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Posts Tagged ‘Finance Minister Bill English’

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 19: Tax Cuts Galore! Money Scramble!

2 December 2016 6 comments

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In troubled times, we are community

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On 14 October, eight hours after two massive 7.8 earthquakes simultaneously rocked the entire country, our Dear Leader John Key made an impassioned (for him, it was impassioned) 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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It was  an appeal to a sense of community that is rarely made by right-wing governments or their leaders. It was a tacit acknowledgement that No Man or Woman is an Island that that only by acting collectively can human beings survive  and improve their own circumstances and for their children.

Unfortunately, a week later, Key’s sense-of-community-spirit  was returned to it’s hermetically-sealed casket and re-buried alongside cryo-capsules containing New Zealand’s Once-Egalitarian-Spirit and International-Independent-Leadership-On-Moral Issues.

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National dangles the “carrot”

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On 21 November, Key announced that tax cuts were once again “on the table” and Little Leader/Finance Minister, Bill English confirmed it.

With a statement that was more convoluted than usual, Key said;

“We’ve identified from our own perspective if there was more money where would be the kinds of areas we want to go, not what is the make up … for instance, of a tax or family package, what is the make up of other expenditure we want?

Tax is one vehicle for doing that, it’s not always the most effective vehicle for doing that for particularly low income families.”

Tax could be effective higher up the income scale, but lower down it was not that effective because base rates were low or it was very expensive.

Over the fullness of time we’ll have to see whether we’ve got much capacity to move.

Making sure they can keep a little more of what they earn or get a little bit more back through a variety of mechanisms is always something we can consider. It could be a mix, yes.

In the end it’s about equity for New Zealanders and about .. having a rise in their standard of living, and there’s a number of ways you could deliver that.”

Key has once again dangled a billion-dollar carrot in front of New Zealanders as the country heads towards next year’s election.

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National’s previous election “carrots”

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During the 2008 General Election,  as the Global Financial Crisis was impacting on our own economy, Key was promising tax cuts. In May 2008, he said;

“But in 2005 we promised tax cuts which ranged from about $10 to $92 a week, roughly $45 a week for someone on $50,000 a year.

“I described it as a credible programme of personal tax cuts and I’m committed to a credible programme of personal tax cuts,” he said.

Questioned on whether National’s tax cuts programme of 2005 was credible today given the different economic circumstances, Mr Key said: “Well, I think it is.”

At the time, then Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen  described National’s tax-cut-bribe as ‘reckless‘.

By October 2008, as NZ Inc’s economic circumstances deteriorated, Treasury issued dire warnings that should have mitigated against any notions of affordable tax-cuts;

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.

Key’s government won the 2008 election and proceeded with tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010.

Predictably, government debt – which had been paid down by the Clark-Cullen government – ballooned as the recession hit New Zealand’s economy and tax revenue fell;

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National government debt - tax cuts

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Key himself estimated tax cuts to be worth between $3  or $4 billion.

In 2008, New Zealand’s core government debt stood at nil (net)

Current government debt now stands at $62.272 billion (net).

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Nature intervenes in National’s “cunning plan” for a Fourth Term

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According to Dear Leader Key, estimates for the re-build of earthquake damage in and around Kaikoura; State Highway One, and the rest of the South Island  is likely to be at least “a couple of billion dollars“.

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 The repair bill from Monday's earthquake near Hanmer Springs is estimated to be billions of dollars. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The repair bill from Monday’s earthquake near Hanmer Springs is estimated to be billions of dollars. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

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Finance Minister Bill English has hinted the cost may be much more;

“The combination of significant infrastructure damage in Wellington, obvious damage in Kaikoura – all roading and rail issues – this is going to add up to something fairly significant. We also know that those estimates change over time.”

No wonder Labour leader Andrew Little was less than impressed at tax cuts being mooted. Echoing Michael Cullen from eight years ago, he condemned the irresponsible nature of Key’s proposal;

“Well this is crazy stuff, I mean in addition to a government having $63 billion worth of debt it is yet to start repaying, and you’ve got a billion dollars extra each year just in the cost of superannuation.

Now we have another major civic disaster that is going to cost in terms of repairs. I do not see how John Key can say tax cuts are justified in the present circumstances.”

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National spends-up large on new prison beds

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On top of which, English announced last month that National was planning to spend over $2.5 billion on new prison beds. He questioned whether tax cuts were affordable with such looming expenditure;

Finance Minister Bill English has warned an announcement today of plans for an extra 1,800 prison beds will reduce the room for the Government to consider tax cuts before next year’s election.

English told reporters in Parliament the extra beds would cost NZ$1 billion to build and an extra NZ$1.5 billion to run over the next five or six years.

“It will have an impact because it is a very large spend and, two or three years years ago, we probably thought this could be avoidable,” English said when asked if the extra spending would make it harder for the Government to unveil tax cuts and other spending before the next election.

“It’s all part of this rachetting up of tougher sentences, tighter remand conditions, less bail and taking less risk with people who commit serious offenses,” he added.

Asked if that meant there would be less room for tax cuts, he said: “I wouldn’t want to judge that because it is a bit early, but certainly spending this kind of money on prison capacity is going to reduce other options.”

