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Gerry Brownlee, David Farrar, and Brett Hudson win Hypocrisy Awards

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Minister Clare Curran’s recent demotion was announced in a surprise press conference at Prime Minister Ardern’s electorate office, just before 4pm on a Friday afternoon. A government statement outlined her sin-of-omission;

In February this year Minister Curran met with Mr Derek Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role. This meeting took place after the first unsuccessful recruitment round for the CTO. As with approaches from other interested parties, the Minister directed Mr Handley to register his interest with MBIE officials. Applications reopened for the CTO role in May.

The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.

The demotion and removal from Cabinet comes on top of Ms Curran’s unrecorded “secret” meeting at Astoria Cafe with former Radio NZ executive, Carol Hirschfeld, which hit the headlines in March this year.

Ms Curran’s gaffs have sparked the usual and tedious pious pontification from the National Opposition benches. Former Christchurch Re-build Minister, and airline security hazard, Gerry Brownlee, climbed the rarified heights of Mount Moral Highground to demand Ms Curran’s sacking;

But not everyone agrees. National Party MP and shadow House leader Gerry Brownlee said it was the “most limp-wristed, wet bus ticket thing” Ms Ardern could do.

He wants her stripped of the broadcasting portfolio as well.

“It’s undergoing a huge amount of change at the moment, and you need a minister that’s pretty active and onto it to make sure that broadcasting legislation is going to be the best for the sort of information and entertainment services that New Zealanders expect.”

Relatively unknown National Party List MP, Brett Hudson, devoted an entire press release excoriating the hapless Minister*;

“The decision to allow Clare Curran to retain any of her Ministerial portfolios after being dumped from Cabinet is a sign of weakness in the Government…

It’s almost comical that Ms Curran, who until today held the Associate State Services (Open Government) portfolio has failed not once but twice to answer Written Parliamentary Questions accurately.

Her punishment is a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket. She keeps her Ministerial salary and the all the perks that come with that despite demonstrating that she’s not capable of being a Minister.

It’s not good enough that it took Ms Curran five and a half months to correct her answer to a written question and to finally acknowledge she met with Derek Handley, who had expressed interest in the Chief Technology Officer role created by the Minister.”

Rightwing blogger and National Party activist, David Farrar, was equally scathing;

So covering up secret meetings is okay for a Minister outside Cabinet, just not inside Cabinet. That’s mighty low standards. A meaningful sanction would be removal from the Ministry.

The undisclosed meeting was just as improper as the Hirschfeld one, namely:

  • It was a conflict of interest as Derek Handley was an applicant for the CTO job that the Minister appoints
  • The meeting was not in the Minister’s diary
  • The meeting was kept a secret from the Minister’s own staff and officials
  • The meeting was not disclosed to a written parliamentary question

If that is not enough to be removed from the ministry, what is?

Good question, Mr Farrar: “If that is not enough to be removed from the ministry, what is?

Let’s try to answer that question. What would merit removal from office for unofficial, unrecorded meetings?

Here are three possible answers;

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But in answer to parliamentary written questions, the Prime Minister said he had “no meetings” with representatives of Mediaworks to discuss the deal.

Two days later that answer was corrected, saying he “ran into” Brent Impey at a “social event” in Auckland where the issue was “briefly raised” and he “passed his comments on” to the responsible minister.

Was Key’s “social event” where he “ran into” Brent Impey held at Astoria Cafe by any chance?

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Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Key’s diary showed no scheduled meetings with Sky City representatives since July last year.

“Having said that, the Prime Minister attends numerous functions and is quite likely to have come across Sky City representatives at some stage.”

Mr Key was asked last July in a question for written answer from Green MP Sue Kedgley whether he or any of his ministers had met representatives from the casino to discuss changes to the Gambling Act.

He replied: “I attended a dinner with the Sky City board 4 November 2009 where we discussed a possible national convention centre and they raised issues relating to the Gambling Act 2003”.

So the former PM’s “diary showed no scheduled meetings with Sky City representatives” – but he did have dinner with the entire “Sky City board 4 November 2009 where we discussed a possible national convention centre and they raised issues relating to the Gambling Act 2003“.

Also held at Astoria Cafe, by any chance?

