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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Leader John Key’

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister – Revisited

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Following John Key’s sudden (and largely unexplained) resignation on 5 December 2016, I wrote a piece lamenting that he had left no positive  legacy of significance;

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… much  has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what  “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.

Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.

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[Brent] Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.

[…]

In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al), Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.

These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms” as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.

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… and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;

John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else. When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.

And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.

As I pointed out then – and which has subsequently been proven – National’s  “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland.

Unfortunately, my dismissal of Key’s administration as historically inconsequential may have been a rush to judgement. I regret that I failed to pick up a vital policy change that has had a long term – albeit utterly unforeseen at the time – beneficial impact on  this country.

On 21 May 2009, John Key announced the appointment of Professor Peter Gluckman as the first  Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. At the time,  Key stated;

“This appointment delivers on the Government’s goal of including science at the heart of our decision-making.

I campaigned on creating this role because I recognise that New Zealand’s prosperity rests on our ability to make full use of the expertise that our scientists can contribute.

Professor Gluckman will provide me with a direct line to advice when I need it. He will be an independent voice that will complement existing channels of advice such as government departments and the Royal Society.

This role is one of vital importance that demands not only a high level of science expertise, but also the utmost integrity to fairly represent the state of science knowledge.”

Fast forward to almost exactly nine years later;

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Sir Peter was unequivocal; there was no credible data to support the meth hysteria that had swept the country;

“There’s absolutely no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world, of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to methamphetamine at any level.

“We can’t find one case in the medical literature, we can’t find one case by talking to experts where there is evidence of harm … it makes no sense.”

It backed up a curious admission from National Party leader, Bill English, in August 2016, where he questioned the validity of p-contamination levels in state houses;

“Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.

According to that guideline they should not be moving people into houses where there is P contamination.

They’re operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which I understand is internationally standard, but is regarded as not quite appropriate”

It would certainly help housing New Zealand if the scientists applied themselves to coming up with a new guideline.

We would hope that within a few months there will be a standard that all the scientists regard as more appropriate. In the meantime, Housing New Zealand are doing their best to ensure that they don’t inconvenience tenants any more than is necessary.”

Astonishingly, despite Bill English knowing two years ago that meth-testing levels were probably bogus, National’s current Housing spokesperson, Judith Collins, voiced ignorance to its validity;

“We didn’t know. I spoke to [then-Minister of Social Housing] Paula Bennett about it, and she’s absolutely adamant she didn’t know. She got advice from the Housing NZ and also the Ministry of Health, and apparently Standards NZ were involved. So it’s the first time that we knew.”

Ms Collins was happy to pass the buck;

“But Housing NZ needs to front up, because they have refused to front up to media, and their minister Phil Twyford, he’s not making them front up. Let’s just find out what they knew.”

In October 2016, the Ministry of Health repeated it’s assertions that P levels in houses were only dangerous if manufacturing – not smoking – had taken place;

Ministry of Health Director of protection, regulation and assurance, Stewart Jessamine, said;

“Underpinning those conversations has always been the Ministry’s view that the Ministry’s guidelines only cover clandestine laboratories and this has been routinely pointed out.”

Despite clear statements from the Ministry of Health and from then-Prime Minister Bill English, Housing NZ continued its policy to evict around 300 families from State houses; disrupting lives; and demanding compensation from some former tenants.

On 6 June this year, Housing NZ’s CEO,  Andrew McKenzie, denied point blank ever being advised by the Ministry of Health that they were mis-applying P-levels;

“We weren’t warned repeatedly.

No, we weren’t  [told].

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So, certainly, the organisation is very clear, we were not told. There’s no record of being told that we were mis-using the guidelines.”

Evidently, the Prime Minister of the day’s public comments on national radio, questioning meth-testing levels,  did not constitute “being told”.

National party current-leader, Simon Bridges gave a belated qualified “apology” – of sorts;

“I’m sorry that the advice we got was wrong and has made this situation what it is.”

Bridges’ apology was for “advice we got was wrong” – not for wrongful eviction of tenants.

But not one single individual has taken responsibility for 300 families losing their homes and $100 million of tax-payer’s money flushed down the toilet on pointless testing.

Since Sir Peter’s meth-testing bomb-shell, Housing NZ has been forced to apologise to tenants who were caught up in the hysteria; cease demanding repayment for unnecessary clean-ups; and taken evicted tenants’ names of a Housing NZ black-list. There is also consideration of making compensation payments for Housing NZ tenants who lost their homes and possessions (though tenants in private “social housing” may miss out).

The policy of evicting tenants for flawed meth-levels, and where culpability for who (if any of the current tenants) smoked the drug, has been put to a stop.

For 300 people whose lives have been unnecessarily disrupted, it is too late. But at least no more vulnerable families will be put at risk of summary eviction and imposition of hefty punitive financial penalities.

In a curious way, this is due to Key’s decision to implement the role of a Science Advisor nine years ago. Sir Peter’s description of his new role in 2009 was remarkably prescient;

My primary task is to give the Prime Minister strategic and operational advice on science and science policy issues.

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… I have a role of advising on specific matters related to science. In general this will be in the form of formally commissioned reports that will summarise the evidence base to suggest a specific mode of action or secondly where new scientific developments create either opportunity or risk. Again, I anticipate that my role will be limited to situations where my independence and hopefully high public respect can add value beyond what can come from departmental or sectoral advice.

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… I will serve as a conduit of alerts that might arise where scientific progress shows either opportunity or threat for New Zealand. I will not be a lobby for individual science projects, but where scientists see something emerging that they think policy makers need to be aware of, I can assist with communication.

More recently, in an interview on TVNZ’s Q+A with Corin Dann, Sir Peter expanded on the role of Science Advisor for sound policy-making;

“So most of the things that governments really need help from the science community over are remarkably complex. The water system, the climate system, the agricultural system. That’s what we can try and do is explain both to the public and to the policy maker and to the politician. What are they options that then emerge? Complexity always means there are multiple options.

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…the whole question of, ‘How do we have complex conversations over difficult matters in a constructive, collegial manner. Because this is a matter where, clearly, people come to it with different personal perspectives. We have put the evidence on the table, and I would hope that over time – we said that when we released the report – it would hopefully promote a conversation where people would look at the evidence across all the political parties, and with the public, and perhaps reflect that perhaps we’ve gone too far into the retribution model of justice and not enough into the restorative, rehabilitative and particularly preventive form of justice which other countries, such as Finland, Germany, have done. And the evidence there is, in my view, that we could have a conversation…

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And what a science advisory system can do is provide the evidence on the basis that it will help, over time, governments and societies make better decisions.”

For far too long, New Zealand’s policy-making by our elected representatives has been predicated on knee-jerk reactions and populism. Whether it was Muldoon’s disastrous  decision to abandon compulsory superannuation payments which left New Zealand at the mercy of overseas financiers – or the current explosion in incarceration rates in our prisons based on “tough on crime” jingoism – political decisions have hardly been predicated on sound science.

As a nation we have paid heavily – in both social and financial measures – for flawed political decision-making.

Sir Peter’s revelations that meth testing was a sham was based on science. The data was hard (if impossible) to refute.

It is high time that Science Advisors should be mandatory and well-resourced for every single Ministry and department in this country. Their advice should be critical in all aspects of crucial policy-making.

Otherwise we lurch from one ineffectual populistic policy extreme to another. All to win votes in a vacuum of real information and hard data.

Make no mistake, we end up paying for policy extremes that are not founded in sound science. National’s populistic tough-on-crime mantra and harsher bail laws has resulted in a massive explosion in our prison population.  The number of prisoners (including non-sentenced people awaiting trial, whose guilt/innocence has not yet been decided) now exceeds 10,000 and approaching 11,000.

