2010 and 22 February  2011 damaged and destroyed large parts of the city.  In late 2011, the National-led government at the time was keenly aware that the cost of rebuilding was estimated to cost around NZ$13.5  billion. By 2014, Treasury increased that estimate to a jaw-dropping NZ$15.4 billion.

The need for skilled labour should have been obvious to all.

Obvious to everyone except the government at the time: the Key-led National government.

National’s “response” – an exercise in incompetence

National’s response to on-going problems in the construction industry can best be summed up in a March 2012 comment made by then Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee;

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Leaving citizens to the “tender mercies” of the free market seems National’s de fault setting.

Which had its inevitable conclusions as the Christchurch re-build is yet to be completed; the entire country is suffering a housing crisis; affordability worsens; and homelessness increases. Even retiring “baby-boomers” have not escaped our deepening housing crisis;

“We risk discovering that New Zealand is going to have a population of homeless pensioners,” Salvation Army spokeswoman Sue Hay told Radio New Zealand.

Compounding housing unaffordability and homelessness was a critical shortfall in skill tradespeople.

At a time when over a hundred thousand New Zealanders were out of work and under-employment was rising, National was practically sitting on it’s hands.

Post 2008 Global Financial Crisis, enrollments for ITO trainees fell dramatically;

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In 2013 – two years after the second Christchurch earthquake, Waikato Plumbing Services office administrator,Gayelene Woodcock, warned presciently of a looming critical shortage of skilled tradespeople;

“During the early 1990s the same thing happened. When there was a decline after the 1987 crash it didn’t actually affect the whole industry until the early 1990s.

The lack of apprentices taken on there showed through about four or five years later when there was an extreme shortage of tradesmen.”

Labour’s Grant Robertson could also see the rushing train bearing down on us;

“We have a shortage now in skilled tradesmen. It’s welcome that the Government worked out they need to do something but the impact of that skilled shortage is being seen at the moment. It’s being seen in Christchurch and it’s likely to be seen around the country.”

Report Card: F for Failed

We now have a shortage of tradespeople so critical that the viability of some  building projects’ is threatened.

Whatever tepid measures National implemented failed to address the growing problem. After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, National had clear warning of the problems confronting the construction industry.

It chose to tinker with half-hearted solutions, but  these proved ineffectual seven year later as one media report after another highlighted the crisis.

One immediate solution has been to remove barriers such as tuition costs. The  Productivity Commission’s report appeared to reluctantly confirm this barrier;

There is some evidence that differences in subsidy, fee and student support arrangements can influence the study decisions of students (and employers). For example, members of the ITO sector expressed concern about these influences on decisions on undertaking industry training while in full-time employment through an ITP, PTE or ITO…

[…]

The University of Waikato submitted that fees combined with geographic distance may still represent a substantial barrier to obtaining a university education. In particular, it notes:

While parents with professional incomes and substantial net assets may not be concerned about their
children acquiring large amounts of debt to fund tertiary study, the poorest families with minimal net
assets will quite rationally be averse to their children acquiring large amounts of debt. (University of
Waikato, sub.93, p.6)

[…]

The evidence suggests that higher fees reduce demand, that students in non-university tertiary education and lower-income students are more price-sensitive, and that some minority groups may be more price-sensitive (Leslie & Brinkman, 1987; Heller,1997). Where the actual cost students will pay is not transparent,
because various grants or discounts apply that mean actual cost is lower than the advertised price, students from lower-income families are more likely to be discouraged. The availability of loans and allowances will offset this, although students from lower-income households may also be more debt-averse.

In plain english, low-income families were “debt averse” – a scenario which contradicts many right-wing reactionary prejudice which parrots the myth that poor families are in debt because they make “poor choices”. In this case, a student debt is a poor choice that such families will unsurprisingly seek to avoid.

The new Labour-led Coalition government – not fettered by the dead-weight of user-pays ideology to which National is chained to – has understand this simply reality and taken blindingly obvious steps to remove this barrier;

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It took National nine years to allow the current mess we now have in the construction industry. A mess whereby over a hundred thousand New Zealanders are unemployed whilst the building industry is seeking to import cheap, skilled labour from offshore.

It has taken the Coalition just over three months to begin to tackle National’s toxic legacy of mis-management.

Postscript1

In March 2017, Fu Wah  applied to build 330 apartments on the Auckland waterfront, adjacent to the Hyatt Park hotel.

At this stage it is unclear who will  provide the labour for this project. Familiar claims have been made that the proposed NZ$500 million apartment project would “create more jobs”.

Past evidence suggests those claims should be regarded with caution.

Postscript2

Globalisation continues to wreak havoc with our local industries As Fletcher Building announced on 25 February has it has pulled out of the Ormiston Town Centre building project. This is the latest in building projects that Fletchers has either withdrawn from, or will not be tendering for, as local companies find it  impossible to compete with low-priced offshore competitors.

Postscript3

Fletcher’s chairperson, Ralph Norris announced his resignation from the debt-ridden company on 14 February.

Norris was also chairperson of the Business Roundtable until September 2001. The Business Rountable (later re-branded as the so-called “NZ Initiative”) was a pro-free market lobby pressure group  that was instrumental in the neo-liberal “reforms” of the late 1980s and 1990s. Part of those neo-liberal reforms was globalisation: allowing offshore companies to bid for contracts in New Zealand alongside local industries.

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References

Radio  NZ:  200 Chinese tradies to complete Akl hotel

Hawkins:  Hawkins and China Construction JV signs up for Park Hyatt Auckland

NZ Herald:  World’s biggest builder arrives in NZ for $375m in contracts

Forbes:  Profile – Chan Laiwa & family

TVNZ News:  $200M luxury hotel under way in Auckland’s waterfront

Panuku Development Auckland: Home Page

NZ Institute of International Affairs: Speech to the NZIIA – 3 May 2015

Radio NZ:  300 apartments for Auckland waterfront

Financial Times: Why US big business listens to Bernie Sanders

Treasury: 2014 Budget –  Rebuilding Christchurch

Fairfax media: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

Radio NZ:  Housing report paints ‘sobering picture’ of crisis

Fairfax media:  More NZ retirees will become homeless without action on housing – Salvation Army

Productivity Commission: Student characteristics and choices (pgs 41, 60, 73, 74)

TVNZ:  Shortage of skilled tradespeople exacerbating Auckland’s housing problem

BCITO:  Prime Minister encourages construction apprentices

Radio NZ:  Fletcher out of running on another big-ticket build

Noted:  Unfair overseas competition hurting NZ forestry, says industry leader

Fairfax media:  ‘Incompetence’ behind Fletcher Building’s woes, admits chairman Sir Ralph Norris

NZ Herald: Ralph Norris retires

Additional

NZ Herald:  Brian Gaynor – How to fix Fletcher Building

Fairfax media: Dearth of tradesmen foreseen

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Fonterra and Fletcher Building

Previous related blogposts

Roy Morgan Poll: Unemployment and Under-employment up in New Zealand!

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **

MSM catches up on Unemployment stats rort

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 February 2018.

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