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Mr English: Where are National’s secret coalition negotiation papers?

8 December 2017 2 comments

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Bill English has been kicking up a shit-storm, demanding that Labour release what they have been describing as a “secret coalition agreement” between Labour and NZ First.

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English complained;

“This is a government that said it would be more transparent and more open. The document is clearly there somewhere, it must be important because it’s 38 pages and it’s come out of the agreement – people deserve to see it.

It sounds like there might be quite a lot more in this other piece of paper. If it’s at the core of how the Government’s going to run, it’s in the public interest.”

English defended his insistence that the coalition notes be made public by comparing the Coalition with his own previous administration “transparency”;

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“By any international standard the last government was open and transparent, and this government, as with many other things, has expressed these high-minded intentions and then fails to follow through.”

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Which is a patently dishonest claim considering that the last nine years of National governance has been one of secrecy; obstructing OIA requests; increased state surveillance; and misleading the public.

Former Dear Leader, “Sir” John Key was brazenly open only in one respect of the OIA. He openly conceded that his administration regularly and willfully delayed releasing OIA requested information for purely political purposes;

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“Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that.”

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To which  Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem, responded by reminding Key and his cronies colleagues they were were not permitted to flout the OIA legislation by deliberately delaying up to the  twenty-day deadline;

“It’s pretty clear. It couldn’t be much clearer than that… As soon as you have made a decision as to whether you’re going to respond to the request or how you’re going to respond to it, you ought to convey that.”

During it’s nine years in office, National has widened the powers of the GCSB to permit it to spy on all New Zealanders; mis-used GCSB surveillance to secure leadership of the World Trade Organisation; spied on our Pacific neighbours; and unlawfully harassed National’s critics such as Nicky Hager and Martyn Bradbury.

But when challenged on whether the GCSB was conducting mass surveillance on New Zealanders, Key simply point-blank refused to comment.

Who can forget National’s obstruction and prevarication – including contradictory statements – over the SAS-led attack on two villages in the Tirgiran Valley in 2010 which caused fifteen injuries and the tragic deaths of six innocent Afghan civilians, including a young child;

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Lest we forget: Fatima, aged 3

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Just recently, it was revealed that an OIA request by Radio NZ, for details regarding the business case for a proposed new multi-million dollar Auckland City rail-line, was met with deliberate stone-walling from then-Minister, Simon Bridge’s “office“;

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has been caught trying to block an official information request for details about a proposed new $50 million Auckland railway line.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters tabled an email trail in Parliament yesterday showing that Mr Bridges’ office repeatedly urged KiwiRail last week not to release a business case on Auckland’s proposed third main railway track.

Initially, his officials opposed the document being released, saying it was part of an unsuccessful budget bid, but were told by KiwiRail on Thursday that the law was clear it should be released.

After consulting its legal team, KiwiRail told Mr Bridge’s office it would struggle to justify not releasing it.

But on Friday Mr Bridges’ office again urged KiwiRail not to release the business plan.

This time it used a scatter-gun approach – arguing the report was only a draft, was on a misleading template and that its proposed release was making them “extremely uncomfortable”.

Writer Harriet Gale…

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… said KiwiRail made it clear the business case did not need to be kept secret and that the minister’s behaviour was worrying.

Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, was obviously frustrated and disturbed by National’s attempt to suppress the Kiwirail Report and their continual flouting of the OIA;

“It’s so important that we get this Act flowing better than it has been and it hasn’t necessarily flowed that well.

And that’s why I’ve used this as an opportunity to exhort the Prime Minister to help me and support me in getting the roles crystal clear.

We are coming down increasingly heavier where we see instances where the Act is not being compiled with – and in some cases, where it’s been flouted.

I think there’s an understanding that we mean business.”

Hardly the hallmarks of an “open and transparent” government when a Minister’s “office” is prepared to conspire to break the law by circumventing the Official Information Act. Also not helped when the ombudsman’s office has to write a scathing letter to the Prime Minister demanding they obey the law.

As if to underscore National’s mania for secrecy, in 2011/12, New Zealand’s ranking in media freedom by Reporters Without Borders fell from eighth place  in 2010, to  thirteenth, in the world.

The Herald’s senior reporter, Matthew Backhouse, wrote at the time;

The report did not say what was behind the fall – but it comes after a year in which newsrooms were searched by police, the New Zealand Herald was temporarily banned from the parliamentary press gallery and a proposed new law sought to give police greater powers to enter newsrooms.

Another story by Fairfax media’s Susan Edmunds, in May this year, also reported on New Zealand’s fall in World Press Freedom Index, citing Government secrecy;

The report said journalists were struggling with the Official Information Act, which gives government agencies long periods of time to respond to requests. Sometimes journalists were asked to pay for information.

“In August 2016, the government revealed a grim future for whistleblowers, announcing a bill that would criminalise leaking government information to the media and would dramatically increase the surveillance powers of the intelligence services. Journalists, bloggers, and civil society representatives would be among the potential targets of the proposed law, which could be adopted in 2017.”

Catherine Strong, from Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, said;

“Our lower standing is due to the growing list of government agencies trying to hide information by thwarting the Official Information Act, and these agencies are ruining our reputation.”

What is even more grimly ironic is that having been thrown out of office, National persists in refusing to disclose information to the public.

Remember that National Party leader, Bill English, recently demanded;

“This is a government that said it would be more transparent and more open. The document is clearly there somewhere, it must be important because it’s 38 pages and it’s come out of the agreement – people deserve to see it.

It sounds like there might be quite a lot more in this other piece of paper. If it’s at the core of how the Government’s going to run, it’s in the public interest.”

Following coalition negotiations,  and Peters’s subsequent  announcement on 19 October that NZ First would coalesce with Labour and the Greens, Radio NZ’s Susie Ferguson spoke with National’s Bill English on Morning Report.

On at least two occassions, Ms Ferguson asked Bill English if he would be releasing the text of coalitions negotiations with NZ First. English first replied;

@1:57

“Well again, I’m not going to be discussing that. It was part of the negotiations and New Zealand First actually required, rightly, confidentiality about those negotiations.”

When pressed, English was adamant that there would be no public disclosure;

@2:28

“I’m honour bound to stick with the confidentiality agreement. As are the other parties.”

Note English’s reference to “the other parties“.

That would be Labour. No one else was in the room with Peters and NZ First. So when it suited English, he was more than willing to point to “the other parties” to validate his refusal to release National’s own coalition discussion papers.

A month later, on 28 November, TVNZ’s talented Jack Tame interviewed Bill English on Breakfast TV. After English repeated his demands that Labour publish all coalition documents, Tame pointed out  the apparent hypocrisy of demanding Labour make public their coalition papers whilst English refused to disclose National’s;

@1:13

TAME: “So are you prepared to release what your coalition negotiations with NZ First if the government does the same?”

ENGLISH: “Well, look, I don’t know if it’s a record of negotiations. We conducted ours under a confidentiality agreement. That was very clear right at the start.

So according to English, National operated under a “confidentiality agreement“.  He failed to explain how that differed from Labour’s confidentiality agreement with NZ First. As English insisted on 19 October, Labour was “honour bound to stick with the[ir] confidentiality agreement.”

Tame put the story on Twitter;

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Kudos to Jack Tame for being the only journalist (to my knowledge) to recognise and point out English’s double standard on this issue.

English’s refusal to come clean with the New Zealand public whilst demanding “transparency and openess” from Labour is a stark reminder of National’s toxic track record of paranoia, secrecy, and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do arrogance. Every time English or one of his National Party parliamentary colleagues opens their mouths, we are reminded of their own hypocrisy.