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Prime Minister John Key had breakfast with Ian Fletcher just days after he selected a panel to interview candidates for the country’s top spy job.

The pair ate together at Auckland’s Stamford Plaza Hotel on June 17, 2011. Mr Key says the vacancy, as head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was not discussed.

Three days earlier, Mr Key had signed off on an interview panel for the job, which included then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Maarten Wevers. Mr Fletcher was the only person to be interviewed for the post, after a shortlist of four other candidates was rejected.

Not held at the Astoria Cafe.

But Mr Fletcher did get the job.

As for Mr Farrar’s question – would the former Prime Minister’s unofficial and unrecorded meetings with Brent Impey, Ian Fletcher, and the entire Board of Skycity Casino quality to be “enough to be removed from the ministry”?

Herein lies a lesson for Ms Curran and other government ministers. If you’re going to have “secret” meetings, follow the National Party’s handbook. They do it much more effectively.

And they get away with it.

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*  Note

National Party pages are removed regularly from their website. Brett Hudson’s page/statement has been saved for future reference.

References

NZ Herald: Clare Curran sacked from Cabinet, PM Jacinda Ardern announces

Scoop media: Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

ODT: Carol Hirschfeld resigns over Clare Curran meeting

Mediaworks/TV3: Why wasn’t Clare Curran stripped of all her portfolios?

Fairfax media: Gerry Brownlee fined for airport security breach

National Party: Curran token demotion a sign of weakness

Kiwiblog: Disclosure State

Kiwiblog: Curran demoted after a further secret meeting

TVNZ:  Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

NZ Herald:  SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

Fairfax Media:  Key met spy candidate for breakfast

Other Blogs

The Standard: Clare Curran demoted

Previous related blogposts

Dear Leader caught telling porkies (again)?! (part rua)

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

National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How

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

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Disclosure: This blogger had a date with his current partner at the Astoria Cafe. It was very nice.
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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 August 2018.

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While the Left fiddles, the Right beats their war-drum

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While the Left has been fiddling about with much gnashing of teeth and tears of concern over the right of two Canadian neo-fascists to speak at an Auckland City council venue – National’s focus has been laser-like at regaining power in 2020.

Like rust, the Right doesn’t sleep. Their failure to install a fourth-term National government came about only because of a fatal mis-step by (most likely) someone in the National Party/Government in a clumsy, ham-fisted ploy to undermine Winston Peters and cripple NZ First in last year’s general election.

Whoever released Peters’ superannuation over-payments to the media did so with political malice-aforethought. It was an agenda to neuter Peters and his party, and it was executed with callous precision.

It failed  because Peters was canny enough to counter with a parry that revealed the ploy for the ruthless strategy that it was.

The black-ops plan succeeded in only alienating Peters and reminding him that National was not to be trusted. With thirtythree years political experience, Peters had no intention to be anyone’s “useful idiot”.

With no potential coalition partner on the horizon (unless one is manufactured by a National MP splintering from his party), National’s only remaining options are;

  1. Coalition with the Greens. Chances: worse than winning Powerball Lotto.
  2. Winning 50%-plus of the Party Vote. Chances: somewhat better than Option One.

National opened it’s 2020 election campaign with three salvos of highly publicised policy released with much fanfare at it’s recent conference.

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Charter Schools

For most middle and upper-middle class voters Charter Schools are a non-issue. Their children either attend State schools, Integrated Schools, or Private Schools. The common thread between all three is that they are established; staffed with qualified professionals; and the curriculum is bog-standard (with minor variations-on-a-theme.)

Charter Schools would appear to further  ghettoise education for lower socio-economic families – a fact already well-known as “white flight” from low-decile State schools.

National’s hard-line stance to increase Charter School numbers should it be re-elected to power is curious because it would not appear to be much of a drawcard  for propertied middleclass voters who tend to vote along self-interest lines.

Which indicates that the policy has other intentions; a toxic “witches’ brew” of  ideological (further) commercialisation of education and a subtle, well-camouflaged attack on teacher’s unions.

So: not specifically designed to be a vote-winning policy. More of an  weaponised attack-policy on State education and unions.