As Justice Minister Andrew Little pointed out;

“The Netherlands, where I was last week, a country of roughly 15½ million, has a prison population of 7000. We’re a country of 4.7 million and we’ve got a prison population of approaching 11,000. What is happening in New Zealand is abnormal, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”

National would have wasted $1 billion of our taxes on a new mega-prison in Waikeria. They have lambasted Labour’s attempts to grapple with a burgeoning prison muster by parroting the “soft on crime” mantra. Simon Bridges and his National party MPs have capitalised over fear-mongering on this issue;

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Sir Peter Gluckman weighed in;

“Cabinet will be considering a range of questions and issues in the next two to three weeks, and a range of decisions will be taken about stuff to do in the short term and stuff we’ll be able to do in the longer term.

I was shocked by the rate of rise in the prison and justice system costs in the past 30 years, and in particular that this rise has continued and is actually enhanced at the very time that crime rates are actually declining.

We say, ‘Lock ’em up, lock ’em up, be tough on crime.’ But all that’s going to do is keep driving up costs.”

Of course, some offenders still needed prison time for retribution and to protect the public.

But if you look at what’s driving the costs – it’s that we’re making more severe sentences.

Now is that sensible when we know people who are in prison for longer often become professional criminals? It’s an inevitability of what the environment creates.

Evidence in the report suggests prisons are often training grounds for further offending. Prisoners can build their criminal careers by learning criminal skills in prison, which damages their employment, accommodation and family prospects, and compounds any existing mental health and substance use issues.

Associate professor, Ian Lambie, a Science Advisor to the justice sector and clinical psychologist, stated with crystal clarity;

“This Government has clearly indicated they want some work done and are interested in reform.

Where we are heading is not where we should be, and it does not create a safer society, a safer New Zealand.

What we have to do, rather than building more prisons, is focus the money on ways to create fewer prisoners, and we have to look at early intervention.

We have to remember that the majority of people [prisoners] get out. They have mental health needs, literacy needs, housing needs – and those life needs need to be addressed. We need to give the support and services if we’re really going to turn their lives around.”

So who do we listen to?

Politicians such as tough-on-crime National MPs with an eye on the next election in 2020?

Or Science Advisors who act on information and are impartial and dispassionate on issues?

It is time that New Zealand put more weight on evidentially-based policies. Relying on emotive, political, headline-grabbing sound-bites designed to scare people and elicit their votes is a poor way to formulate sound policy.

The meth-testing scam is a clear case of where emotion and politicisation leads us. It is a warning we should heed as a nation if we are to learn from our mistakes.

That’s not a bad legacy from a Prime Minister who otherwise wasted nine years.

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References

Fairfax media: John Key dismisses rumours surrounding resignation

Radio NZ: PM to resign – ‘It feels like the right time to go’

NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

Radio NZ: Meth house contamination debunked by PM’s science advisor

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Mediaworks/Newshub: National had no idea meth guidelines were wrong – Judith Collins

NZ Herald: Housing NZ on the defensive over meth testing as it says just five state house tenants have been evicted over P use

Radio NZ: Housing NZ boss apologises over faulty meth tests

Radio NZ: Housing NZ boss ‘regrets’ meth-testing approach (audio)

Fairfax media: Housing NZ report into meth test saga to cover ‘every aspect’ of ‘policy failure’

Fairfax media: Housing NZ backtracks after saying it has no plans to stop taking payments for meth clean-up costs

TVNZ News: Social housing tenants evicted over meth contamination may miss out on compensation

Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor: The Role of the Chief Scientific Advisor

Scoop media: TVNZ – Q+A – Sir Peter Gluckman interviewed by Corin Dann

Fairfax media: Compulsory super ‘would be worth $278 billion’

Interest.co.nz: English says NZ$1 bln capital cost and NZ$1.5 bln of operating costs for extra 1,800 prison beds reduces room for tax cuts

Fairfax media: Prisons under ‘immense pressure’ with only enough space for 300 more inmates

Fairfax media: Government aims to cut prison population and fix ‘abnormal’ system

Fairfax media: $1 billion prison expansion entering final stages of approval

TVNZ: Waikeria Prison expansion is ‘unfortunately’ needed and Government is ignoring the reality of high inmate numbers – Simon Bridges

Additional

Radio NZ: Sir Peter Gluckman: Meth fiasco shows science advisors crucial

Other Blogposts

Liberation:  Cartoons about John Key’s resignation

No Right Turn:  A tiny start

No Right Turn:  Priorities

No Right Turn:  Calling bullshit on “P-contamination”

Public Address:  “Meth contamination”: the making of a moral panic

Public Address:  We are, at last, navigating out of the “meth contamination” debacle

Pundit: Meth house clean-up only just begun

The Daily Blog:  Well, well, well – so the meth contamination hysteria was bullshit? When will the Mainstream Media & Paula Bennett apologise to NZ?

The Daily Blog: New meth hysteria allegations – Auckland Health Board narked on tenants using their addiction services to HNZ

The Daily Blog:  Shocking new details – HNZ kicked 300 onto street AFTER they were told meth hysteria was wrong

The Daily Blog:  Drug driving hysteria will become our new Meth housing hysteria

The Daily Blog:  Radio NZ continue to promote the lie that National didn’t know about meth testing scam

The Daily Blog:  Soper demanding answers over Metiria when HNZ blew $100m for meth testing hysteria – the double standards are unbelievable

The Standard: Gluckman – Methamphetamine policy was a crock

The Standard: Dud advice

The Standard: National’s strategy on the Housing Corp P fiasco

Previous related blogposts

The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

Letter to the editor – John Key’s legacy?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 2 July 2018.

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National pissed off: Labour is nicking John Key’s dodginess!

2 April 2018 3 comments

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A meeting between Broadcasting Minister, Clare Curran and Radio NZ’s Carol Hirschfeld at a Wellington cafe has put the scent of blood into National’s collective nostrils. Ms Curran had insisted that the meeting was informal;

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Ms  Curran has rejected claims that her meeting with Ms Hirschfeld was a secret meeting;

“At no time have I ever said the meeting was coincidental.

While I believe the meeting was not official and informal, as soon as I became aware that it should have been considered an official meeting in answer to a written question, I corrected the Parliamentary record. This was a mistake.

The meeting was not a secret, and I regret that the meeting took place.”

National’s caretaker Little Leader, Simon Bridges, is braying for blood;

“We need to get to the bottom of what’s happened here but it seems very serious if Carol Hirschfeld has resigned and we need to understand what this means in relation to Clare Curran.”

The critical problem apparently lies with the fact that Ms Hirschfeld kept the meeting secret from Radio NZ’s hierarchy, initially claiming that her cafe meet-up was a “chance encounter”.  In response to a question from a National Party MP,    Radio NZ’s chief executive, Paul Thompson, informed a select committee;

“Carol had been to the gym, she was getting a coffee, they bumped into each other, in a cafe and had a conversation so it was hardly a secret meeting. I don’t have any concern.”

For a supposedly “secret” meeting, a cafe rendezvous seemed to lack most of the necessary ingredients for  a covert political operation.

Perhaps Simon Bridges is aggrieved that Labour has lifted one of it’s own strategies and attempted to use it themselves. When it came to “informal meetings”, National’s former Dear Leader, John Key, was quite the expert.

In 2011, Key met with Mediaworks’ former CEO, Brent Impey at a “social event”;

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Note that at first, Key denied meeting any representatives with Mediaworks. Two days later, he was forced to concede “running into” Impey at a “social event”. The issue of a government bail-out of Mediaworks was “briefly raised”.

The following year, Key had another supposedly chance encounter with a corporate head hustling for a lucrative government deal;

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A year later,  it was revealed that Key was at it again, with another of his “informal meetings” – this time with old school friend, Ian Fletcher;

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As we recall, Fletcher was later appointed as the head of the GCSB.

But according to Key, the vacancy at the Government Communications Security Bureau was “not discussed”. Of course it wasn’t. Fletcher’s appointment three months later was a pure coincidence – right?

When it comes to dodgy deals done behind closed doors – or at “informal” events – nobody does it better that National.