They are political charlatans not to be trusted.

For the first time in our political history, it has become the role of the Government to hold the Opposition to account.

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And now…

Introducing the first (but not the last!) Paula Bennett Award for Hypocrisy. Named for the National party politician who used the Training Incentive Allowance to gain a free, tax-payer funded university education when she was a young mother on the domestic purposes benefit. Later, in 2009, as Minister for Social Welfare, one of her first actions was to  scrap that Allowance, thereby denying other solo-parents the same opportunity for advancing their lives.

The first Award goes to Bill English, for saying one thing and doing another. Congratulations, Mr English!

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Acknowledgement

My thanks to a Radio NZ producer for locating specific audio that provided much-needed information for the completion of this story. I am indebted for the significant time and effort it took to assist me on this project.

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References

TVNZ News:  ‘It’s in the public interest’ – Bill English calls for release of coalition document

Radio NZ:  New govt has ‘no follow through’ – National

NZ Herald: John Key, mass surveillance and what really happened when Edward Snowden accused him of spying

Radio NZ:  Spy agencies come under scrutiny

Fairfax media: Killed girl’s parents demand NZ Government inquiry

Radio NZ:  Transport Minister tries to block official information request

Radio NZ:  Ombudsman urges ministers to follow OIA rules

NZ Herald:  NZ slips out of top 10 for freedom in the media

Fairfax media:  Press freedoms stifled by cynical use of Official Information Act – Report

Fairfax media: Labour finally retakes power after Winston Peters gives Jacinda Ardern his support

Radio NZ: Bill English faces first caucus since defeat (alt. link)

Twitter: Jame Tame – 28 November

NZ Herald: Bennett rejects ‘hypocrite’ claims

Additional

NZ Herald: OIA tension raises questions over minister’s request for information

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Key and Mass Surveillance – Was this the reason for the Golriz distraction?

TDB:  Now we know Key lied about mass surveillance – let’s remind everyone what our msm said at the time

Previous related blogposts

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

“Fool me once”

Judith Collins owes an explanation to voters

National whines about Cullen’s appointment – they should know about cronyism

National’s $11.7 billion hole is right where they left it

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 December 2017.

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Roy Morgan poll confirms blogger’s prediction – National is in freefall

2 December 2017 3 comments

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On 12 November, I made the following observation;

Polling Decay in Opposition

The longer the Nats remain in Opposition, the  faster their public support will erode. Post 2008, Labour’s polling continued to plummet, whereas National’s ascendancy continued to build on it electoral success…

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The longer National stays in Opposition, the further it’s public support will fall. It is hard to imagine that it’s election night result of 44.4%  will be maintained to the next election in 2020.

In short, the Nats risk growing irrelevancy the longer they stay out of government.

It’s taken faster than I thought possible, but the first post-election poll – from Roy Morgan – has the Labour-led coalition rising  whilst National’s support is falling;

In November support for the newly elected Labour/NZ First/Greens Government was 54.5% (up 6% since early October) ahead of National/Act NZ on 41% (down 5.5%) with minor parties outside Parliament attracting the remaining 4.5% of support.

  • Support for Labour/NZ First is at 44.5% (up 7% since early October), a slight increase from their election result of 44.1% while coalition partners the Greens are on 10% (down 1%).
  • Support for National is at 40.5% (down 5.5%) and down 3.95% from their election result of 44.5% while their right-wing colleagues Act NZ are stuck unchanged on 0.5%.

Hence why National’s chief party strategist, shit-stirrer, and head-kicker – Steven Joyce has been so vocal lately. His on-going carping about the new government is a desperate attempt for his party to stay relevant.

The longer the Coalition has to implement it’s reforms and fix up thirty years of neo-liberal mis-management, the harder it will be for the Nats to offer themselves as a viable alternative in 2020 or 2023. Or 2026.

Who would vote for a party whose nine years in office saw nothing of any practical value except a cycleway (that failed to deliver promised 4,000 new jobs) and bloated house-values for a minority of middle class property-owners in Auckland and Wellington?

Who would vote for a party whose former Dear Leader smiled and waved his way through eight years in office; who bullied a powerless waitress; wasted $26 million on a pointless referendum; and left a legacy of Kiwi families living in cars, garages, or crammed into mouldy, delapidated housing?

And then there’s this;

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rivers too polluted to even swim in.

Nine years of National has proven to be an expensive exercise  in futility for this country.

But more so thirty years of a dogmatic neo-liberal experiment which has failed on almost every level (unless you are the 1% or an Auckland property owner).

TV3’s ‘The Nation‘  on 25 November emphasised the grim problems we face, as the entire episode was taken up with the socio-economic problems faced by Northlanders.

That one, single, episode was award-winning journalism. It was Reality TV unlike the inane bullshit we get from “The Block“, “Home Improvement“, “Survivor Whatever/Wherever“, “The Bachelor/ette“, “My Kitchen Cooks“, etc, etc, et-bloody-cetera.

It made for grim watching and deserves to be re-broadcast at prime time.

It is against this back-drop that National’s strategists should understand one thing very clearly: people’s expectations over the last three decades have been low. The pressing social and economic problems we face have been accepted with a shrug from a sizeable chunk of the voting population.

It was presented for a generation that this was as good as it gets.

But if Labour, NZ First, and the Greens can prove that a better alternative exists – then watch National’s poll rating plummet even further. The Roy Morgan Poll gave us a hint of this;

Government Confidence increased substantially during November after New Zealand First chose to form Government with the Labour Party installing Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s new PM.

The Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating jumped 15.5pts to 146.5pts in November (the highest for nearly eight years since January 2010 early in the reign of Prime Minister John Key) with 66.5% of NZ electors (up 8% from October) saying NZ is ‘heading in the right direction’ cf. 20% of NZ electors (down 7.5%) that say New Zealand is ‘heading in the wrong direction’.

The Nats are on borrowed time. Their relevancy will continue to diminish.

And it is when the Right have their backs against the wall that they will be most dangerous.

Labour, Green, and NZ First Ministers and MPs need to be on-guard at all times. Stay focused on what needs to be done.

The Roy Morgan poll shows we are on track…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: 26 November 2017
subject: Letters to the editor

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The editor
Sunday Star Times

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The latest Roy Morgan poll must be sending shivers down the backs of the National Party hierarchy.

Not because support for the newly elected Labour-led coalition was up 6% to 54.5%, with National/ACT free-falling 5.5% on 41%.

But because the same poll revealed that “66.5% of NZ electors (up 8%) said NZ is heading in the right direction”.

This is a clear message from the people that they have had enough of a market-led, minimalist-government regime that has seen growing child poverty; widening income/wealth inequality; stagnating wages; corporates rorting the tax system; worsening housing affordability; growing homelessness with entire families living in garages or cars; degraded rivers; and a grossly under-funded health system.

National was quick of the mark cutting taxes in 2009 and 2010, for which they had to borrow from overseas to fund, despite assurances that would not happen.

But not so quick to address the critical problems that really matter to New Zealanders.

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-Frank Macskasy

[name and address supplied]

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References

Wikipedia:  Opinion polling for the New Zealand general election, 2011

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Roy Morgan Poll:  New PM Jacinda Ardern drives surge in New Zealand Government Confidence

NZ Herald:  Cycleway jobs fall short

Mediaworks:  New Zealand housing most unaffordable in the world – The Economist

Fairfax media: Prime Minister John Key pulled waitress’ ponytail

Radio NZ:  Flag referendum ‘waste of money’

Fairfax media:  New Zealand’s poor housing is making our children sick

Fairfax media:  ‘Serious pressures’ facing rivers, Government report finds

Mediaworks: The Nation – Turning around the far north

Mediaworks: The Nation – What happened to Moerewa?