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The inevitable cost of tax-cuts

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As billions more is wasted on prisons, money spent on health, education, housing, and other social services is being frozen; cut back, or not keeping pace with inflation.

This has resulted in appalling cuts to services such as recently experienced by  96-year-old Horowhenua woman, Trixie Cottingham;

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Other social services have also been wound back – as previously reported by this blogger;

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Cuts to the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;

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A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;

New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.

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The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.

“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”

As the public healthcare system faces reduction in funding – more and New Zealanders will be forced into taking up  health insurance. In effect, National is covertly shifting the cost of healthcare from public to private,  funding the public/private ‘switch’ through personal tax-cuts.

Tax dollars have previously been allocated to social services such as Education or Health. By implementing tax cuts, those “Health Dollars” become “Discretionary Dollars”; Public Services for Citizens becomes Private Choice for Consumers.

And we all know how “well” that model has worked out in the United States;

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(Yet another) Broken promise by Key

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But equally important is that, in promising to spend the government surplus on tax-cuts, Dear Leader Key has broken yet another of his promises to the people of New Zealand.

In July 2009, National suspended all contribution to the NZ Superannuation Fund. At the time  Bill English explained;

“The Government is committed to maintaining National Superannuation entitlements at 66 per cent of the average wage, to be paid from age 65.

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The suspension of automatic contributions will remain until there are budget surpluses sufficient to fund contributions. Under current projections, the Government is not expected to have sufficient surpluses for the next 11 years.

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Once surpluses sufficient to cover automatic contributions return, the Government intends to contribute the amount required by the Fund formula.”

In 2010, English said;

“We’re managing government spending carefully, the economy is improving a bit faster than we expected, and that means it’s six years instead of 10 years until we start making contributions to the fund. If the economy picks up a bit faster again, we’ll get to that point sooner.”

In 2011, John Key said;

“Once we’re back to running healthy surpluses, we’ll be able to auto-enrol workers who are not members of KiwiSaver, pay down debt and resume contributions to the Super Fund.”

In 2012, English said;

“The Government’s target is to return to surplus by 2014-15 so that we will then have choices about repaying debt, resuming contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, or targeting more investment in priority public services.”

In 2013, English said;

“It remains our intention that contributions will resume once net debt has reduced to 20 percent of GDP, which is forecast for 2020.”

In 2014, English told Patrick Gower;

“… In this Budget we will have a paper-thin surplus , I mean we’ll just have a surplus but that’s the beginning of a series of surpluses and that means we have choices. And there’s a lot of choices. We’ve got the New Zealand Super Fund to resume contributions, an auto-enrolment for KiwiSaver, paying off debt more quickly, something for households to help them along. Those are choices that New Zealand fortunately will have if we have a growing economy and we stick to being pretty careful about our spending.”

In 2015, Key and English issued a joint  statement saying;

“Through Budget 2015, the National-led Government will…

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Reduce government debt to less than 20 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 when we can resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund.”

In October this year, English said;

“There has not been any broken commitment regarding the Superannuation Fund. We have said for some time that when the Government returns to a sufficient budget surplus and can contribute genuine savings rather than borrowing, National will resume contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. The straightforward issue is that even when the Government shows surpluses under the operating balance before gains and losses measure, it does not always have cash surpluses until those accounting surpluses get reasonably big.

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I remember that Sunday in 2009 in vivid detail, in fact, and constantly go back to it. The Government has outlined its position many, many times since 2009, and when there are sufficient surpluses and when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020, then we will resume contributions, which we would like to do.”

In every year since National ceased contributing to the NZ Super (“Cullen”) Fund, both Key and English have reiterated their committment to resume payments when government books returned to surplus.

By hinting at tax cuts instead, Key and English have broken their promises, made over a seven year period.

Even their “qualifyer” of resuming contributions “when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020” becomes untenable with their hints of an election-year tax-cut bribe.

By cutting taxes instead of paying down debt, resuming contributions to the NZ Super Fund is pushed further out into the dim, distant future.

The very suggestion of tax cuts is another potential broken promise.  What’s one more to add to his growing list of promises not kept?

After all, there is an election to be fought next year.

Since National has not thought twice at under-funding the Health Budget, it certainly does not seem troubled at using tax-cuts as an election bribe, and undermining this country’s future superannuation savings-fund for selfish political gain.

Muldoon did it in 1973 – and got away with it.

Carrot, anyone?