And nobody weaseled out of being caught  conducting secret informal “chance meetings” better than our own Teflon Don, whom Simon Bridges considered his hero;

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As fellow blogger, Martyn Bradbury said succinctly on this issue;

“The media focus on the insignificant and judge the Left at a threshold far higher than they ever held National to account.”

Labour will have to make more of an effort to avoid these prat-falls. Because unfortunately, Key used up the country’s entire supply of teflon for himself during his leadership tenure with all his personal, Party, and ministerial scandals.

Of which there were many.

***Updates***

28 March – 8.16am

On Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report”, it was announced that Board Chairperson, Richard Griffin (and former advisor to Jim Bolger) advised National MP, Melissa Lee, that Carol Hirschfeld had resigned – before it was publicly announced.

Ms Lee said she was surprised by the resignation of Ms Hirschfeld, who she described as a “well respected journalist”, and was given notice of the move by RNZ chair Richard Griffin shortly before the announcement.

Was that appropriate?

Why did he discuss this with an Opposition MP?

Did he have Board permission to disclose this?

What other contacts does Griffin have with National?

The Curran-Hirschfeld event is beginning to create ever-widening ripples.

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References

Mediaworks:  Hirschfeld resignation – Clare Curran to stay on as Minister

Maori Television:  RNZ’s Carol Hirschfeld resigns

Newstalk ZB:  Hirschfeld to resign immediately after Curran meeting saga

TVNZ:  Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

NZ Herald:  SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

Fairfax Media:  Key met spy candidate for breakfast

Beehive:  New GCSB Director appointed

NZ Herald:  ‘Jokiness and blokiness’ – How Bridges is emulating John Key

Radio NZ:  Curran has ‘a lot of questions to answer’ over meeting – National MP

Additional

Radio NZ:  Carol Hirschfeld resigns over meeting minister – ‘There are serious questions here’

Radio NZ:  Curran on Hirschfeld’s resignation: ‘It was not a secret meeting’

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog:  Blind Alpacas vs war crime double standards – Hey look, what Curran did wasn’t great, but what’s worse is what the Former Attorney General did

The Standard:  An Orwellian Minister for Open Government

Previous related blogposts

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

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

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 March 2018.

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

9 September 2017 Leave a comment

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Parliament’s Grassy knoll: who tried to character-assassinate Winston?

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The leaking  of Winston Peter’s superannuation over-payment is well known. Also known is that Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley were briefed by Ministry of Social Development and State Services Commission, respectively, on Peters’ private details regarding the over-payment before it was leaked to the media and made public knowledge.

Also briefed – though it is unclear why, as he was not a warranted Minister of the Crown – was political appointee, Chief of Staff, Wayne Eagleson.

Evidently the only person in the entire country not briefed was the Prime Minister, Bill “Double Dipper from Dipton” English.

Bennett, Tolley, and Judith Collins have all denied any involvement in the leak.

Paula Bennett was adamant;

“I don’t actually go around the back scuffling around doing leaks. I actually, if I’ve got something to say, I say it directly and up front and kind of bluntly. “

Which is true, in a Bizarro World kind of way. In 2009, when Bennett mis-used her Ministerial powers to reveal personal details of two solo mothers on the DPB, it was done in a very public manner.

However, Bennett never apologised publicly for the breaking of the two women’s privacy. And she stubbornly insisted she would do it again;

Asked if she would do the same thing again, Bennett said “it would depend on the circumstances”.

Perhaps Judith Collins, who disclosed a State servant’s name and personal information to a right-wing blogger, was involved in the leaking of Peters’ situation?

Prime Minister John Key has conceded it was “unwise” for Judith Collins to give Cameron Slater a public servant’s name, job title and phone number which was then used in an attack post on his Whale Oil blog.

However, John Key says no disciplinary action will be taken against the Justice Minister because the action pre-dated the final warning he gave Ms Collins over the Oravida scandal.

Mr Key says he still stands by the Justice Minister.

“I think the passing of private information, in terms of phone numbers, I think that’s unwise. It’s unwise of a Minister. Look in the end it’s one of those things,” Mr Key says.

Collins also refuse to accept she had done anything wrong – despite being forced to resign in 2014;

“I absolutely and strongly deny this and any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour. I am restrained in clearing my name while I am still a Minister inside Cabinet and I believe the right thing to do is to resign as a Minister so I am able to clear my name.

I have asked the Prime Minister for an Inquiry into these serious allegations so that my name can be cleared. I will, of course, cooperate with any Inquiry.”

Only Minister Tolley has not been accused of a direct privacy violation of any individual(s) – at the moment. However, MSD is know to leak like a sieve and it was MSD that briefed the Minister regarding Winston Peters.

One thing is for certain; some Ministers are not averse when it comes to leaking personal details of individuals who run foul of this government.

They have ‘form’.

Postscript

Recent revelations that blogger and activist, Martyn Bradbury, has had his private bank details scrutinised by Police shows how little National and its state agencies respect the privacy of individuals.

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Especially those who dare criticise the current regime.

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A face-palm moment for ACT candidate, Anneka Carlson

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Meet Anneka Carlson, ACT’s New Plymouth candidate and number seven on their Party List;

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Carlson is seventh on the list and would enter parliament if ACT gained 5 per cent of the party vote.

The 28-year-old never dreamt of being a politician but standing for ACT in her home town “just feels right.”

“It was meant to happen.”

Parliament needed people with life skills and her life experiences would help stand her in good stead if she is elected, she said.

The former West Auckland police officer owned her own business in New Plymouth, is a North Taranaki SPCA board member, and ran fitness programmes for cancer support groups.

She is also completing a business studies degree extra-murally at Massey University. 

“I’m fairly young, and I’m surprised to be high on the list because I’m a bit of political newbie, but I’ve already seen lot of things from working in the police.

All well and good – engaging young New Zealanders to enter politics should be encouraged. It should never be  the sole “happy hunting grounds” for Baby Boomers seeking to feather their own nests, at the expense of younger generations.

Unfortunately, there are times when youth counts against a candidate.  Such as when Ms Carlson lamented ACT’s lack of public support;

“It makes me wonder why people don’t know more about ACT in New Plymouth.”

It should be no surprise to anyone that Ms Carlson wonders why ACT is not supported more at the ballot box. It’s not because “people don’t know more about ACT“.

Quite the contrary – most New Zealanders middle-aged and over – are very clear about ACT and what it stands for. After all, we lived through ACT-style so-called “reforms” in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

That is why ACT is not well supported except by a tiny minority of unreconstructed wealthy, privileged extremists. (Aka, the One Percent.)  At 28, Ms Carlson would be oblivious to all this.

But at least Ms Carlson understands how privileged she is as a middle-class pakeha from an economically well-supported background. As she herself admitted;

“I’ve come from a fairly privileged upbringing…”

At least Ms Carlson has a measure of self-awareness. Given time and experience she may understand how that privileged upbringing gives her a head start in life that is denied many others.

She may even experience that critical Road-To-Damascus revelation that ACT’s market-driven ideology has made matters much, much worse since 1984.

I suggest the next cuppa tea she has is not with David Seymour, but Jim Bolger.

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Another poll indicates coming change in government

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A recent Horizon Poll released on 1 September reconfirms the rise of Jacinda Ardern’s popularity with voters;

Jacinda Ardern has a 6% lead over Bill English as preferred Prime Minister among definite voters.

Among the 860 adult respondents who are both registered to vote and 100% likely to vote, Ardern leads English by 43% to 37%.

Among all of the 960 respondents to the August 11-15 Horizon Research poll Ardern leads 45% to 32%.

Winston Peters is preferred Prime Minister by 15% of all respondents and 14% of definite voters.

James Shaw, the Green Party leader, is preferred by 2%, and David Seymour of ACT and Te Ururoa Flavell of the Maori Party each by 1%.

Coincidentally, English’s current popularity at 37% is similar to Key’s Preferred Prime Minister ratings before he stepped down as Dear Leader Prime Minister.  By May last year, Key’s PPM rating had  fallen to 36.7% – continuing a steady downward trend.