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Classroom sizes

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising policy to be released was classroom size reduction. Made by current National Party leader, Simon Bridges on the day of the Conference opening on 29 July, he committed National to this radical (for Tories) social policy in clear english;

“All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve. That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.

Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.

Those ratios should be reduced.”

Mr Bridges’ newfound concern for classroom sizes harks back to several speeches made by former PM, John Key, in 2007 and 2008, where he lamented growing social problems in New Zealand.

In 2007;

“As New Zealanders, we have grown up to believe in and cherish an egalitarian society. We like to think that our children’s futures will be determined by their abilities, their motivation and their hard work. They will not be dictated by the size of their parent’s bank balance or the suburb they were born in.”

And again in 2007;

“During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

[…]

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

[…]

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

In 2008;

“This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist. They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.”

Once elected into power, National quiety dropped it’s concern for social problems. Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, did not even want to countenance measuring growing child poverty in this country. It suddenly became the fault of the poor.

Now Simon Bridges has dusted off National’s Manual for Crying Crocodile Tears.

Ironically, in tapping into parental fears of over-burdened schools and their children suffering because of over-worked teachers, Mr Bridges’ policy commitment stands diametrically opposed to National’s doomed policy announced on 16 May 2012 to increase classroom sizes;

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The policy was announced by gaff-prone former education minister, Hekia Parata, who  clumsily (if honestly) admitted that the move was purely for fiscal reasons;

”The reality is that we are in a tight economic environment. In order to make new investment in quality teaching and leading, we have to make some trade-offs… ”

Teachers – and more importantly, voting middle-class parents were having none of it. National’s cost-cutting of welfare, health, and state housing was one thing. But interfering with their Little Johnny and Janey’s education? Like hell.

Especially when it was revealed that then-Prime Minister, John Key’s own children attended private schools with… smaller class sizes!

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The over-powering stench of hypocrisy further infuriated the voting public. The policy lasted twentyone days before it was hastily dumped;

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Simon Bridges was unequivocal:  a National government would spend more on education;

“National will invest more to make sure our kids get the best quality start to their education, but we will also demand nothing but the highest standards.”

However, National has not explained how they will pay for the cost of additional teachers. Especially as National continues to  advocate for a billion dollar mega-prison to be built;  promised to dump the Coalition’s fuel taxes, and has not ruled out offering election tax-cut bribes.

As National has been fond of demanding: where will the money come from for extra teachers? Is this National’s own multi-billion dollar fiscal hole?

It was left to Labour’s own education minister, Chris Hipkins to point out;

“It’s very expensive to make even a modest change to class sizes and I think that’s something we want to talk to the teaching profession about.”

However, barely a day after his Conference speech, Mr Bridges was already backtracking;

Simon Bridges admits his promise of smaller class sizes may not mean fewer students per classroom.

The National leader announced a new policy to reduce the teacher-student ratio, as a centrepiece of his conference address over the weekend.

However, many primary schools run “modern learning environments” with several classes in the same room.

Bridges told Kerre McIvor National’s policy is about the number of staff per student, not the number of students per room.

” So in those modern learning environments, that may mean more teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smaller classrooms.”

At least Hekia Parata’s plan to increase classroom sizes lasted three weeks.  Mr Bridges’ ersatz “commitment” did not last 24 hours.

The Coalition should be making mincemeat out of Mr Bridges’ policy u-turn.

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Crime

An oldie, but a goodie.  Tories understand how to tug the fear-strings of a sizeable chunk of the voting middle-class. National and other conservative parties around the world are (in)famous for manipulating middle-class fears on crime for electoral purposes.

One of their 2011 election hoardings explicitly exploited  those fears;

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A recent video campaign on National’s Facebook platform has gone a step further into whipping up fear and paranoia;

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This is a shameful, naked ploy to play on peoples’ fears.

It was backed up by former mercenary, and current National Party “Justice” Spokesperson, Mark Mitchell, who tried to offer “alternative facts” relating to crime figures;

The Government needs to stop looking for excuses to go soft on crime and come up with a plan to reduce crime, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“No doubt the report today from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor saying that being tough on crime is to blame for rising prison costs and inmate numbers is music to Andrew Little and Grant Robertson’s ears.