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References

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

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Key not ruling out tax cuts despite billion-dollar Kaikoura bill

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Government not ruling out tax cuts despite $1B Kaikoura bill

Fairfax media: John Key reveals plans for ‘tax and family’ package, but quake might affect plans

NZ Herald: National’s 2005 tax cut plans still credible – Key

Beehive: National ignores inflation warning

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

NZ Treasury:  Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2010 – Debt

Fairfax media: $4b in tax cuts coming

NZ Treasury: Fiscal Indicator Analysis – Debt  as at 30 June 2008

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

Radio NZ: Earthquake’s billion-dollar bill won’t compare with Chch

Radio NZ: PM ‘irresponsible’ to talk tax cuts after quake – Labour

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

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – DHB threatens to cut off 96-year-old’s home help in Levin

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

TV1 News: ‘Devastating news for vulnerable Kiwis’ – Relationships Aotearoa struggling to stay afloat

Radio NZ: Patients have ‘severe loss of vision’ in long wait for treatment

Fairfax media: Researchers claim NZ health budget declining, publicly-funded surgery on way out

Radio NZ: Patients suffering because of surgery waits – surgeon

Fairfax media: 174,000 Kiwis left off surgery waiting lists, with Cantabrians and Aucklanders faring worst

Fortune: How the U.S. Health Care System Fails Its Sickest Patients

NZ Super Fund: Contributions Suspension

Beehive: New Zealand Super Fund – fact sheet

Fairfax media: English signals earlier return to Super Fund payments

Scoop media: John Key’s Speech to Business New Zealand Amora Hotel Wgtn

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 7

TV3 News: $23 billion in NZ Super Fund

Throng: Patrick Gower interviews Finance Minister Bill English on The Nation

Beehive: Budget 2015

Scoop: Hansards – Questions and Answers – 18 October 2016

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

Additional

The Standard: The great big list of John Key’s big fat lies (UPDATED)

Other Blogs

The Standard: The eternal tax-cut mirage

Previous related blogposts

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

Tax cuts & school children

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?

Plunket and the slow strangulation of community organisations

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 Novembr 2016.

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National’s Wellington Mayoral candidate, Jo Coughlan – four lanes to nowhere

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jo coughlan - election billboards - four lane highway (2)

Wellington mayoral candidate, Jo Coughlan, standing in front of one of her election billboards.

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Right-wing mayoral candidate, and current Wellington City Councillor, Jo Coughlan, has ducked answering questions relating to her campaign policy advocating for a four-lane motorway from Transmission Gully to Wellington airport.

Coughlan has been a city councillor since 2007, as well as Director for PR firm, Silvereye Communications. Amongst her PR company’s clients are the Ministry for Education, Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA), Department of Building and Housing, NZ Post, and ACC.

As well as a Director to Silvereye Communications, Coughlan is (was?) a Director of Life Flight Trust – which also happens to be a client of the same PR company.

From 1996 to 1999, she was  Press Secretary  for then-Foreign Affairs Minister, Don McKinnon.

Coughlan is also wife to Conor English, brother to current Finance Minister, Bill English.

On 2 April this year, Coughlan announced her intentions to run for the Wellington mayoralty. She also declared her support for a four land highway to Wellington’s international airport, located in the eastern suburns;

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jo coughlan - election billboards - four lane highway

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“We need to double-tunnel the Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels and see four lanes along Ruahine St to the airport. Wellington’s mayor must lead on this, and that is my commitment.” – Jo Coughlan, 2 April 2016

Coughlan’s election pamphlet, “My Road Map for Wellington’s future“, reiterated her desire to expand Wellington’s roading system;

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jo coughlan - election pamphlet (2)

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Coughlan linked expanding the roading network with electric cars, even though currently there are only about 150 of the vehicles in the region.

In the same pamphlet, Coughlan also conflated building more roads with making “public transport more reliable”;

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jo coughlan - election pamphlet (3)

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There is no other  mention of public transport, except  in relation to “fixing our roads“, in any of  Coughlan’s other election material (seen by this blogger). Her website also makes only a brief reference to “public transport options”.

On 25 July, this blogger contacted Coughlan through Facebook, asking if she would be available to answer questions on her policy.

Coughlan replied the same day and in an email said;

“Happy to discuss.

The four laning can be achieved by four laning Ruahine St as planned by NZTA.

That way you essentially get (Inc the one way systems ) four lanes  to the planes.”

Since initial contact, Coughlan’s “happy to discuss” response has been met with evasiveness to pin down and arrange a time for a series of questions to be put to her. Requests for a set time to put eleven questions, plus follow-ups, have been ducked. (Which raises questions about her role in  the communications industry.)

The questions which merited answers were;

Q1: In your pamphlet, “My Road Map for Wellington’s future”, you linked building of more roads to public transport stating, “Fix our roads to make public transport more reliable”? What did you mean by “fix our roads”? How does that relate to public transport?

It is well known that building more roads attracts more cars. In one year alone, 43,000 more cars have been added to Auckland’s congested roads;

There are 43,000 more cars on Auckland’s roads than this time last year, with nearly 11,000 of those vehicles registered in January alone.

It’s no wonder the city’s traffic congestion has worsened over that time, national roading authority New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) says.

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An average 168,500 vehicles now cross the Harbour Bridge every day, compared with 17,000 in 1960 shortly after it opened.

“You’re reaching a point where you can’t add any more traffic to the Harbour Bridge,” Pant said.

It is unclear how more roads would “make public transport more reliable“.

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

Q2: In pamphlet, you stated, “We need roads that keep us moving. Electric cars need roads”? What do you say to those who say it is disingenuous to link environmentally-clean electric cars with the building of more roads?