Which means Ms Ardern is now more popular than John Key was, prior to his resignation.

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Another step back from globalisation

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Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has announced a major step back from neo-liberalism’s prime enabler, globalism, by announcing that the State government would prioritise local businesses for contracts. The aim is to create more local jobs.

Ms Palaszczuk was unapologetic in renouncing globalisation;

“ Our new procurement strategy is unashamedly a ‘Buy Queensland’ one.  No longer will we be constrained by free trade agreements that have seen jobs go off-shore or interstate.

Wherever possible, one regional and one Queensland supplier will be invited to quote or tender for every procurement opportunity offered. Preference must be given to local subbies and manufacturers on significant infrastructure projects of $100 million or more.

This money comes from Queensland taxpayers, it is only right we spent it in a way that benefits Queensland businesses and workers as much as possible.”

According to the SBS report, Queensland spent  A$14 billion per annum  on supplies, services, plus A$4 billion  building and maintaining State infrastructure.

Ms Palaszczuk made a valid case for buying-local when she pointed out “this money comes from Queensland taxpayers, it is only right we spent it in a way that benefits Queensland businesses and workers“.

The prime role of a government in a Western-style democracy has always been (or should be!) to protect and enhance it’s citizens. Creating an environment where local jobs flourish  is part and parcel of that dictum.

Governments are not “in business” to create  jobs in other countries at the expense of their own workers.

ExportNZ’s Executive Director, Catherine Beard, was predictably hostile;

The ‘Buy Queensland’ promotion should be about encouraging Aussies to buy their local product, just like ‘Buy NZ Made’ encourages New Zealanders to buy Kiwi-made. It’s OK to encourage your people to buy local, but it’s not OK to mandate State Government weightings that amount to protectionism.

The protectionism in Queensland’s policy is completely contrary to Closer Economic Relations between New Zealand and Australia.

In plain english, Ms Beard is fine with “it’s OK to encourage your people to buy local,” but “it’s not OK to mandate State Government weightings that amount to protectionism” because it harmed the interests of her members.

Tough. It’s about time globalisation began to be rolled back instead of continually exporting jobs and entire businesses to off-shore jurisdictions where labour is cheaper and easily exploitable because of lax (or unenforced) labour laws.

We need fair trade, not so-called “free” trade. “Free” trade is not free when we, the tax-payers, have to foot the bill to pay for welfare, because workers became unemployed after their jobs were exported to China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Fiji, etc, or cheaper (and often shoddier) goods imported to unfairly compete with locally-made products.

Queensland’s Premier understands this. She wants jobs created for her own workers – not in some other country. Especially when those workers in other nations won’t be paying tax in Queensland.

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References

Radio NZ:  Timeline – Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayments saga

NZ Herald:  Beehive knew of Winston Peters’ super payments weeks ago

Mediaworks:  Paula Bennett says she doesn’t go ‘scuffling around doing leaks’

Fairfax media:  Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details

Mediaworks:  Collins ‘unwise’ to pass information to Slater

NZ Herald:  Statement from Judith Collins

Fairfax media:  Government backs down over collecting individuals’ data until security confirmed

Fairfax media:  Former promotional ‘hype girl’ keen to get more dancing to ACT’s tune

Fairfax media:  Tick party vote for ACT to bring quality candidates into parliament, leader says

Fairfax media:  The 9th floor – Jim Bolger says neoliberalism has failed NZ and it’s time to give unions the power back

Fairfax media:  Hamilton social service providers dispute PM’s ‘almost’ no homeless claim

Horizon Poll:  Ardern preferred Prime Minister with 6% lead

Mediaworks:  Newshub poll – Key’s popularity plummets to lowest level

SBS: Qld govt to prioritise local businesses

Scoop media:  Trade Ministers need firm hand over Queensland

Other Blogs

Martyn Bradbury:  My case against a secret NZ Police investigation that breached my privacy and my civil rights

Previous related blogposts

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister – downward slide continues

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

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 September 2017.

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The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

9 January 2017 5 comments

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Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

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Following his unexpected announcement to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister on 5 December last year, much  has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what  “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.

Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.

On 29 December, Radio NZ’sDirector of News Gathering“, Brent Edwards, wrote;

“At the time of his departure, his own personal rating remained high…”

Whilst Key’s Preferred Prime Ministership rating remained higher than his rivals, Key’s public support had plummeted since 2009. In October 2009, Key rated a phenomenal  55.8% in a TV3/Reid Research poll.

By May last year, TV3/Reid Research reported Key’s support to have fallen by 19.1 percentage points  to 36.7%. The same poll reported;

National though is steady on 47 percent on the poll — a rise of 0.3 percent — and similar to the Election night result.

So something was clearly happening with the public’s perception of Key. Whilst National’s overall support remained unchanged from election night on 2014, Key’s favourability was in slow-mo free-fall.

Edwards’ analysis of Key’s “legacy” appeared mostly to consist of this observation;

Within the political commentariat Mr Key has been highly regarded, mainly on the basis of his political style.

He added,

He was quick to dump any political unpopular policies before they did terminal damage to his government and he had an uncanny knack of skating through the most embarrassing political gaffes with little damage, if any, to his political reputation

What other Prime Minister, for example, would have escaped with their political credibility intact after revelations they had repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a waitress at their local cafe?

In effect, Key’s ‘qualities’ appeared to consist of constant damage-control and “an uncanny knack” to avoid being charged with assault.

Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.

Key’s “legacies”, according to Edwards, was a failed flag referendum costing the taxpayer $29 million and this;

He did help manage the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake. But National was left a legacy by the previous Labour Government – a healthy set of government books – which gave it the financial buffer it needed to deal with both crises.

Irony of ironies – Key’s one claim to a “legacy” was the product of a prudent Labour finance minister whose own legacy was a cash-gift to Key. Yet, even that cash-gift to Key could have been squandered had then-Finance Minister, Michael Cullen listened to Key’s wheedling demands for tax-cuts;

“Mr Key can’t have it both ways. One moment he says there is a recession looming then he thinks there are still surpluses to spend on tax cuts.”

… he is almost the kinder, gentler Kiwi Donald Trump. He is a populist who has been able to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling than some kind of semi-supernatural intuition. 

Matthews’ reference to Key’s ability “to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling” was pointed out by Radio NZ’s John Campbell, in his own assessment of the former Prime Minister’s tenure;

Key entered Parliament in 2002. His maiden speech was a pre-Textor, pre-dorky, pre-casual, pre-everyman piece of rhetoric, ripe to the point of jam with admonishments and exhortation.

[…]

And the key passage, in this respect, was: “We mustn’t be scared to do things because they might offend small groups, or seem unconventional. Good government is more than doing what’s popular. Good government is more than blindly following the latest opinion poll.”

On election night 12 years later, having just been made prime minister for a third term, Key triumphantly thanked his pollster, David Farrar, by name: the country’s “best”, he declared, admitting, as the New Zealand Herald reported, that he had rung Farrar “night after night, even though he wasn’t supposed to”.

The man who’d entered Parliament declaring a belief in something better than poll-driven politics had subverted himself. Gamekeeper turned pollster.

Matthews summed up with this conclusion;

He was somehow politically untouchable, even when New Zealand was laughing at or with him, or just cringing. Future historians will provide a clearer picture of his failures: A flag change that was supposed to be a personal legacy became an expensive embarrassment; the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead in the water; he could have used his political capital to do something meaningful about inequality and poverty.

[…]

But over on the West Coast, the government’s failures to satisfy the grieving Pike River families remain entirely embodied in Key.  

Again, Key’s abilities appear to lie with being “politically untouchable”. His “legacies” amounted to a list of dismal failures.

The unknown author of an editorial for the Otago Daily Times was kinder, as if it had been written by one of National’s small army of taxpayer-funded Beehive spin-doctors;

The legacy Mr Key will leave is one of financial stability, a unified government, a record of strong economic management and a commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible. A shortage of suitable housing has been laid at the door of Mr Key but his efforts in trying to sort out that particularly difficult area have been assiduous.