“They’ve been looking for excuses to loosen up bail and sentencing laws so that the Government doesn’t have to go ahead with building the new Waikeria prison and can boast about reducing prison numbers.

“But the cost of prisons cannot be an excuse not to put people in prison, if that’s where they need to be. The priority must be to ensure that victims are kept safe from violent criminals.

“We know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending.

“Violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011 and this is largely the type of crime that people get sent to prison for. This is also the type of crime that has the most serious and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives.

Which is confusing as not too long ago, National was trumpeting several propaganda infographics on their Twitter account;

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Mr Mitchell is at pains to point out that  “we know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending” – yet the infographics above make no such distinction. On the contrary, the second “broken bottles” infographic makes clear the figures relate to “Total Recorded Crimes”.

Perhaps they should get their propaganda straight.

In a startling admission, Mr Mitchell confirmed that ““violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011″. It appears that the “Three Strikes Law” – enacted the previous year in 2010 – has failed to reduce criminal offending.

The questions that  Coalition government ministers should be putting to their National Party colleagues are;

  1. Is it not irresponsible to be exploiting fear about crime for electoral purposes? How will knee-jerk rhetoric assist an intelligent debate on imprisonment and rehabilitation?
  2. If crime, imprisonment, and rehabilitation require cross-party concensus, will National continue to pursue electioneering on “tough on crime”?
  3. If National pursues a get-tough-on-crime election platform in 2020, and if they are elected to government – how will they pay for hundreds more prisoners jailed? Will National borrow a billion dollars to pay for a new mega-prison? Will health, education, DoC, and social housing budgets be cut? Will National increase GST, as they did in 2010 (despite promising not to)?
  4. What is the limit that National will tolerate for an increasing prison population?

National has made clear that it intends to play the “tough-on-crime” card at the next election. The propaganda campaign has already begun.

The Coalition Parties need to formulate a clear strategy to combat fear-mongering by a National party desperate to regain power.

The question that should be put to National is; where will the billions of dollars for new prisons come from?

The prison population has all but doubled in eighteen years, and tripled since 1987, as successive governments have ramped up “tough on crime” rhetoric and pandered to fearful low-information voters;

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Tough-on-crime may be National’s default strategy. If addressed correctly, it can also be their weakness.

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References

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce says he would have advised against leaking Winston Peters’ super details

The Daily Blog: Real reason why National are considering cutting ACT off

NZ Herald: National Party conference kicks off with nod for Simon Bridges from former Australian PM John Howard

Massey University: Education Policy Response Group (p30)

Fairfax media: Parents’ choice driving ‘eye-opening’ segregation in New Zealand schools

NZ Herald: National will cut primary school class sizes if it gets into Govt, Simon Bridges tells conference

NZ Herald: John Key’s ‘A fair go for all’ speech

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Fairfax media: Bigger class sizes announced

NZ Herald: Key called hypocrite over class sizes

Fairfax media: Backlash forces Government class size U-turn

Fairfax media: Smaller class sizes under Nats, says Simon Bridges in major speech

NewstalkZB: Simon Bridges explains smaller class size policy

Radio NZ: No promises from Hipkins on reducing class sizes

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges says scale-back of Waikeria prison flies in the face of latest prison projections

NZ Herald: Sir John Key downplays Simon Bridges’ polling ahead of National Party conference

TVNZ: Simon Bridges says he’ll dump regional fuel tax if elected

Fairfax media: Does the Government have any money for this Budget? Yes

NZ Herald: Murder and mutilation comments emerge on National’s new ‘tough on crime’ social media campaign

National Party: Prison costs cannot be excuse to go soft on crime

Twitter: National Party – The crime rate is falling under National.

Parliament Legislation: Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010

Fairfax media: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges

Fairfax media: National leader Simon Bridges talks up ‘tough on crime’ stance

Fairfax media: 20 Years of ‘tough on crime’ stance sees prison population surge

Additional

Radio NZ: Charter school report silent on educational achievement

Other Blogposts

The Daily Blog: What everyone seemed to miss in their criticism of the National Party Conference

The Daily Blog: What the 2018 National Party Conference tells us

Previous related blogposts

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 August 2018.

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