With only 150 electric vehicles in Wellington, there seemed no apparent need to build more roads at a cost of billions, for such a small, insignificant number of alternative-fuel cars.

The possibility exists that Ms Coughlan was being willfully disingenuous, and attempting to “green wash” an environmentally unfriendly policy.Was that Coughlan’s intention?

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

Q3: Along with your advocating for a four-lane motorway from Transmission Gully to the airport, you’ve stated you want to “work with Government to accelerate building of the city’s infrastructure and roading to keep the city moving”. Bearing in mind that the planet’s temperature continues to rise according to latest data from NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and also bearing in mind that fossil fuels like oil and petrol are prime producers of greenhouse gases, isn’t a four-lane motorway of the kind you are suggesting irresponsible?

Coughlan attempted to mitigate her support for building more roads by stating on her election “pledge” card that she would “protect the greenbelt and natural environment”;

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jo coughlan - election card (2)

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However, nowhere in her election material does Coughlan refer to the effects of climate change on our natural environment.

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

Expanding on the previous question, I wanted to put to Coughlan the following;

Q4: Are you aware of NASA’s latest findings that ” the six-month period from January to June was also the planet’s warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.°C warmer than the late nineteenth century”; that “Arctic sea ice at the peak of the summer melt season now typically covers 40% less area than it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s” and that “Arctic sea ice extent in September, the seasonal low point in the annual cycle, has been declining at a rate of 13.4% per decade”?

Q5: Are you aware that the NOAA recently confirmed NASA’s data, stating, “The average global temperature across land surfaces was 2.33°C above the 20th century average of 3.2°C, the highest March temperature on record, surpassing the previous March record set in 2008 by 0.43°C and surpassing the all-time single-month record set last month by 0.02°C”?
More specifically, the NOAA reported that “New Zealand reported its sixth warmest March in a period of record that dates to 1909, at 1.3°C above the 1981–2010 average. The entire country had above or well-above average temperatures for the month. Parts of Northland, Waikato, Manawatu-Whanganui, and Westland were each more than 2.0°C above their March average”. What is your comment on those latest findings?

New Zealand is not immune to climate change effects as mentioned in this CNN report;

The first six months of 2016 were the hottest ever recorded, NASA announced on Tuesday, while Arctic sea ice now covers 40% less of the Earth than it did just 30 years ago.

Temperatures were on average 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average between January and June this year, compared to the late nineteenth century.
In total, the planet has now had 14 consecutive months of the hottest temperatures seen since records began in 1880, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
Australia, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Spain were some examples of places where temperatures soared more than a degree above average, as New Zealand had its hottest January to June period since records began.

The CNN report was based on the NOAA/NIWA findings, referring to New Zealand;

New Zealand reported its sixth warmest March in a period of record that dates to 1909, at 1.3°C (2.3°F) above the 1981–2010 average. The entire country had above or well-above average temperatures for the month. Parts of Northland, Waikato, Manawatu-Whanganui, and Westland were each more than 2.0°C (3.6°F) above their March average.

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NASA sees temperatures rise and sea ice shrink

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Was Coughlan aware of this latest information? She should be: it has been well document in recent local media.

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on these unanswered questions.

The next question  underscored the critical impact  of climate change on our country,

Q6: To underline the effects of climate-change on our country, the Royal Society said in April this year,

“Changes expected to impact New Zealand include at least 30cm and possibly more than one metre of sea-level rise this century – the report finds it likely that the sea level rise around New Zealand will exceed the global average, which will cause coastal erosion and flooding, especially when combined with storm surges.

Professor James Renwick, Chair of the Expert Panel who wrote the report, warned; “Many New Zealanders live on the coast and two-thirds of us live in flood-prone areas so we are vulnerable to these projected changes.”
Professor Renwick warned that even small changes in average conditions can be associated with large changes in the frequency of extreme events, pointing out;

“With a 30cm rise in sea level, the current ‘1 in 100 year’ extreme sea event would be expected to occur once every year or so in many coastal regions. Along the Otago coast for example, the difference between a 2-year and 100-year storm surge is about 32cm of sea level.”

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

I then wanted to put a seemingly obvious question to Coughlan;

Q7: Instead of building more roads that inevitably lead to more traffic; more congestion; more fuel-consumption; and production of more greenhouse gases, wouldn’t advocating for more expenditure on public transport make better sense, from an environmental aspect?

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

I also planned to ask Coughlan about a glaring omission from any of her election material;

Q8: Aside from your one statement linking “Fix our roads to make public transport more reliable” your election material makes no mention or reference to public transport. Why is that?

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

Coughlan put great weight on Wellington’s needs for the next one hundred years;

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jo coughlan - election pamphlet (1)

jo coughlan - election card (2)

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One has to admire Coughlan’s confidence in being a mayor for the next one hundred years.

Looking ahead for the next century is something that environmentalists and climate scientists are doing. The long-term effects of climate change on our planet are slowly building;

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scientific american - Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036

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Which raises the key question as to where Coughlan’s long-term priorities lay;

Q9: Which is more pressing for Wellington’s needs for the next 100 years; taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or planning on more roading? Which would have greater priority fror you, if you were Mayor?

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on this unanswered question.