Mediaworks: The Nation – Fixing Northland

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Latest Roy Morgan Poll – Labour and Greens surge as National flounders

Previous related blogposts

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

“Fool me once”

St. Steven and the Holy Grail of Fiscal Responsibility

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That was then…

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This is now…

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 November 2017.

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National whines about Cullen’s appointment – they should know about cronyism

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When it comes to a repulsive cocktail of double standards, self-interest, and hypocrisy, National is the party that just keeps on giving…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: 25 November 2017
subject: Letters to the editor

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The editor
The Listener

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On 23 November, the Coalition government fulfilled another of it’s election pledges. Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash announced that Michael Cullen would head the planned Taxation Working Group to look into issues surrounding a fairer taxation system.

National’s political strategist and former minister, Steven Joyce responded with a predictable jerk-of-the-knee;

“Sir Michael is many things but a politically independent voice on taxation policy he is not. Let’s face it, he was Labour’s last Finance Minister and one of the key coalition negotiators for the Labour Party.”

Joyce’s reprehensible swipe at Cullen’s appointment was hypocritical for two reasons.

Firstly, it was National that appointed Cullen  as deputy chairman of NZ Post in April 2009. By November 2010, then SOE Minister, Simon Power, had promoted Cullen to Chair of NZ Post, saying;

“I look forward to working with Dr Cullen to develop NZ Post’s strategy to accommodate declining mail volumes and a challenging financial environment.”

Secondly, when it comes to cronyism, National is hard to beat. Just some of their political appointees include Jackie Blue, Wyatt Creech, Mervyn English, Sir Wira Gardiner, Catherine Isaac,  Judy Kirk, Richard Long, Wayne Mapp, Stephen McElrea, Jim McLay, Belinda Milnes,  Ravi Musuku, Brian Neeson, Kerry Prendergast, , Katherine Rich, Jenny Shipley,   Ken Shirley, Roger Sowry,  and Penny Webster.

One of National’s worst instances of cronyism was the hugely wasteful, so-called “Rules Reduction Taskforce“, which produced it’s “loopy rules report”. Half the “Taskforce”, appointed by Paula Bennett in 2014, consisted of former National MPs such as Tau Henare, John Carter, and former party candidates Mark Thomas and Ian Tulloch. They were each paid $500 a day.

Eventually the “Taskforce” reported that many of the contentious bureaucratic regulations  did not exist in reality. They were urban myths.

Thank you Steven Joyce for reminding us how National excels at cronyism.

-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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Further on the issue of the so-called Rules Reduction Taskforce”, Green Party MP, Julie-Anne Genter,  said at the time;

“We’re getting to that point where the National government is losing all perspective or sense of touch with reality – when they think it’s okay to pay their former MPs or candidates and donors to undertake what’s ostensibly some sort of taskforce work, it’s really just an exercise in PR and spin.”

That little exercise cost taxpayers a cool $750,000.

Around the same time, the Wanganui Chronicle reported that community NGOs were suffering badly, with several such as Relationships Aotearoa and the YWCA, closing entirely;

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Fellow blogger,  Curwen Rolinson, was also less than impressed at  Joyce’s naked hypocrisy, pointing out on Facebook;

But hold on just a moment. I’ve literally lost count of the number of consultative bodies and even straight-up *Inquiries* that the National Party *quite pointedly* staffed the chairing of with their own people, flunkies, and other such questionable appointments.

I mean, as an example of this – their placing of John Shewan at the head of the group convened to look into slash “dispel” the perception of New Zealand as a tax-haven, for instance, was quite directly a case of placing a fox in charge of a hen-house [Shewan’s private sector activities including quite a spate of tax-“consultancy” and linkages to a series of potentially dodgy international firms in this regard].

Or, worse, the series of appointments of [now Dame – guess why she got the gong, eh?] Paula Rebstock to head Inquiries into everything from Peter Dunne’s ‘alleged’ leaking of materials around the GCSB’s illegal conduct through to the ‘Leask’ affair concerning MFAT information being anonymously passed to the Labour Party.

Curwen continued to strip away National’s faux outrage;

Further, if I recall correctly, the previous National Government’s “2025 Taskforce” on pensions and the like was convened to be *chaired by* none other than arch-neoliberal [and former National Party Leader] Don Brash. I don’t seem to recall the National Party raising any issue with “politically tied” appointments to policy working-group style arrangements THEN…?

What’s different about Cullen on the Tax Working Group, I wonder…?

But when it came to cronyism mixed with  commercial self interest, Judith Collins’ involvement in the Oravida milk company scandal was hard to top, as political commentator, Bryce Edwards put bluntly;

Justice Minister Judith Collins has revealed she had a dinner with the head of Oravida and a senior Chinese government official while in China last year and admits she was wrong not to disclose the dinner last week. Mrs Collins has been under pressure to explain her dealings with the milk company Oravida, where her husband is a director;

Perceptions of corruption, cronyism and conflicts of interest can be incredibly damaging to any government, and National will be very wary of a narrative developing that this administration is infected with political sleaze.

Nothing makes a government look more tired, out-of-touch, and arrogant than scandals that suggest governing politicians are ethically compromised and governing in the interests of the powerful rather than the public.

Judith Collins’ milk endorsement scandal is beginning to have a serious impact on the Government’s reputation. But unfortunately for National, there are a number of similar stories dogging it at the moment, and they all come on the back of previous allegations of cronyism related to the scandals over John Banks as well as the SkyCity convention centre procurement process.

The scandal over Judith Collins and her allegedly favourable treatment of the milk company that her husband helps run has allowed National’s opponents to make some strong attacks on the character of, not only the Minister of Justice, but the whole National administration

By August 2014, the allegations of sleaze, corruption, conflicts of interest became over-whelmingly and Collins was forced to step down from her ministerial roles.

There were many other instances of cronyism revealed during National’s nine years in office. Several resulted in ministerial resignations.

If the appointment of a former Finance Minister to a working group focused on Finance issues (ie, taxation) is the worst that National can throw at the new Coalition government – then it is lobbing damp squibs.

Considering National’s own recent murky history, the issue of cronyism is one where it might be wiser to keep a very, very, very low profile.

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Appendix

A roll call of some of National’s cronies – ex-members of Parliament appointed to various government bodies, organisations, NGOs, working groups, etc;

Blue, Jackie

Creech, Wyatt

English, Mervyn

Gardiner, Sir Wira

Isaac, Catherine

Kirk, Judy

Long, Richard

Mapp, Wayne

McElrea, Stephen

McLay, Jim

Milnes, Belinda

Musuku, Ravi

Neeson, Brian

Prendergast, Kerry

Rich, Katherine

Shipley, Jenny

Shirley, Ken

Sowry, Roger

Webster, Penny

This list is not complete.

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References

Fairfax media:  Sir Michael Cullen to head tax working group, GST changes possible

NZ Herald:  Cullen leaves politics for NZ Post role

NZ Herald:  Cullen to replace Bolger at NZ Post

Fairfax media:  Cullen appointed NZ Post chairman

Radio NZ: National accused of cronyism over ‘loopy rules’ report

Wanganui Chronicle:  Concern over lack of funding for NGOs

Facebook: Curwen Ares Rolinson – 24 November 2017

NZ Herald:  Bryce Edwards – The National Government is looking sleazy

Radio NZ: Collins resigns after ‘smear campaign’

Frankly Speaking: Cronywatch

Additional

Radio NZ:  National accused of cronyism over ‘loopy rules’ report

NZ Herald:  Bryce Edwards – The National Government is looking sleazy

Other Blogs

AmeriNZ Blog:  Is John Key’s government corrupt?