One of the issues he received the most criticism for is failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion. While Mr Key would have meant what he said at the time, the pragmatism which ruled his career meant he made a tough call to allow the mine to be sealed. Then there was the failed flag referendum.

But, his leadership during the Christchurch, and latterly Kaikoura, earthquakes was seen as outstanding by most New Zealanders. New Zealand secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council in no small part due to the work carried out by Mr Key.

Curiously, the un-named author glosses over the “commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible”, “a shortage of suitable housing … laid at the door of Mr Key”, “criticism for … failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion”, and “the failed flag referendum”. Because at least –  the author crows – we “secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council”.

The ODT’s mystery cheerleader for our former Dear Leader may be one of the few attempts to put a positive ‘spin’ to Key’s administration. It was, however, glaringly light on specifics.

In direct  stark contrast to the ODT’s lame attempt to canonise Key, Audrey Young was more caustic in her piece, Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem. Her conclusions were;

… two other areas I consider to be legacies for the Key Government although he has not claimed them as such: the Ross Sea sanctuary and the modernization of New Zealand’s spy agencies.

Unfortunately for Young, the original proposals for a MPA (Marine Protected Area) for the Ross Sea began as far back as 2005, and was first mooted by the US delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR).

If Key’s sole legacy was to increase the spying powers of the SIS, GCSB, and uncle Tom Cobbly – that may not be something his descendants bring up at polite dinner parties;

“Yeah, it was grand-dad Key who helped turn New Zealand in the virtual police state we have now. Sure we have spy cameras in every home, workplace, and cafe, but crime is almost non-existent!”

– is not something Max or Steph’s own kids will be heard crowing about.

Young suggested that Key’s “legacy” was more akin to a ‘state of mind’;

When I’ve asked people this week what they thought Key’s legacy was, many have said he gave New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world.

That is true but it is a state of mind. It could just as easily disappear through circumstances well beyond our control.

Giving “New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world” were the legacies of former Labour Prime Ministers – notably Norman Kirk and David Lange. Their leadership against the war in Vietnam; atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific; opposing apartheid in South Africa; advancing gay rights,  and turning the entire country into a nuclear-free zone are legacies that are with us today.

Going back even further, and the legacies of Labour’s Michael Savage are still discussed today.

Cringing whilst Key recited his “Top Ten Reasons for Visiting New Zealand” on the David Letterman Show would hardly have given Kiwis “a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world“;

[Warning: Cringe Level: Extreme]

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Most who saw that episode would have  hidden their heads beneath a pillow or blanket. Hardly the stuff of legacies, except of the Silvio Berlusconi variety.

She then concluded;

The fact that Key doesn’t really have a legacy is of no matter.

Well, that’s alright then. According to Young, Key’s “legacy” would be in the same vein as the manner in which he handled his own and ministers’ scandals and stuff-ups; nothing to see here, folks, no legacy, move along please.

Comedian, Jeremy Elwood, offered;

We may never have another Prime Minister who provides as much fodder for as many late night comedy shows around the world, as well as right here, again, but that’s all been part of his “popular appeal”.

Another ‘comedian’ – albeit unintentional – was Roger Partridge, writing on behalf of the so-called NZ Initiative (formerly the now largely discredited Business Roundtable). Partridge offered a lengthy list of neo-liberal “reforms” from Key’s tenure as PM;

Key’s was also a reforming government. After the Fourth Labour government, it was perhaps New Zealand’s most radical in the post-war era. The GST for income tax swap, welfare reforms (the likes of which might have brought down another government), the investment approach to social services; labour market reform, partial-privatisation, reforms in education, including national standards and charter schools: these may have occurred incrementally, but together they comprise a prodigious package of reform.

None of Partridge’s listed “reforms” will stand. In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al),  Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.

These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms”  as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.

The Herald’s “business editor at large”, Liam Dann pointed to;

…ongoing GDP growth at about 3 per cent, unemployment at around 5 per cent and the crown accounts are solid with the Government booking surpluses that are forecast to top $8 billion within five years.

– but had to concede that much of this “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland;

The housing boom has been a global phenomenon driven by the unusually low interest rate environment in the wake of the GFC. Investors have been looking for somewhere to put their money outside of the bank and assets prices have soared – both sharemarkets and property.

And far from National’s books being in surplus, Key has  managed to rack up a debt of  $95 billion according to a recent Treasury document.  Dann must have missed that salient bit in his rush-to-gush. He did, however, acknowledge the nature of the “ongoing GDP growth” further into his piece;

Overall population growth and record net migration is widely cited as a factor taking the gloss off New Zealand’s strong growth story.

Per capita GDP isn’t nearly so strong and the extra population is adding to the housing bubble and highlighting some deficiencies in infrastructure spending.

Almost reluctantly, Dann concludes;

He has not been a reformer but he has created a stable platform, in unstable times, for growth.

He exuded confidence and it rubbed off on the economy. Whether he has done enough to set the nation up for long-term prosperity, as outlined in those rosy Treasury forecasts, remains to be seen.

He also repeats Brent Edwards’ observation;

…Key made the most of the market conditions he had to work with.  He has benefited from some ground work done by the previous Labour Government, particularly in booking the gains from the China free trade agreement.

Writing for Radio NZ, John Campbell asks;

So, in the end, how will history judge John Key?

In his earnest, boy-scout, way, Campbell is charitable about one possible legacy left by Key;

In the age of Trump and Brexit and Manus Island, and having succeeded Don Brash and his divisive Orewa rhetoric, part of what may endure is a sense that, under him, New Zealand did not embrace xenophobia and paranoia and the vilification of Māori, Muslims, Mexicans, blue-collar immigrants and almost anyone who wasn’t Tribe White.

To this point, writer and trade unionist, Morgan Godfery, not a natural ally of Key, tweeted on the day the prime minister announced his resignation: “I’ll go into bat for Key on this: he rejected the politics of Orewa, avoiding what might have been an ugly decade of tension and conflict.”

Which might be true… except that Key and his Ministers were not above vilifying those who dared criticise National, or when it suited party-politics;

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nationals-targets-of-vilification

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See also: National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

In his usual manner of gentle admonishment, John Campbell chides Key and his Administration for their failing in housing;

“When I was six”, [Key] said in his maiden speech, “my father died; leaving my mother penniless with three children to raise. From a humble start in a state house, she worked as a cleaner and night porter until she earned the deposit for a modest home. She was living testimony that you get out of life what you put into it. There is no substitute for hard work and determination. These are the attitudes she instilled in me.”

Campbell responded;

Key was six in 1967. Among the many things that have changed since then is housing affordability. The IMF’s latest Global Housing Watch lists New Zealand’s housing market, in relation to household income, as the most expensive in the OECD. Could a penniless solo mother, working as a “cleaner and night porter”, paying market rents, now earn the deposit for a modest home?

Then Campbell issued what may well be Key’s one and only true legacy – if one could call a broken promise to the grieving families and friends of 29 men entombed deep within a mine on the West Coast, a “legacy”;

This is what John Key said, behind closed doors, when he met with Pike families on September 22, 2011.

“The first thing is I’m here to give you an absolute reassurance we’re committed to get the boys out.”

An absolute reassurance. The boys out. When the families heard that, there was spontaneous applause. The human details. The empathy, sincerity and trust. When the clapping stopped, the prime minister continued:

“When people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.”

And then John Key made it personal:

“So, you are the number one group that want to get those men out. And, quite frankly, I’m number two. Because I want to get them out.”

Five years on, the men are still in. It may be that the risk of getting them out is too great. But, when he was alone with them, Key didn’t say that, or qualify his words with that possibility. His was an “absolute reassurance”, and the families believed him and have clung to that belief in the years since.