The last two questions were also self-explanatory;

Q10: President Obama has said that “And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”. What is the responsibility of individuals to address this threat to our future?

Q11: What is your responsibility in this, Ms Coughlan?

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on these unanswered questions.

It could be said that Ms Coughlan, as one person, has minimal effect on our increasingly violent weather patterns and rising sea-levels,  brought on by anthropogenic-induced global warming.

Throughout history, single people have been the instigators of momentous change and upheaval. Not always for good.

If Jo Coughlan were to become mayor – a distinct possibility based on the considerable amount of money spent on her election advertising – her plans to advocate for a four lane motorway would be instigating momentous change and consequential upheaval.

Ms Coughlan might have shed some light on these unanswered questions.

Coughlan’s evasiveness makes a mockery of her finger-pointing at other mayoral candidates. On 28 July Coughlan issued a press release accusing them of “hidden agendas”;

“However it is amazing that some candidates are not prepared to state clearly their real intention for standing and don’t seem to understand the STV voting system used in the Capital.

I am making it very clear that I am standing for the Mayoralty, not as a ward councillor and not to raise my profile for a tilt at parliament. I call on all other candidates to publicly state their real intentions.

So far we have a number of candidates standing with various agendas including increasing their chances of re-election to Council, election to parliament and even to gain profile to look at establishing a new centre-left political party.

Wellington voters deserve a Mayor who will lead the City and is 100% committed to running for the right reasons.

The other candidates need to come clean otherwise their intentions might seem a bit ‘murky’.”

A month earlier, Finance Minister Bill English, endorsed Jo Coughlan for her mayoralty bid;

“It’s because I think that she’s the best candidate for a city that needs this kind of candidate; someone who understands growth; someone who understands communities and someone who understands families.” – Bill English, 28 June 2016

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bill english - jo coughlan

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“Hidden agendas”?

No wonder Coughlan has avoided answering questions.

 

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References

Wellington City Council: Jo Coughlan

Linked-In: Jo Coughlan

Silvereye Communication: About Us

Silvereye Communication:  Silvereye Communications Clients (current and former)

NZ Herald:  Being English

Dominion Post: Councillor Jo Coughlan enters the race to be Wellington’s mayor

Scoop media: Three days of free rides in electric cars

Jo for Mayor: Environment

Fairfax media: 43,000 more cars on Auckland’s roads leads to increased congestion

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):  Global Analysis – March 2016

NASA: 2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records

CNN:  NASA – Hottest June on record continues 14-month global heat wave

NIWA: Climate Summary for March 2016

Royal Society of New Zealand: New Zealand vulnerable to the threats of climate change – report finds

Scientific American: Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036

The White House: Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address | January 20, 2015

Scoop media: Coughlan says ‘I can win,’ accuses other candidates of hidden agendas

Jo for Mayor: Mayoral Candidate Jo Coughlan – candidates should come clean

Politik: English breaks with National Party convention and endorses Mayoral candidate

Previous related blogposts

John Key – more pledges, more broken promises?

As predicted: National abandons climate-change responsibilities

National ditches environmental policies

ETS – National continues to fart around

National – what else can possibly go wrong?!

National’s moving goalposts on climate change targets

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett revealed

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 July 2016.

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The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

12 June 2016 8 comments

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Budget-2016

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In a Budget-related piece dated 26 May, Bernard Hickey wrote;

“As largely foreshadowed, English increased the Government’s spending allowance in Budget 2016 for the 2016/17 year to NZ$1.6 billion from NZ$1.0 billion to accommodate extra spending on health and education because of population growth, and includes money spent up front on child welfare reforms.”

Hickey’s suggestion that “English increased the Government’s spending allowance in Budget 2016 for the 2016/17 year to NZ$1.6 billion from NZ$1.0 billion to accommodate extra spending on health and education because of population growth seems at variance with the Finance Minister’s own denial that his Budget was predicated in any way on a per-capita basis.

On 28 May, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, Bill English was interviewed by Lisa Owen;

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The nation - lisa owen - Bill english - budget 2016 - homelessness

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English was at pains to reject per-capita calculations as a basis for his Budgetary considerations;

Lisa Owen: “… I just want to be clear on this, because if you look at the figures, let’s say for health, a variety of economists say that we needed about 700 million a year just to keep pace, yet health is getting about 570 million a year. You’ve frozen the schools’ operational budgets, so to be absolutely clear, per capita spending on health and education, it’s down, isn’t it?”

Bill English: “No. Look, I couldn’t say for sure whether it’s up or down. It’s probably about the same. The point I’m making is it’s the wrong measure. The measures that matter are the ones that are about focusing on getting results.”

Lisa Owen: “Shouldn’t you know whether it’s up or down in terms of spending per capita? Because that’s something that our viewers will want to know.”

Bill English:It’s not a measure we apply… Now, per capita, I can’t tell you whether it’s up or down.”

To be fair on Hickey, he wrote his story prior to English’s comments, which were two days later.

At least now we all know that English does not factor-in per-capita data in his Budgetary calculations. He was categorical in his assertion.