The Standard:  Cabinet Club

Previous related blogposts

The Fletcher Affair – a warning for Labour

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

Crony Watch!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 November 2017.

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St. Steven and the Holy Grail of Fiscal Responsibility

30 November 2017 2 comments

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National’s Steven Joyce is up to his old tricks, pontificating and lecturing the new Coalition government on “fiscal correctness”

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Which called for this timely reminder to the former Minister of Finance…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: 22 November 2017
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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Former Finance Minister, Steven Joyce, rails against the Coalition government’s plans to introduce a regional fuel tax for Auckland, claiming;

“Because if they controlled their costs properly they’d be able to have the sort of money, the $150 million a year that a regional fuel tax would generate, they’d have that in surplus if they just ran the council properly.

… ‘hey get your costs under control’.” (Radio NZ: “Auckland Council could avoid fuel tax – National Party”)

This is the same minister whose previous government racked up $70 billion in debt during their nine years term – exacerbated by two unaffordable tax cuts in 2009 and 2010, and increasing debt by $2 billion each year. (Scoop media:  “Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting”) In effect, National borrowed money – up to $450 million per week in 2009 – from offshore to put into the pockets of mostly top income earners.

Which made a mockery of John Key’s claim in August 2008 that National’s planned tax-cuts would be “hermetically sealed” from the rest of National massive borrowing plans. (NZ Herald: “Nats to borrow for other spending – but not tax cuts”)

Let’s hope the Auckland Council doesn’t follow National’s appalling record of “controlling their costs properly”. It would bankrupt the city.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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Each time the Nats open their mouths to carp about the Coalition’s reforms, it is a delight to remind them of their own pitiful track record over the last nine years. And for Steven Joyce, I offer his very own:

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Postscript

It appears that Mr Joyce has taken offence at something I’ve said. The poor fragile flower has blocked me from his Twitter account;

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It is highly reassuring to know that  I have been noticed by those in high office. And amusing to realise just how incredibly thin-skinned they are.

My work continues.

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References

Radio NZ:  Auckland Council could avoid fuel tax – National Party

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

ODT:  Government now borrowing $450 million a week – claim

NZ Herald:  Nats to borrow for other spending – but not tax cuts

Twitter:  @stevenljoyce

Other blogs

Werewolf: The Myth of Steven Joyce

Previous related blogposts

Joyce, TPPA, and wine exports

Key & Joyce – competing with Paula Bennett for Hypocrites of the Year?

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

Letter to the Editor – Steven Joyce, Hypocrite of the Year

Steven Joyce rails against low mortgage interest rates; claims higher interest rates “beneficial”

Dollars and sense – Joyce’s hypocrisy

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 November 2017.

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“Fool me once”…

17 November 2017 1 comment

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Fool me once, shame on you.

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Fool me twice, shame on me!

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That was then, this is now (1)

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So what was National’s problem with the number of committee members on Select Committees? “Shadow leader of the House“, Simon Bridges, accused the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government of “ trying to limit scrutiny of its actions by attempting to cut the number of Opposition MPs on select committees because it is short on numbers itself ”.

Bridges claimed;

One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. But rather than fronting up to that scrutiny, Labour is now saying it wants to allow fewer elected representatives to carry out that vital function – that’s undemocratic.

While the number of positions on select committees has traditionally matched the number of MPs in Parliament, Labour wants to restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own.”

It’s true. The new Coalition government was going to reduce Select Committee numbers from 120 to 96.

But Bridges was not being truthful with the public when he blamed Labour for wanting to  “restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own”.

In fact, that decision was made by the Standing Orders Committee in July of this year, when National was in government.  National’s David Carter was Speaker of the House and Chairperson of the SOC.

The National government SOC report stated;

“We do not favour specifying the number of seats in the Standing Orders. The Business Committee should retain the ability to determine the size of each committee. We propose instead that the Business Committee adopt a target of 96 seats across the 12 subject select committees. We considered models based on 108 committee seats, which would have little impact given the decrease in the number of committees, and 84 committee seats, which would leave too many members without permanent committee seats—a matter considered below. A total of 96 seats will result in most committees having seven, eight, or nine members.”

Bridges belatedly admitted that the reduction in Select Committee numbers was a decision made by National when it had been in government. But he complained that National had made the decision because they were trying to be ‘nice’ to Labour and other opposition parties;

We were a Government [in July] … trying to accommodate the Opposition who wanted that. But now the Opposition doesn’t want it. Because back then, it is such a disadvantage to us.”

“Disadvantage”?

David Carter’s July 2017 report was clear in its intent;

“We believe there would be some merit in decreasing the overall number of select committee seats while retaining the proportionality requirement. Committees are generally larger than is necessary for them to be effective, and some members have too many committee commitments. With a decrease in the number of subject committees from 13 to 12, committees would become even larger if the overall membership remained around 120.

A decrease in committee seats would provide more flexibility for parties to manage committee attendance and absences. This flexibility would also allow members to attend committee meetings according to their interests, expertise, and availability. Government backbench members would not be expected to be on more than two committees each, allowing them to be more focused in their committee work. There could also be greater scope to arrange extended sittings at the same time as committee meetings, as fewer members would be required to attend those meetings.”

No mention made of “trying to accommodate the Opposition”. Carter’s report was more concerned with  National backbench MPs  being over-worked. “Making nice” with Labour is not mentioned.

National’s modus operandi of dishonesty appears not to have changed as they begin their long twilight Decade of Opposition.

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Hypocrisy, National-style

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National’s Simon Bridges also said on 6 November;

The role of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent. One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. ”

Curiously, the role of Select Committees to “hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent” did not seem to tax Mr Bridges’ noble views when National forced through the so-called ‘Hobbit Law’ in 2010.

The “Hobbit law” – aka the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – was enacted under Urgency from First Reading to Royal Asset in under 48 hours!

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Such unheard of rapidity to pass legislation – even under Urgency – was the political equivalent of a starship travelling at near-light velocity. Needless to say there was no Select Committee over-sight.  There was no scrutiny. And MPs did not get an opportunity to “advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent“.

According to right-wing National apparatchik and blogger, David Farrar, and then Opposition Labour MP, Grant Robertson, the National government used Urgency to pass seventeen laws during it’s first two yours in office. There was no public consultation permitted. No public submissions sought.

National’s (mis-)use of Urgency during it’s nine years in office  shows Bridges to be hypocritical when he preaches;

 The Government must let parliamentary structures fully reflect the decisions of voters and allow its ideas to be tested – that’s in the interests of all New Zealanders.”

But when Simon Bridges was Minister for Labour in 2014, his view on passing health and safety legislation was in stark contrast. As I reported three years ago;

Helen Kelly accused Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges of slowing progress of the passing of the Health and Safety Bill, and actively interfering and restricting the terms of a Worksafe NZ review of safety practices in the forestry industry. She said,

We know the minister has restricted right down what they’re allowed to look at. They’re not looking at fatigue. They’re not looking at weather. They’re not looking at hours of work. Simon Bridges has said, ‘no, wait for the review’.

Bridges response on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 28 April [2014], did nothing to allay fears that he was  taking the side of forestry operators and doing everything within his power to stymie reform of the industry, and resist implementation of a stricter safety regime.

When Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson pressed Bridges on  when the Health and Safety Reform Bill would be passed into law, his response was derisory and dismissive,

We can’t simply, ah,  because Helen Kelly sez so, do something in two days.