Of all the many broken promises from Key, that will be the one most remembered. Because as Campbell so astutely pointed out, “John Key made it personal”.

‘Mickey Savage’ writing for The Standard was more brutal and unforgiving in his/her appraisal of Key’s administration;

Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like.  Although this was only skin deep.  His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.

As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything.  He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.

His economic development policies were crap.  Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.

The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration.  Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year.  The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market.  And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.

And child poverty has ballooned.  Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass.  But the reality?  Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs.  There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.

S/he concluded;

Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality.  Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.

‘Mickey Savage’ has summed up Key’s legacy perfectly and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;

John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else.  When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.

And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.

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References

Radio NZ: PM to resign – ‘It feels like the right time to go’

Radio NZ: How does John Key’s legacy compare to the Bolger years?

Scoop media: 3 News Poll – 2-10 October 2012

TV3 News: Newshub poll – Key’s popularity plummets to lowest level

Beehive: Cullen on Key’s tired old tax cut mantra

Fairfax media: The boy from Bryndwr – John Key’s Christchurch legacy

Radio NZ: Brand John – The Key to National’s success

ODT: The John Key legacy

NZ Herald: Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem

US State Department: A proposal for the establishment of the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area

Youtube: John Key’s Top 10 Reasons to visit New Zealand

The Telegraph: Best of Bunga Bunga: 7 most outrageous lines from Silvio Berlusconi’s new biography

Fairfax media: John Key’s most enduring legacy is make the right like Madonna

Interest.co.nz: Roger Partridge assesses the legacy of John Key as Prime Minister and finds an impressive record given the constraints of MMP

NZ Herald: Liam Dann – John Key’s economic hits and misses

NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb

Treasury NZ: Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2016

Additional

NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

Scoop media: Justice Minister Judith Collins resigns from Cabinet – PM’s announcement

Dominion Post: Forced sterilisation ‘a step too far’

Newstalk ZB: Key – Nicky Hager a conspiracy theorist ‘because I think he is’

NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

NBR: Collins on her last chance, PM says

NZ Herald: He’s Dotcom’s little henchman – PM attacks journalist’s spy claims

NZ Herald: Eleanor Catton has ‘no particular great insights into politics’, says John Key

Other Bloggers

Against the current: John Key’s Dismal Record on Climate Change

Bowalley Road: What A Way To Go! Some Initial Thoughts On John Key’s Resignation

Local Bodies: John Key’s Real Legacy

Sciblogs: Key’s legacy – an economist’s view

The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key

The Standard:  John Key’s legacy

Your NZ: Key’s legacy

Previous related blogposts

National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

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

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

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audrey young political column cartoon john key's legacy

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 January 2017.

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An earthquake separates John Key and ‘The Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher

24 November 2016 2 comments

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In October 1987, British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – apostle of Britain’s neo-liberal, free-market “reforms” – was famously quoted in an interview saying;

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And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour…

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Twenty-nine years later, as much of New Zealand is ravaged by a 7.5 earthquake, John Key makes an appeal to the people of Aotearoa on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘;

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The one thing I’d we’d just say to New Zealanders at the moment is stay close to your family and friends. Make sure you listen to the radio and listen to the best information that you’re getting. And if you do have certainly older neighbours or family, if you could go in and check up on them that would be most appreciated. Because there will be people feeling genuinely alone.

 

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Far from decrying Key’s sound advice, I would applaud him for giving it at a time when the country is rattled by ongoing,  severe,  seismic activity.

But it illustrates one fact with crystal-clarity;  Thatcher was wrong. There is such a thing as ‘society’.  We are our Brothers and Sisters Keepers; and functioning solely and purely  for our own Individualistic and immediate Familial benefit is not to our  advantage.

For without it, we are very much alone and left vulnerable to the immense, implacable, forces of nature.

Which is why the dictates of neo-liberalism – the so-called “invisible hand of the free-market” and selfish Cult of Individualism –  is doomed to failure. That is why the international  arm of neo-liberalism – globalisation – is  being rejected from country to country.

Because at the end of the day, when this country is hit by earthquakes that tear apart our roads, bridges, offices, community facilities, factories, ports, schools, and our own homes – I don’t see the “Invisible Hand of the Free Market” coming to our assistance, “invisible” or not.

Only people, working collectively for the greater good, can achieve mutual support – quite often for no personal benefit or gain.

Defenders of the neo-liberal/free market/globalisation ideology should stop and consider; we cannot have the Primacy of the Individual in good times, and then seek sanctuary within the strength of society in bad. People acting together as a community is either within us all the time, or not at all.

It is time for the leader of New Zealand’s free-market, pro-neo-liberal, political party to understand this simple truth.

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References

Margaret Thatcher Foundation: Woman’s Own – interview – 31 October 1987

Radio NZ: Morning Report – John Key urges New Zealanders to look out for their neighbours

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 November 2016.

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National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

15 July 2016 4 comments

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Open warfare has broken out between the National regime and  the Reserve Bank. Recent media statements indicate that we are seeing an increasingly bitter  war-of-words; a battle of wills, taking place over the growing housing crisis.

National is demanding that the Reserve Bank implement policies to “get on with it” to rein-in ballooning Auckland housing prices. The Reserve Bank is resisting, in an almost Churchillian-way.

In April this year, Key denied flatly that there was any “housing crisis” in this country;

“No, I don’t think you can call it a crisis. What you can say though is that Auckland house prices have been rising, and rising too quickly actually.”

But a year ago, on 15 April 2015, Reserve Bank deputy governor Grant Spencer warned that investors/speculators were becoming a major problem in the housing market;

“Investors are often setting the marginal market prices that are then applied to the full housing stock within a regional market.”

Spencer went on to issue what must be the most prescient statement ever uttered by a senior civil servant;

“Indicators point to an increasing presence of investors in the Auckland market and this trend is no doubt being reinforced by the expectation of high rates of return based on untaxed capital gains.”

Predictably, Key rejected taxing capital gains as an instrument to control rampant speculation;

“I remember when everyone said to [introduce] the equivalent of a [capital gains] bright line test, it will solve the issues. Well, it really didn’t.”

Key also rejected calls by the Reserve Bank to curb high levels of  immigration which was exacerbating demand for housing. Key was blunt;

“We’re going to stick with the plan we’ve got.”

Of course Key is not prepared to reduce immigration . It is one of the few drivers for current economic growth that is stimulating the economy. Curb migration and the economy stalls. Stall the economy and National would have nothing to take to the election next year.

As National’s own minister, Jonathan Coleman stated in 2011;

“It’s important to highlight the economic value of Immigration here…

[…]

…New migrants add an estimated $1.9 billion to the New Zealand economy every year.

Immigration recognises the strategic importance of the tourism and export education sectors and the direct links they provide to employers.

Given these compelling figures, my number one priority has been to ensure Immigration is contributing to the Government’s economic growth agenda.”

Coleman’s 6 May 2011 press release was entitled, “Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy”.

Key deflected criticism and instead blamed the Auckland Council. In a blustering attack reminiscent of the late Robert Muldoon, Key threatened the Auckland Council with over-riding it’s Unitary Plan;

“The effect of the [government] National Policy Statement would vary around the country, but in essence it linked the price of land to demand in the economy. If the land price is going up too quickly (councils) have to amend their plans to release enough land, and if they don’t do that they’ll breach the law. If the Unitary Plan doesn’t meet the demands of Auckland, the National Policy Statement because of the way it works will drive it, mark my words.”

His solution? Build more;

“Look, in the end, we’ve been saying for some time it is not sustainable for house prices to rise at 10, 12, 13 percent a year. The only answer to that is do what we’re doing: allocate more land and build more houses.  It certainly will stop it, there’s no question about that, because if you build enough supply, you eventually satisfy demand.

The mantra to ‘build more, build more‘ overlooks recent statistics which showed that nearly fifty percent of housing in Auckland was being purchased by  investors/speculators;

The Reserve Bank has for the first time unveiled official figures that break out the Auckland market from the rest of the country’s mortgage lending figures. The figures confirm what some previous research and anecdotal evidence has pointed to. Investors are huge in the Auckland market.