No, he obviously uses more precise techniques…

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DICE

 

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Yet, English himself has readily admitted that yes, he does factor in population (aka “per capita”) in his Budgetary considerations;

Strong population growth is both an indicator of New Zealand’s economic performance and a contributor to it,” English told the parliament in his Budget address. “For the first time in a generation, we have a net annual movement of people into New Zealand from Australia, rather than an exodus of Kiwis across the Tasman.”Bill English, 26 May 2016

And,

“Some spending previously earmarked for Budget 2017 has been brought forward, so net new operating spending in Budget 2016 has increased to $1.6 billion per year. This recognises pressures from higher population growth, and opportunities to invest in core public services and economic initiatives.”Bill English, 26 May 2016

And the clincher;

“Spending pressures have changed since the last Budget – in part because higher-than-expected population growth has increased demand for public services… District Health Boards will receive $1.6 billion over four years to invest in services, meet population growth and deliver better results.” Bill English, 26 May 2016

English’s own words reveal that he wilfully misled Lisa Owen on 28 May, on  ‘The Nation‘. Unfortunately, fact-checking politicians who spin untruths is not easy, and requires quick-thinking and an encyclopedic memory.

Only in retrospect can we fact-check politicians’ statements and determine how honest they have been with the public.

As always, eternal vigilance is the duty of all citizens.

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References

Interest.co.nz: Govt sees NZ$0.7 bln OBEGAL surplus in 2016/17

National.org.nz: Govt books show rising surpluses, falling debt  (*1)

Scoop media: On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Bill English (transcript)

Beehive.govt.nz: Budget Speech – Bill English

Previous related blogposts

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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

Letter to the editor – Did Bill English try to pull a swiftie on ‘The Nation’?

Budget 2016 – Who wins; who loses; who pays?

Notes

*1: 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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Lies - The art of political lying

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 June 2016.

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= fs =

 

Budget 2016 – Who wins; who loses; who pays?

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Budget-2016

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The point is if we’re going to have a tax programme [of tax cuts] – we’re not ruling that out in for 2017 or campaigning on it for a fourth term. But having probably a bigger one, to be blunt.” – John Key, 16 May 2016

Philosophically we believe in lower taxes and smaller government, and government’s definitely getting smaller.”- John Key, 16 May 2016

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Paula Bennett denies there is a housing crisis in New Zealand;

I certainly wouldn’t call it a crisis. I think that we’ve always had people in need.” – Paula Bennett, 20 May 2016

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Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless and state house tenants to leave Auckland and go live in provinces;

I would say to those that are homeless that there is a chance that they could get a house in days if they were willing to look outside of Auckland.” – Paula Bennett, 25 May 2016

.

Very quietly, a cut here and a decrease there, a failure to keep up with inflation in one place, and ignoring increasing population in another place, the Government is walking away from New Zealand’s longstanding social compact.

In his Budget speech, Bill English proudly says that government expenditure is down to less than 30 per cent of GDP, and that’s the way that it’s going to stay.

But how is this retreat from the economy achieved?

It happens by spending less on health and less on education, and not spending enough on housing for the least well off New Zealanders.–  Deborah Russell, 26 May 2016

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While it’s true the overall numbers of Housing NZ homes haven’t risen dramatically, the mix is changing and there are more in Auckland and less in places that we don’t need them.” – John Key, 27 May 2016

 

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Sadly, it seems once again that the Budget is a missed opportunity for children, while the military and Government spy agencies do extremely well. I don’t recall seeing any public opinion polls or evidence indicating the need for more investment in either of these areas, especially when there is such desperate need among families with children.

The Government has achieved its objective of appearing fiscally responsible and not much else. But through a lack of planning and an apparent lack of caring children are living in garages or cars, and do not have the nutrition or warm clothing that they need. Kiwi kids have a right to better lives than that.” – Vivien Maidaborn, New Zealand Executive Director, Unicef, 29 May 2016

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We would like to see some tax reductions, particularly for those middle income taxpayers who find themselves getting into higher tax brackets.” – Finance Minister Bill English, 27 May 2016

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There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that the 2016 Budget is geared 100% toward building up a surplus for tax cuts to be announced next year. Just in time for the 2017 Election. John Key and Bill English have strongly indicated as much with their “kite-flying” with hints of cuts-to-come.

Funding for various state services have either barely increased – or drastically cut. The result has been a $700 million surplus – which appears to have been achieved at the expense of cutting funding for social NGOs and state services for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Some of the winners and losers from this year’s Budget…

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Winner

GCSB and SIS;

Funding for spy agencies (GCSB and SIS) will increase over the next four years by $178.7 million.

Loser

Department of Conservation;

For 2015/16 Budget, allocated $471,932,000

For 2016/17 Budget, allocated $430,190,000

Budget: Cut $41,742,000

Who Pays?

Endangered species throughout New Zealand and future generations of New Zealanders.

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Winner

Prime Minister’s Department;

For 2015/16 Budget, allocated $65,710,000

For 2016/17 Budget, allocated $77,442,000

Budget: Increase $11,732,000

Loser

Radio NZ;

For 2015/16 Budget, allocated $31,816,000

For 2016/17 Budget, allocated $31,816,000 (Based on zero change to NZ on Air funding; $128,726,000.)