...  But I don’t think it’s a position where we can simply snap our fingers and change  systemic, ah, ah, deep  problems overnight. Indeed it would be entirely wrong for us to do that.

Hypocrisy on so many levels… where does one even start with the National Party?!

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Treachery, National-style

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In holding to ransom the election of Trevor Mallard as Speaker of the House, National bluffed it’s way to increase the number of their MPs that can be appointed to Select Committees. This was despite a clear understanding between the new Coalition government and National that Trevor Mallard would be elected unopposed as Speaker, and National’s Anne Tolley as Deputy Speaker.

By demanding a vote be taken, National reneged on their agreement.

The threat from the Opposition Benches was a  dire  warning to the new Coalition government that National was prepared to play dirty.

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Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson negotiate with duplicitous and disloyal  National Opposition MPs

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The  Coalition has been taught a clear lesson. As Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins said after the fiasco;

Lesson learnt, they won’t catch us out on that ever again in the future.

Adding;

Perhaps when dealing with the Opposition, I’ll be a little more careful to make sure I get a specific undertaking from them in future.

Indeed, Chris. Be very careful.  The lesson of National’s willingness to engage in dirty tricks; double dealing; and other obstructionist tactics should not be lost on any Labour, Green, or NZ First MPs.

National MPs lack honour.

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National’s desperation to remain relevant

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For National, the stakes are high and they will do everything within their power – perhaps pushing as close to the edge of legality as humanly possible – to achieve the destruction of this Coalition government, and spark an early election.

Make no mistake. National realises two crucial things are in play;

#1: Polling Decay in Opposition

The longer the Nats remain in Opposition, the  faster their public support will erode. Post 2008, Labour’s polling continued to plummet, whereas National’s ascendancy continued to build on it electoral success;

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The longer National stays in Opposition, the further it’s public support will fall. It is hard to imagine that it’s election night result of 44.4%  will be maintained to the next election in 2020.

In short, the Nats risk growing irrelevancy the longer they stay out of government.

#2: Dismantling the Neo-liberal Paradigm

Chris Trotter wrote on 26 October;

“ We face an economic system without the slightest idea how to solve the problems created by its discredited policies and practices. Nevertheless, the Neoliberal Establishment remains very strong, and just as soon as it settles upon an effective strategy of resistance, the fightback will begin.

[…]

The Labour-NZ First-Green Government will be presented by these hard-line rightists as an illegitimate and dangerously anti-capitalist regime. Its anti-business and anti-farming policies, they will argue, are not only incompatible with genuine Kiwi democracy, but also constitute a direct attack on the sanctity of private property. As such, it will not be enough to merely oppose this far-left government; it will be necessary to fight it head-on.

Brexit. Donald Trump. Justin  Trudeau. Jeremy Corbyn. Emmanuel Macron. Whether on the Left or Right, or Mad Populist; whether in office or not; there is a mood for change sweeping the globe. The promises of neo-liberalism; the “free” market; and globalism have failed to materialise for the many – whilst amassing vast wealth for the few.

“Trickle down” has become a sick joke that offers opportunities for cartoonists…

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… but not much else for the unemployed; the low-paid; and the precariat. It’s hard to be a cheer-leader for globalisation when your job has been “exported” to Shanghai; outsourced to Manila; or replaced by a robot.

It is against that back-drop of growing public resentment against the neo-liberal orthodoxy that National understands it is living on ‘borrowed time’. The longer they remain in Opposition, the more time the Coalition government has to un-pick the strands of neo-liberalism and reinstate the role of the State in commerce, workplace relations, housing, education, health, and elsewhere.

The more that neo-liberalism is unravelled, the harder it will be for National in the long-term to re-build. Especially if a resurgent State succeeds in housing the homeless; fully funding public healthcare and cutting back waiting lists; and all the other cuts to social services that National sneaked through gradually, without being noticed except by a few.

Expect desperation to be the motivator for everything National does in the next three years.

They know the clock is ticking.

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That was then, this is now (2)

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On 24 October,  Bill English was interviewed on Radio NZ’s Morning Report by Susie Ferguson. He was asked about his earlier comments  about the current coalition being a “minority government”;

English began by voicing that the incoming coalition government had not won the “popular vote”. First he complained that his Party should have been the government simply because of it’s size;

“ The voters at large probably expected that if you got 44 and a half percent of the vote, you were some part of the government or the big part of it.

Then he suggested that the formation of the coalition was somehow “unusual”;

“…How to hold to account a government that’s been put together in an unusual way.

English did not fully explain why the coalition formation was “unusual”.

Then he hinted that the Coalition government might not be legitimate;

Just remember this is a prime minister who’s the first one in a hundred years who lost the popular vote and lost it by quite a bit.”

… It didn’t win the vote.

English’s comments might make sense under a First Past the Post system – but under MMP his arithmetic doesn’t add up.  Added together, Labour, NZ First, and the Greens won more votes than National and ACT. More people voted for change than the status quo.

Which prompted Ms Ferguson to remind English that the new Coalition government is made up of three parties, so how was that different to the National-led government that he (English) led?

English’s response again reflected First Past the Post thinking, by referring to National as the larger party and thereby somehow entitled to rule;

“…when an election is lost, a larger party captured the direction New Zealand wanted to go in.

Ms Ferguson had to remind Mr English that 44% is not a majority. The arithmetic simply did not support the National leader’s expectations of a “right to govern” based on size. Perhaps because he understood the nature of Radio NZ listeners, he was forced to admit;

I accept that, absolutely… It’s a legitimate result…

Well, I’ve been saying all year that the… all the other parties put together can beat you on the day. And that’s what happened on Thursday. So that’s MMP. That’s how it works.

But despite claiming to understand how MMP works, he couldn’t result a further dig at the Coalition;

Put it this way, if the Labour Party got 44% of the vote, I think anyone would argue they’d be in a stronger position to start a government than they are today.

But Ms Ferguson was having none of English trying to have a bob-each-way and put to him a simple question; did the National Party have a moral mandate to be the leading party of government?

To which English could only reply:

We accept, like everybody else should, that’s its a legitimate result of MMP. No contest about that. That’s how the rules work, we all knew that.

Nine days later, and English was back on the warpath, threatening to de-stabilise the Coalition government under the pretext of Opposition;

We are the dominant select committee party and we’re not the government, and that is going to make a difference to how everything runs.

It’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority.

Remember this, we are the opposition with a minority government, it’s a term the media don’t use but you’ll get to understand that it is a minority government with a majority opposition and the Greens as the support party, and that’s how we’re going to run it.

The constant reference to “minority government” and National being the “dominant party” carries on the narrative being run by English’s party strategists; that this new coalition is a “minority” (it’s not); that National was denied it’s rightful position as government (it wasn’t); and that the election results were somehow “stolen” (not true).

With 65% of NZ First supporters showing a strong preference to coalesce with Labour, Winston Peters’ decision was sound and democratic. Any other decision – such as allying with the Nats and ACT – would have had destructive consequences for NZ First.

Which, of course, would have suited National perfectly. The Nats have already  destroyed two political parties (United Future and Maori Party) and neutered a third (ACT). Another notch on their belt would not have concerned them greatly.

Indeed, look on National as the Planet Jupiter – drawing in debris such as asteroids and comets with it’s massive gravitational field; effectively “scouring” the solar system of small objects.

National draws in smaller parties with it’s massive political-gravitational pull, and consumes them.

No wonder the Green Party exercised caution and ensured their trajectory carried them safely away from National’s crushing embrace. A “Teal Coalition” would have torn apart the Greens as effectively as Jupiter smashed  Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.

But if English and his cronies in Her Majesty’s ‘Loyal’ Opposition believe that “it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority” – then they had best tread carefully.