The figures show that in April, investors committed to $1.623 billion of the $3.536 billion worth of mortgages advanced in Auckland. That’s just a tick under 46% of the total.

Labour’s Phil Twyford said that in some areas of Auckland, up to 75% of housing was being grabbed by investors/speculators. Twyford said;

“They should start immediately by banning non-resident foreign buys from speculating in New Zealand property, unless they build a new dwelling. That’s the Australian Government policy and we think it makes a lot of sense.”

So unless National is prepared to ban foreigner and local  investors/speculators from purchasing around half of all new housing in Auckland, building new homes will not address the growing crisis.

On the issue of foreign-ownership of residential property, Key was adamant that his open-door, free-market policy of foreign ownership of housing  would be unchanged. Even if it meant New Zealander’s would find  it harder and harder to buy their own home, in their own country. As he said to Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A last year;

“But the point here is simply this – I don’t want to ban foreigners from buying residential property.”

But Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse, was having none of  Key’s bullying tactics. She responded with her own tough message;

“We’ve got six and half years of land planned for, infrastructure in the ground and ready to go. Government themselves have got more than 20 special housing areas that belong to Housing New Zealand that are ready to go.  There’s no shortage of places to build. Our question to government would be, perhaps you just need to get on with it.”

The reality is that National is unwilling to implement any policy that might lower property prices. As Key has said previously;

“If it is left unchecked, some buyers could find themselves substantially overexposed in an overvalued market, and we all know what happens if those values start to fall.” –  John Key, 23 July 2013

“Let’s just take the counter-factual for a moment. Would you want your house price going down?  And what most Aucklanders say to me is ‘I’d rather my house price went up, but I’d rather it went up a little more slowly than this’.” – John Key, 6 August 2015

So Key is in a bind. His government’s  continuing popularity is at the pleasure of property-owners with bloated housing values.

Build too many houses or implement too many restrictions (including new taxes), and property values in Auckland and elsewhere in New Zealand might begin to fall, as they did in the late 1990s. That would be a financial shock for many New Zealanders who, through rising property values, are feeling like “millionaires”, albeit on paper.

If that happens, National’s popularity – riding high on 47% – would finally crash and burn, paving way for a Labour-Green(-NZ First?) coalition government next year.

However, National’s desperation to resolve what has become a major public crisis has apparently found a new scape-goat – the Reserve Bank.

National’s cunning plan is for the Reserve Bank to do their “dirty work” for them. If the RBNZ were to implement policies that would result in property values levelling off – or even dropping – then Key and English would have “plausible deniability”. They could point to the Reserve Bank as an independent body and wash their hands of its actions.

Recent demands from John Key for the RBNZ to “get on with it” are not the first time that National has interfered with  the independence of the bank.

In April last year, in a classic example of nepotistic cronyism, Bill English’s brother was appointed to the RBNZ as an “advisor”;

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Finance Minister Bill English's brother to advise Reserve Bank on interest rates

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A year later, in April this year, Bill English took an unprecedented step in demanding greater over-sight of Graeme Wheeler, the RBNZ’s Governor;

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Bill English seeks talks on Reserve Bank governor's performance 'from time to time'

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According to the Fairfax report, English said;

“The duties of the board include keeping under review the performance of the governor. I would expect to discuss your assessment of the governor’s performance from time to time.”

On National’s* own website, English went further;

“Ministers typically send letters of expectation to the Boards of entities in their portfolio. This letter was prepared after The Treasury identified an opportunity to bring the accountability framework into line with other Crown agencies.”

This is naked interference in an institution that, since 1989, was to be protected from partisan-political interference. The RBNZ supposedly acts according to legislation – not the demands of the Finance Minister. Not since the Muldoon era has the RBNZ been controlled directly by a government minister.

It can only be assumed that National is meeting stiff resistance from the bank’s Governor, Graeme Wheeler, as English attempts to assert direct ministerial “over-sight” (ie, control) over the institution.

The fact that a recent war-of-words has erupted over the RBNZ’s involvement in Auckland’s housing crisis suggests that English’s Very Kiwi Coup may not have been successful.

In fact, the Cold War has become a Hot Conflict.

In the last week, the ‘battleground’ between National and the Bank became more public, as government minister and chief Head-Kicker, Steven Joyce and Grant Spence continued their war-of wills.

6 July, 1.10 AM

John Key;

But my sense is potentially one of the risks is you have got people buying rental properties at the moment, borrowing more money but fearful that the Reserve Bank is going to move. If they are going to make changes, probably they should just get on with it.”

7 July

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

“Increased housing demand has been driven by record net immigration, low mortgage interest rates and increasing investor participation. Net migration flows continue to hit new records, with annual net PLT migration now approaching 70,000 persons…

[…]

A dominant feature of the housing market resurgence has been an increase in investor activity. In recent months, investors have accounted for around 43 percent of sales in Auckland and 38 percent in other regions […] The prospect of capital gains appears to remain a key driver for investors in the face of declining rental yields. 

The declining affordability of New Zealand housing and increasing investor presence have seen a downward trend in the share of households owning their own home. This ratio has fallen steadily since the early 1990s, reaching 64.8 percent at the 2013 Census. The recent increase in investor housing activity suggests that the home-ownership rate may have declined further since 2013.

The Reserve Bank considers that rising investor participation tends to increase the financial stability risks relating to the household sector in severe downturn conditions.

[…]

…However, we cannot ignore that the 160,000 net inflow of permanent and long-term migrants over the last 3 years has generated an unprecedented increase in the population and a significant boost to housing demand. Given the strong influence of departing and returning New Zealanders in the total numbers, it will never be possible to fine-tune the overall level of migration or smooth out the migration cycle. However, there may be merit in reviewing whether migration policy is securing the number and composition of skills intended. While any adjustments would operate at the margin, they could over time help to moderate the housing market imbalance.”

8 July, 7.46am

Don Brash (Former Reserve Bank governor);

The Reserve bank has no statutory responsibility for Auckland house prices or indeed house prices anywhere else…

[…]

The Prime Minister wants to pretend this is somebody else’s responsibility.  I think the Reserve bank is absolutely right, that this responsibility for Auckland house prices lies first and foremost with local government Auckland and central government in Wellington.

Central government, because it controls the rate of migration, which is by any international standards a very high level, that pushes  demand for housing.  And of course the Auckland Council,  not just now, but for the last couple of decades has restrained the availability of land on which to build Auckland houses...”

8 July, 7.51am

Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development);

“Migration is a contributing factor to housing demand…

[…]

The prime minister’s comment was entirely fair, which is to to suggest to the Reserve Bank [that] if you’re going to these things then, then  do move on them quickly…

[…]

The Prime Minister’s comments on Tuesday were just to highlight the fact that actually if you’re going to make these sorts of changes, do make them reasonably  quickly…

8 July, 7.57am

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

“What we’re saying is that the, what we’re seeing in the last three years is 160,000 net  in-flow is unprecedented and it’s an important driver of the current housing situation and therefore it  can’t be ignored….

[…]

“You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”

It’s an important driver in the housing market, yes. There’s no doubt about that. But we’re also saying there’s no easy solution. You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”

[…]

We’re running at a rate of 60,000 at present, but how many years can we continue running at a rate of 60,000 and continue to absorb that rate. It get’s more and more difficulty when the country doesn’t have that absorbtive capacity.”

Current battle-status: stalemate.

Controlling house prices, as former Reserve Bank governor, Don Brash said, is beyond the bank’s statutory responsibility. On top of which, the RBNZ is unwilling to be the “patsy” for implementing policies (even if it could) that might crash house prices, and make them the Bad Guys in this worsening crisis.

Only a government can act decisively in such matters – but to do so would be political suicide for Key and his fellow ministers.