Budget: frozen – nil increase since 2008/09.

Note, based on the Reserve Bank Inflation Calculator, Radio NZ’s funding should be around $36,570,000 and it’s funding freeze by National constitutes a 14.9% under-funding;

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reserve bank inflation calculator - radio nz funding

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Who Pays?

We all do.

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Winner

Education – Charter Schools;

Funding for up to seven new charter schools will be provided in the 2016 Budget, the Government has announced. – NZ Herald

$328.9m of capital funding and $20.2m of operating funding would go towards public private partnerships (PPPs) for seven new schools and three rebuilds. – Fairfax media

Loser

Public schools operation grants – frozen;

School operational funding has been frozen in this year’s Budget in favour of targeted funding for [under-achieving, at-risk] 150,000 kids.

[…]

$43.2 million over four years will be provided to those schools with under-achieving students, and it’s expected the money will be used to raise achievement, there’s no accountability attached to the funding.

[…]

The targeted funding works out at about $1.79 per student, per school week – schools won’t even know which students are being targeted as the policy’s designed not to identify them. – Fairfax media

Early Childhood Education subsidy-funding – frozen;

Early childhood education providers got no increase to their government subsidies for the second consecutive year.Radio NZ

Who Pays?

Our children.

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Winner

NZ military –

The Defence Force receives new operating funding of $300.9 million over four years as part of Budget 2016 to support the work it does, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says. – Gerry Brownlee, Minister of Defence

Loser

Home Insulation Programme –

National has cut home insulation funding to its lowest ever level in Budget 2016…

[…]

Budget 2016 allocates just $12 million this year for the Warm Up New Zealand programme this year and $4.5 million for the Healthy Homes programme, compared to $23.9 million for Home Insulation last year. – Scoop media/Green Party

Who Pays?

 

  • “low-income tenants, particularly those with high health needs.
  • …young children (newborns to 5-year olds) who are living in cold, damp and unhealthy homes.” – Jonathan Coleman, Simon Bridges

 

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There are three significant stand-outs for this Budget…

1 – This Surplus was achieved at the expense of the poor.

With school operational funding frozen; no increase for early childhood education funding;  a dire crisis of homelessness; State houses being sold of by National; and a critical shortage of housing – it does not take much wit to understand that Bill English’s $700 million Budget surplus was achieved by under-spending in key social areas.

Worse still, National continues to doggedly pursue it’s policy to sell up to eight thousand state houses  by 2017.

Compounding National’s mis-management of the country’s scandalous housing crisis is National’s unrelenting and inhumane demand for dividends from Housing NZ.

This far, National has extracted over half a billion dollars from Housing New Zealand by way of dividends.

Housing NZ dividends under National

HNZ Annual Report 2009-10 – $132 million   (p86)

HNZ Annual Report 2010-11 – $71 million   (p66)

HNZ Annual Report 2011-12 – $68 million   (p57)

HNZ Annual Report 2012-13 – $77 million   (p47)

HNZ Annual Report 2013-14 – $90 million –  (p37)

HNZ Annual Report 2014-15 – $108 million –  (p33)

HNZ Statement of Performance Expectations 2015/16 – $118 million – (p12)

Total: $664 million (over seven years)

The above figures do not include taxes paid by Housing NZ to the National government.

Imagine how many state house could have been built by Housing NZ in the last seven years.

Imagine that every low-income family that needed a warm, dry, home – could have had one by now.

Imagine that instead, National will be demanding another dividend this year from Housing NZ – and will be effectively giving it away by means of tax-cuts to affluent New Zealanders.

2 – Many so-call “increases” are illusory.

When taken over a four year period many of English’s Budget “increases” are actually a cut in expenditure. Just two examples from many;

School  funding for 150,000 under-achieving, at-risk school children, was budgeted at  $43.2 million This sounds good. But that figure is spread not over the 2016/17 period – but  over four years.

Same with the Warm Up New Zealand and Healthy Homes Initiative, touted by Ministers Coleman and  Bridges as;

“…to insulate rental houses occupied by low-income tenants, particularly those with high health needs” and “to reduce preventable illnesses among young children (newborns to 5-year olds) who are living in cold, damp and unhealthy homes”

The media release touted;

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$36m for warmer, healthier homes

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But look further into the detail;

The investment includes:

  • $18 million of operating funding over two years to extend the Warm Up New Zealand programme to insulate rental houses occupied by low-income tenants, particularly those with high health needs.

  • $18 million over four years to expand the Healthy Homes Initiative to reduce preventable illnesses among young children (newborns to 5-year olds) who are living in cold, damp and unhealthy homes.

This is how English created his Budget “surplus” – with cleverly concealed cuts to social programmes that impact on the poorest; most powerless; most desperate people in our society.

And we wonder why entire families are living in garages, cars, and tents?

And we wonder how it came to be that children are dying from mould in damp houses?