The voting public are not all gullible fools and they do take notice.

As does the media.

On 9 November and 10 November, Fairfax media ran two consecutive editorials on the incoming coalition government and National’s role as Parliament’s newest Opposition.

On 9 November, an editorial writer cautioned National;

Oppositions whose sole aim is to sabotage the government, however, risk alienating the voters. In the United States, the Republican Party repeatedly tried to shut down the government altogether by denying it the money it needs to function.

The long-term risk is that this strategy will be tried by the other side when the roles are switched. The result could be the kind of paralysis of government too often seen in the United States. Oppositions don’t gain in the long term by making the country ungovernable.

In New Zealand, there is also a strong tradition of giving a new government a “fair go”. Voters traditionally allow some leeway, and even grant it a kind of temporary political honeymoon…

And on 10 November, similar warnings were issued;

The opposition has already signalled that it intends to make life more difficult than usual for the Government, but it must be very careful not to alienate the public as it does so. ”

The greatest irony may soon become apparent: it is not the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition that will be scrutinised during this Parliamentary term.

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

 

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Postscript
As National’s webpages tend to disappear from their website, along with their statements, they have been saved for future reference.

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References

Parliament: Simon Bridges

NZ Herald:  National’s list of laws passed under urgency

National Party:  Government trying to limit scrutiny

Parliament: Review of Standing Orders – Report of the Standing Orders Committee – Rt Hon David Carter, Chairperson – July 2017 (p19)

NZ Herald:  National clashes with Labour – ‘erosion of democratic rights’

Legislation: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – Legislative history

Radio NZ:  Unions seek prosecution over deaths

Radio NZ: Minister of Labour responds to criticism (audio)

Parliament: Health and Safety Reform Bill

TVNZ:  Anne Tolley still gets nod as Deputy Speaker despite Nats ruthlessly attacking Labour

NZ Herald:  Labour and National face off in Parliament opening over Speaker vote

Wikipedia:  Opinion polling for the New Zealand general election, 2011

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Time:  The Richest People in the World

Radio NZ:  Bill English faces first caucus since defeat (alt.link)(audio)

Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2017 General Election – Official Results

TVNZ:  Bill English warns of stubborn opposition to new government – ‘It’s not our job to make this place run’

NBR: Majority of NZ First supporters want party to ally with Labour – Colmar Brunton

Fairfax media:  Talk of a teal deal is speculation, nothing more, says James Shaw

America Space:  Remembering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s Impact on Jupiter, 23 Years Ago This Week

Fairfax media:  Editorial – National wins a battle but winning the war is different

Fairfax media:  Editorial – the prime minister’s positive way forward

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road:  Strategies Of Right-Wing Resistance – It CAN Happen Here.

Bowalley Road:  Settling The Stardust – The Grim Logic Behind National’s Opposition Tactics

The Daily Blog:  How dare National claim an ‘erosion of democracy’

Previous related blogposts

National, on Law and Order

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 November 2017.

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= fs =

Land banking – capitalism’s weeping sore

10 November 2017 Leave a comment

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Halloween came early for parasitic land bankers. On 30 October, new Housing Minister, Phil Twyford,  issued a bold statement that has barely been reported or commented on: land bankers are firmly in the laser-sights of the new Labour-Green-NZF coalition government.

At the same time  that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an impending ban on the  sale of existing homes to foreign investor/speculators – Minister Twyford  issued a clear warning to land bankers that the recently elected Coalition Government would be prepared to seize their land under the Public Works Act;

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“You don’t want to have one land banker holding out a massive new development that’s going to deliver thousands of new homes.”

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Minister Twyford was unequivocal;

“We’ve got a Housing Minister now that accepts there is a housing crisis. You don’t want to have one land banker holding out a massive new development that’s going to deliver thousands of new homes.

…You might want to have it in your back pocket, but you’d use it very, very sparingly.”

He said that the new government recognised the reality of the housing crisis and was  “going to throw everything at it“.

The National Business Review highlighted land banking in 2013, when Leith Van Onselen offered his “less regulation is best” ideological response to over-coming the  problem (I refuse to sugar-coat it by calling it an “issue”). His mantra consisted of freeing up more land; the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land, along with more permissive planning policies;

“…land banking – an especially baneful form of rent seeking at the current time – is more prevalent in situations where land supply is constrained and planning approval processes are slow and uncertain. Land banking is also only profitable where the value of land is rising faster than the cost of capital. And in the absence of physical barriers to land supply, land price increases above the level of inflation are driven primarily by policies and regulations that artificially restrict the supply of land.

It stands to reason, then, that the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land, along with more permissive planning policies and infrastructure provision, would increase competition amongst both developers and land owners, thereby driving down the cost of land/housing. The existence of high levels of competition would, in turn, make land banking particularly risky, as another nearby owner would always have the opportunity to move to the market ahead of the land banking firm.”

Whilst Van Onselen recognised the “baneful” nature of land banking, his proposed more-market “solution” is not without dire consequences.  In the “absence of physical barriers to land supply” by “the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land“, urban sprawl into valuable food-producing rural land creates new problems through unintended consequences. Interviewed on TVNZ’s Q+A on 29 October, Horticulture New Zealand CEO, Mike Chapman warned;

Horticulture New Zealand is calling on the new Government to protect locally-grown food as urban sprawl threatens valuable growing land. Its CEO, Mike Chapman, says the impact is already “quite extreme”.

“If we don’t, we’ll be increasing our imports – fresh, nutritious locally grown food will not be available, and at the moment, we don’t have country of origin labeling, so the consumers won’t know where they’re buying their food from. It could be from anywhere in the world,” says Mr Chapman.

Reliance on the “marketplace” to solve our housing problem can be a dubious proposition.

This is especially the case when commercial firms actively exploit a problem  for greater profits. This property-brochure from Guardian First National Real Estate  in Johnsonville, Wellington, illustrates that (some) companies are not above exploiting a problem for purely personal gain;

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Guardian First National real estate johnsonville wellington

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Note the reference to “Do up, develop or landbank?”

Perhaps one of the worst cases of land banking and profiteering was reported in 2013 by the NZ Herald;

A land banking business with a big piece of residentially zoned real estate on Auckland’s outskirts has made more than $6 million a year for almost two decades – doing nothing.

QV records shows Yi Huang Trading Company owns 39 Flat Bush School Rd, which it bought in 1995 for $890,000.

Now, this 29ha block is listed on the market for $112.6 million, promoted as “the land of opportunity, vacant but close to Barry Curtis Park”.

[…]

The sale has left developers fuming. They say land bankers are ruining the city and that the sale will be tax-free because the company has held the land for so long.

Conversely – and with some justification – land banking is also a necessary tool by those developers who actually intend to build on them.  As one project is completed, and another begins, the developer must ensure a constant supply of readily available land “in the pipeline”.