Fran O’Sullivan is usually sympathetic to the National government, but her column on 6 July was damning of Key’s inaction;

Most National Cabinet ministers and MPs are well invested in “real property”. So are many of their counterparts from other political parties.

Like most of us who are “established” – that is those of us who bought into the housing market a decade or more ago – the MPs have seen their own on-paper wealth double.

Having rejoiced at the wealth effect, neither the MPs nor the rest of us want to take a financial haircut. Key is right on that score.

But it is a pretty crap society that pulls the ladder up on younger people or those less well off just because they want to preserve their new unearned wealth.

[…]

Key again duck-shoved the issue, suggesting it was the Reserve Bank’s responsibility to “have a look at the question around investors”.

What’s notable is his Government will not slap investors with an effective capital gains tax, preferring a “bright line” test which is easily avoided by holding a housing investment for more than two years; refuses to introduce specific taxes to punish land bankers; and will not introduce rules to preserve the acquisition of existing residential housing for citizens or curb migration.

Key could pass special legislation to do this.

The question is why won’t he.

“Why”? Because Key doesn’t want to lose the 2017 election.

This is National’s Achille’s Heel, and it is fully exposed.

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Addendum1

In May this year, a TV3/Reid Research Poll was scathing of National’s inaction on the housing crisis. Even National voters were getting ‘grumpy’;

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tv3-news-housing-poll

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Addendum2

Current ballooning property prices are the highest in the developed world;

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Real house price growth - annual % change

Ad

Addendem3

Latest house price figures:

• $975,087- Auckland: Average house price, up 4.7% in past three months and 16.1% since June last year

• $492,403- Hamilton: Average house price, up 6.9% in past three months and 29% since June last year

• $599,915- Tauranga: Average house price, up 4.9% in past three months and 23.6% since June last year

Latest Inflation Rate:

Inflation is currently at 0.4%, according to Statistics NZ.

Notes

* I have downloaded and retained a copy of the National Party webpage. In the past, National Party webpages tend to “disappear”, and are no longer searchable, making referencing and verification of quotes problematic. If this webpage disappears, English’s comments can still be verified to anyone requesting it. – Frank Macskasy

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References

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

Fairfax media: Reserve Bank call to look at untaxed property gains

NZ  Herald: John Key to Reserve Bank – Housing measures ‘not terribly effective’

Radio NZ: No change on immigration, says John Key

NZ Herald: Housing crisis – Reserve Bank calls on Government to curb immigration

Beehive.govt.nz: Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy

Fairfax media: Key gets tough on Auckland with new policy forcing councils to release land

Interest.co.nz: Investors accounted for nearly 46% of all mortgage monies in Auckland

Radio NZ: Auckland’s home ownership rates ‘collapsing’ – Labour

Scoop media: PM – I don’t want to ban foreign buyers from buying

Radio NZ: Get on with it – Auckland Council tells govt

Fairfax media: Key expects LVRs to go ahead

Interest.co.nz: Key says non-Aucklanders tell him they would love it when house prices are rising

QV.co.nz: How fast is the current property market rising compared to the past? (2013)

TV3: Newshub poll – Key’s popularity plummets to lowest level

Fairfax media: Finance Minister Bill English’s brother to advise Reserve Bank on interest rates

Fairfax media: Bill English seeks talks on Reserve Bank governor’s performance ‘from time to time’

National.co.nz: English releases RB Board letter of expectations

NZ Herald: Auckland property: $400k deposit please

Reserve Bank: Housing risks require a broad policy response

Radio NZ: RBNZ wants immigration review to rein in house prices

Radio NZ: Government responds to RBNZ housing speech

Radio NZ: Reserve Bank – Housing risks require a broad policy response

NZ Herald: Fran O’Sullivan – Why won’t Key act on housing?

Fairfax media: Why MPs may want house prices in New Zealand to keep rising

TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing

NZ Herald: Auckland property – $400k deposit please

Statistics NZ: Consumers Price Index: March 2016 quarter

Additional

Radio NZ: Reserve Bank refuses to play housing ball with government

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

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

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

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reserve bank - rbnz - national government - housing affordability

Cartoon acknowledgement: Tom Scott, Dominion Post

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2016.

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John Key – we will not be held to ransom!

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11380618-Modern-Janus-with-two-masks-isolated-on-white-backgground-Stock-Vector

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When news of the kidnapping of Australians and a New Zealand citizen in Nigeria hit our headlines, our esteemed Dear Leader’s response was unequivocal;

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John Key - NZ won't pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

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Key was adamant;

“Our very strong policy is not to pay a ransom and our reason for that is we think if we paid a ransom, we’d potentially put a bounty on any New Zealander’s head who travels to a dangerous part of the world, and it potentially makes the situation worse.”

Our Leader was not for turning. Key does not cave in to pressures.

Or, so it seems…

In October 2010, the country was “rocked” with news that that  the Hobbit movies would be “taken away” from New Zealand;

Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, said in a statement that Warners representatives were coming to New Zealand next week “to make arrangements to move the production offshore” because “they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their investment.”

A week after Peter Jackson’s dire warnings of impending Mordor-like doom, Dear Leader Key intervened and rode like a Ranger to the rescue (in a BMW limousine, not a stallion);

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Key comes through $34m deal sees Hobbit stay in NZ - NBR - Peter Jackson - Warner Bros

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Even the Warner Bros movie execs had  stallions limos provided (at taxpayers’ expense, yet again) when they came-a-visitin’ to New Zealand to collect their $34 million bucks;

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no-decision-yet-in-hobbit-talks-key

 

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Along with $34 million of taxpayer’s money paid over to Warner Bros, the National government passed legislation changing the status of Jackson’s workers from employees, to “contractors”. This lessened the working-conditions of people working throughout New Zealand’s movie industry.

The employment law changes passed through Parliament within forty eight hours – a feat unheard of in New Zealand’s political process. Unions, workers, and the public had no say in the matter.

As Key said at the time,

“It was a commercial reality that without this [law] change, these movies would not be made in New Zealand.”

So the sovereignty of New Zealand’s Parliament was not ransomed by Warner Bros to gain $34 million plus a change in our labour laws?

Note: On 21 December 2010, two months after Jackson declared that there was an imminent threat to losing The Hobbit to another country, he conceded that no such “threat” existed;

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Peter Jackson Actors no threat to Hobbit - Warner Bros

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Three years later, Rio Tinto threatened to close it’s Tiwai Point aluminium smelter if it’s demands were not met;

Mining giant Rio Tinto has rejected the Government’s offer of a short-term subsidy to continue running the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Instead, it has gone back into negotiations with electricity supplier Meridian to try and get a better deal.

If no deal is made, Prime Minister John Key says the smelter, 79 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 21 percent owned by Japanese company Sumitomo, could be shut down in about five years.

In February 2014, National conceded to Rio Tinto’s demands that it’s electricity subsidies be increased. A further ‘sweetener’ of $30 million of taxpayer’s money was paid over to the smelting multi-national;

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pm-defends-30m-payout-to-rio-tinto

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As Key said at the time;

“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”

This was echoed by Finance Minister, Bill English;

“The $30m was a ‘one-off incentive payment’ to help secure agreement on the revised contract because of the importance of the smelter to the stability of the New Zealand electricity market.”

So the jobs of eight hundred jobs in Southland were not ransomed by Rio Tinto to gain $30 million plus cheaper electricity rates?

John Key says his government will not pay ransom to extortionists?

His track record proves otherwise.

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References

Fairfax media:  John Key – NZ won’t pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

Hitfix:   ‘Hobbit’ Crisis – Peter Jackson warns film could leave New Zealand

NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

Fairfax media:  Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

Previous related blogposts

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

And the Oscar for Union-Smashing and Manipulating Public Opinion goes to…

Peter Jackson’s “Precious”

The Mendacities of Mr Key #9: The Sky’s the limit with taxpayer subsidies!

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: No one deserves a free tertiary education (except my mates and me)

The Corporate Welfare of Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

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KickingThe HobbitRGB

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on day month year.

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