As Van Onselen reported in 2011, quoting from work by Professor Alan Evans, Director of the Centre for Spatial and Real Estate Economics at the University of Reading (United Kingdom);

…as well as causing delay and increasing uncertainty, the process of seeking planning permission lends itself to strategic thinking and behaviour… the lack of certainty created by [such] a system is that it encourages the possession by large developers such as volume house builders of land banks… which can be developed at some future time. A developer such as a volume house builder will seek to ensure continuity in the supply of sites for development so as to ensure that management, equipment and labour can be used efficiently… without being laid off or idle. Commentary on the financial pages of newspapers would suggest that a land bank of at least 3 years supply seems to be regarded as necessary for the financial health of a house builder… not having a site available for development at the right time can mean that a exorbitant price will have to be paid to buy one, in order to keep the firm in business…

Speaking on The Nation on 4 November, Housing Minister Twyford appears to be fully cognisant of this particular problem and showed little reticence to proactively intervene in the “market”;

“Because of capacity problems in the industry, particularly workforce issues, it is going to take us a little while to ramp up. And our modelling has always been based on the idea that in the first three years, we’ll probably deliver about 16,000 homes, and in the third year, we’ll start to hit the average of 10,000 a year. There are three main ways that we’re going to deliver KiwiBuild. So, the first is that we’re going to say and are already saying to the private sector, to developers and builders, if you’re doing a development and you think that some of the properties in that development – might be a set of townhouses, for example, somewhere – would meet the KiwiBuild affordability criteria and design specs, then come to us. We’ll look at them, and we could buy them off the plan, speeding up your development, taking some of the risk out of it, and ensuring that we get a supply of high-quality affordable homes for first home buyers.

[…]

One of the problems at the moment, actually, is that many of the apartment projects that are underway are having real problems with financing. So by the government willing to underwrite or buy units off the plan, that actually takes away some of the risk and uncertainty and will speed up those developments.”

This is precisely the kind of market-intervention which many progressives have been demanding.  Minister Twyford even spelled it out;

“So we’re going to intervene in the market to fix that market failure by building large numbers of affordable homes. That’s the job of government, to do that.”

The alternative? To do nothing as National allowed the free hand of the market to run it’s course, and unsurprisingly our housing crisis worsened. Journalist and commentator, Tim Watkin, painted an increasingly bleak picture of urban life in New Zealand in the early 21st Century;

“… what social service agencies are now reporting is a growing – yes, growing – group of Kiwis living in their cars or renting garages. Social workers in South Auckland to a person say they can’t remember it being this bad. Rents have risen 25 percent in five years and emergency houses are full.

If you can’t afford the rent, there’s nowhere to go. Except your car, or perhaps someone’s garage.

And this isn’t just extended families bunking down in a garage while they wait for a house, as we’ve seen for years. This is a new rental property market; people paying strangers to live for months, even years, in a garage. You won’t see it on TradeMe, but we’re talking about $300 or more a week. One family had been living in a garage for two years and are paying $380/week.

Wesley-Smith was taken to Bruce Pulman Park in Takanini by Manuaku East MP Jenny Salesa, where families and individuals can be found most nights near the public toilets, sleeping in their cars. Salesa says one car-dwelling family a week turns up at her office seeking help; half aren’t engaged with the Ministry of social Development.”

Watkins was merciless in his criticism of the capitalist exploitation of the housing crisis for selfish ends. Firstly with “mum and dad property investors”;

So it’s time for mum and dad property investors to ask themselves a few hard questions. If the cost of your borrowing is forcing people to pay rents they can’t afford, maybe you shouldn’t be in the landlord business. Even if you are only one stone in the mountain, have you borrowed too much to morally justify your investment?

But he reserved his most trenchant ire for parasitic land-bankers;

But even more in the gun are the property developers, especially those who are land banking in this market. It’s time to call out those land bankers and say enough.

Financially, it’s a no-brainer for them. Especially if they’re lucky enough to own land in a Special Housing Area with all the privileges of accelerated consents and greater intensification attached. You’re quids in, the government has put a premium on your land and land values are skyrocketing. So why go to the risk and hassle of actually building?

The answer: Because your land banking is making kids sick. It’s driving families into their cars. It’s increasingly immoral to fiddle while Auckland burns.

Auckland desperately needs houses and if you’re a developer sitting on land, then you’re putting your own finances ahead of the need of families to have a roof over their heads.

Watkins pointed out then Housing Minister Nick Smith’s response to land-banking;

Housing Minister Nick Smith denies that land banking is a problem in his Special Housing Areas.

Watkins was on the button; Nick Smith is in full Denial Mode when it comes to land-banking.

On 3 June last year, I lodged a OIA request with Nick Smith, asking;

1. Does the government keep a record of how much land is “landbanked” in New Zealand?

2. If the answer to Question 1 is “yes”, how much land has been landbanked in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Christchurch, and Dunedin?

3. Please provide any Ministerial, Ministry, or Cabinet papers that relate to the issue of landbanking.

After nearly two months and reminders sent to Smith’s office, the Minister finally responded on 20 July. His response to my three questions consisted of  one paragraph;

“The problem with your request is that ‘land banking’ is a loosely used phrase a bit like ‘speculation’ that has no agreed definition. A person or company  may own a section of land and not build on it for some time for all sorts of reasons and there is no definition  of how long this is for it to be deemed land banking. We do keep track of the progress made on developments in Special Housing Areas and I refer you to the publicly available reports  that set out the progress on development of these areas (http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/housing-property/housing-affordability).”

Remarkably, Smith added at the end;

“I can confirm that no information can be found within the scope of your request.”

Smith either has a badly-flawed, John Key-like memory – or he was being economical with the truth. Two years earlier, on 30 November 2014, Housing Minister Nick Smith had referred specifically to land banking, expressing his frustrations at the practice;

“The Government and the Council are determined to release sufficient land supply and we’re not going to allow land price inflation of the sort we’ve seen over the last decade.

I want the land owning development community to realise that the Government is serious with Council about freeing up land supply, and they cannot bank on ongoing high land price appreciation that has encouraged land banking over the last decade.”

As with the previous National government refusing to define and measure poverty, by claiming that “‘land banking’ is a loosely used phrase a bit like ‘speculation’ that has no agreed definition” Smith was clearly hoping/praying that public/media attention on this issue would fade away.

It was a forlorn hope/prayer. Pressure was mounting on Smith.

Indeed, three weeks prior to  writing to me insisting there was “no agreed definition” on land banking and “no information can be found within the scope of your request” –  he was threatening land bankers with seizure;

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Despite insisting he had “no information” or  “definition” of the problem, Smith was considering seizing property from land bankers – something he recognised as running counter to National’s pro-capitalist kaupapa;

“If you look at many of the other governments in other parts of the world that have used those powers, they have worked effectively.

Yes, we are the National Party, but we have responded in a very pragmatic way to the challenges in Christchurch. And that has involved overcoming some of those pure views about property rights.

 We are pragmatic, and pragmatic answers are needed to the housing challenge that New Zealand has.”

Even Wellington’s Dominion Post – not a socialist ‘rag’ by any means – was vocal in it’s criticism of land banking and National’s inability to act. Their editorial on 28 March this year was scathing;

Smith himself once said it was “offensive” that an investor in Auckland could buy land in 1995 for $890,000 and put it on sale in 2016 for $112 million. “The biggest problem is Auckland is the issue of landbanking,” Smith said.

Smith’s approach to the problem was to rely on the special housing areas in Auckland, which allow for faster consents for large housing developments. Developers can face a “use it or lose it” clause which penalises them if they don’t lodge consent applications. His critics, however, argue that this rule doesn’t guarantee house completions.

And that is the problem with land-banking, it seems. It is merely a symptom of a deeper malaise, and fixing it might require radical changes. It remains to be seen what one city council can do by way of encouraging or scaring developers into building more affordable houses.

Some such as economist Arthur Grimes have suggested that the Government should use the Public Works Act to buy land for housing. This is a reasonable suggestion, draconian though it might seem. The housing crisis is so serious that radical measures of this sort have to be considered.

The National-led Government, however, with its deep allegiance to property rights and its natural sympathy for the business class, would never accept such a proposal.

Nick Smith’s  heresy to the most basic capitalist tenet – the supremacy of property rights – did not go unnoticed by Anthony Robins. Blogging on The Standard on 4 July last year, he astutely pointed out;

“I don’t often agree with the Nats, but I think there are (rare) circumstances where land bankers could be paid off, moved on, and the land put to use. But – the extinguishing of private property rights? Seizure of land? Just imagine if Labour had proposed it. There would have been an instant orgy of political and media outrage. Because it’s National though, there will be barely a whisper.

Robins’ comment had a prescient quality to it. A Labour Minister – Phil Twiford – has now threatened to do precisely what Nick Smith threatened (but never had the guts to actually follow through on).

By brandishing the Public Works Act as a ‘stick’, Twyford has put land bankers on notice. Either develop the land or have it seized by the State to house the homeless.

In a civilised society, for land bankers to sit on empty, buildable land whilst families are packed in over-crowded houses; in garages, or survive in vans and cars – is an affront to any notion of fairness and decency.

It would be like someone hoarding food in times of famine, to get a better price later.

And if Minister Twyford invokes the Public Works Act to seize land, the National Party should think twice before screaming in outrage. It would be sheer hypocrisy on their part.

For one thing,  former Housing Minister Nick Smith threatened precisely the same thing.

Secondly, the housing crisis is a legacy of the previous National government.  It’s their mess we’re cleaning up.

Use it or lose it, land bankers. The party is over.

Minister Twyford – let’s do this.

 

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Postscript: Speaking of “legacies”

Meanwhile, National persists in it’s exercise in futility, maintaining their fantasy-charade of the “great gains made over the past 9 years“;

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National’s denial is partly to blame why our horrendous housing crisis spiralled out of control.

During it’s nine years in office, National continued to point-blank deny  the social problems it faced. This continuing denial will ensure they remain in opposition for the coming decade.

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References

Mediaworks:  Government prepared to seize land for housing projects

Radio NZ:  Foreign home buyers to be banned – PM

NBR: Auckland – the land bankers paradise

TVNZ: Q+A – Horticulture New Zealand CEO, Mike Chapman

NZ Herald:  Land bought in 1995 for $890,000 – owner will sell for $112m

Macrobusiness:  Why developers land bank

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Phil Twyford

Interest.co.nz:  Bernard Hickey argues the Government and Auckland Council should ramp up their attempts to change the expectations of land bankers about constantly rising prices

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

NZ Herald:  Government look at hardline measure to seize property for development

Dominion Post:  Editorial – Landbanking is a big part of the housing crisis

Twitter: National – “great gains made over the past 9 years

Additional

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NewstalkZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

Morgan Foundation:  How Minister Smith Could Deal with Land Banking

Morgan Foundation:  Would it be Crazy to Reduce House Prices by 40%?

Other Blogs

The Pundit: How Special Housing Areas are failing & the immorality of land bankers

The Standard:  National to seize privately owned land

The Standard: So there was a housing crisis after all

The Daily Blog: On calling out the excesses of capitalism

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 November 2017.

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Dollars and sense – Joyce’s hypocrisy

7 November 2017 4 comments

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You’d think that after the humiliation of being dumped from government, that National’s ex-Ministers would keep a relatively low profile in the next few months.

You’d think that National’s former ministers and backbenchers would be familiarising themselves with their newly-appointed roles as impotent  Opposition MPs.

You’d think that National’s members of parliament would be nursing massive, Jupiter-sized hang-overs after drowning their collective sorrows at being turfed out of office by the ungrateful peasantry.

Not so.

Former Economic “Development” Minister in the Former National Government, Steven Joyce, has been busying himself  critiquing the recently-elected, newly-sworn-in, Labour-Green-NZF coalition.

Even before the dust settled on the recent election; the subsequent swearing-in ceremony at the Governor-General’s residence on 26 October, and only three days since the new government ministers have barely moved into their new offices, Joyce has been making mischief like a spoiled brat.

On 30 October, Joyce demanded;

“Mr Robertson has done two long-form interviews over this weekend and yet New Zealanders are still none the wiser about the cost of the coalition’s programme and the impact on their back pockets.”

He added,

“They also have a right to know whether the new Government’s spending plans in actual dollars will match the cast-iron commitments Labour repeatedly made before the election.”

Now bear in mind that this is the same National (ex-)government that, in 2008, campaigned on tax-cuts despite the Global Financial crisis already impacting on New Zealand’s economy that year.

On 6 October 2008, Key was only too happy to dangle the tax-cuts carrot in front of a gullible electorate, to win power;

John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.

The rest is history. National won the 2008 election. Tax-cuts were enacted in April 2009 and October 2010.

All that despite a massive budget blow-out deficit of $15.4 billion by March 2009;

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The tax cuts were (and still are!) costing us around $2 billion per year, according to figures obtained by the Green Party from the Parliamentary Library.

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

“The National Government said that their signature 2010 income tax cut package would be ‘fiscally neutral’ — paid for increased revenues from raising GST. That hasn’t happened. The net cost for tax cuts has been about $2 billion,” Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.

“Borrowing $2 billion in 18 months to fund upper-income tax cuts is fiscally irresponsible.

“National’s poor economic decisions have led to record levels of government debt and borrowing.

“They have also broken a promise to the electorate when they said their tax cut package was going to be fiscally neutral.”

Whilst it can be justifiably argued that New Zealand’s debt increased because of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and two Christchurch earthquakes – both of which were out of National’s control – the loss of revenue through two unaffordable tax cuts in ’09 and ’10 were of it’s own making.

Against this backdrop of gross fiscal irresponsibility, Steven Joyce has  pontificated that “New Zealanders are still none the wiser about the cost of the coalition’s programme and the impact on their back pockets“.

It could also be argued that “most New Zealanders are still none the wiser about the cost of National’s tax-cuts and the impact on their social services“.

Steven Joyce lecturing the incoming coalition government on fiscal integrity and transparency would be like Robert Mugabe advising the U.N. on human rights.

Or like Steven Joyce telling the “truth” about a non-existent $11.7 billion “hole”.

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Postscript – A letter to the Editor

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: 31 October 2017
subject:Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Opposition MP, Steven Joyce, has been busying himself attacking the recently elected Labour-Green-NZ First Coalition government.

Despite barely moving into their new offices on 27 October, three days later Joyce was complaining;

“…New Zealanders are still none the wiser about the cost of the coalition’s programme and the impact on their back pockets. They also have a right to know whether the new Government’s spending plans in actual dollars will match the cast-iron commitments Labour repeatedly made before the election.”

Mr Joyce should settle down and take a deep breath. The coalition government has only been sworn in since 26 October.

The new government’s policies will be better costed than National’s unaffordable tax-cuts of 2009 and 2010. Those tax-cuts cost this country $2 billion p.a. according to the Parliamentary Library.

John Key happily over-looked NZ’s growing budget deficit, as reported on 6 October 2008;

John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits … is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.

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-Frank Macskasy

 

 

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References

Fairfax media: Jacinda Ardern’s new government sworn in

Radio NZ:  550 staff move office at Parliament this weekend

NZCity:  Ardern won’t budget on coalition costs

Mediaworks:  Spending plans ‘totally affordable’ – Jacinda Ardern

NZ Herald:  Recession confirmed – GDP falls

NZ Herald: Key – $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts?

Interest.co.nz:  Budget deficit worse than forecast – debt blows out by NZ$15.4 bln

Infonews:  Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

Fairfax media:  Which side of the fiscal hole debate are experts standing on?

Additional

Frankly Speaking: Time-line

NZ Herald:  National and Labour’s nine years in charge – what the data shows

NZ Treasury: Debt

Previous related blogposts

“Less Debt and Lower Interest Rates” – Really?

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

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (wha)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (whitu)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 November 2017.

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