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Damp state house played part in toddler's death

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3 – This is an Ideological Budget

Make no mistake – this was an ideological budget with “Neo-Liberal Approved” stamped in big, red letters all over it. It was cold-blooded and remorseless in it’s pursuit of specific objectives;

  • reducing government spending on the poor, by freezing/cutting expenditure on social services
  • increased government spending on security agencies (spy, defence, police), in case the 1981 up-rising is repeated
  • satisfying demands from National’s business, conservative, and anti-welfare constituents
  • to give Bill English a second surplus
  • set the stage for tax cuts to be announced in next years’ budget
  • and offer an electoral bribe to voters in time for the 2017 general election

As is almost always the case, those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap are the ones who pay for National’s ideologically-inspired budget. Sometimes they pay with their lives.

Expect more of the same next year.

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Addendum

Spotted at a Z Service Station in the Hutt Valley; this Charity “voting” box, where customers vote for the charity of their choice. The charity gaining  most tokens wins a $4,000 donation from Z. Of the four, Fostering Kids NZ is ‘miles’ ahead with tokens;

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Manpreet, standinmg beside Coin-Vote Box, at Z Service Station in Hutt Valley

Z staffer, Manpreet, standing beside Coin-Vote Box, at a Service Station in the Hutt Valley

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Note the level of support for Fostering Kids NZ;

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Fostering kids - charity - homelessness - budget 2016 (2)

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It is refreshing to see indications that  New Zealanders are still compassionate to children  from vulnerable, less well-off families. There is still hope for our society, even if people like Key, English, Bennett, Tolley, et al have turned their heads to look the other way.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Deborah L for her sharp eye, spotting, photographing, and sending me the above images along with relevant info.

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References

Fairfax media: Prime Minister John Key hints at $3billion tax cuts for next election

Fairfax media: John Key is beating the tax cuts drum for 2017 with bigger surpluses ahead

Radio NZ: No housing crisis in NZ – Paula Bennett

Interest.co.nz: Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders and state house tenants to leave Auckland

NZ Herald: Dr Deborah Russell – Budget 2016 – How do we look after all New Zealanders?

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – PM puts onus on Auckland Council to create land supply

Fairfax media: Budget 2016 – A bare-minimum budget for children

Radio NZ: Tax cuts may be on cards – English

NZ Herald: Budget 2016 – $700m surplus this year

Radio NZ: Budget 2016 – SIS and GCSB get extra $178.7 million over four years

Budget 2016: Vote Conservation

Treasury: Budget 2016 – Vote Prime Minister & Cabinet

Budget 2016: Vote Arts, Culture and Heritage

NZ on Air: Radio NZ Funding Decisions 1993-2016

Reserve Bank: Inflation Calculator

Budget 2016: Vote Education

NZ Herald: New charter school funding announced

Fairfax media: Budget 2016 – School property and early childhood the big winners

Radio NZ: Budget promises funding for nine new schools

Treasury: Summary of Initiatives in Budget 2016

Budget 2016: Defence Force receives $301m new funding

Scoop media: Government cuts Warm-Up programme that saves lives

Beehive.co.nz: $36m for warmer, healthier homes

Radio NZ: Thousands of state houses up for sale

Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

Interest.co.nz: Govt sees NZ$0.7 bln OBEGAL surplus in 2016/17

TV3 The Nation: Interview with Bill English

Additional

NZ Herald: Shamubeel Eaqub – House crisis puts Auckland’s future at risk

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Budget 2016 – What Bill English Didn’t Say In His Speech

The Daily Blog: The rules for the old too good for children?

The Standard: The Mother Budget

The Standard: Key’s powerful speech on the urgent housing crisis

The Standard: John Key used to be ambitious about dealing with poverty in New Zealand

The Standard:  Budget 2016 – F for Fail

Previous related blogposts

Tax cuts & school children

Tax cuts and jobs – how are they working out so far, my fellow New Zealanders?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

Letter to the Editor – tax cuts bribes? Are we smarter than that?

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

A Message to Radio NZ – English continues fiscal irresponsibility with tax-cut hints

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?

The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

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

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give the rich tax cuts

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 2 June 2016.

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= fs =

Letter to the editor – Did Bill English try to pull a swiftie on ‘The Nation’?

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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On TV3’s “The Nation“, Lisa Owen asked Finance Minister Bill English if funding for health and education had been cut on a per-capita basis. The response from  English was jaw-dropping;

“…if you look at the figures, let’s say for health, a variety of economists say that we needed about 700 million a year just to keep pace, yet health is getting about 570 million a year. You’ve frozen the schools’ operational budgets, so to be absolutely clear, per capita spending on health and education, it’s down, isn’t it?”

Bill English replied;

“No. Look, I couldn’t say for sure whether it’s up or down. “

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The nation - lisa owen - Bill english - budget 2016 - homelessness

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What?! The Finance Minister was saying to the New Zealand public that he “ couldn’t say for sure whether it’s [per capita spending] up or down“?! So how does he allocate money within the multi-billion dollar budget? By roll of a dice?

It deserved a response…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Sat, May 28, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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On 28 May, Finance Minister Bill English was interviewed on TV3’s “The Nation“. Host Lisa Owen asked English if funding for health and education had been cut on a per-capita basis;

“…if you look at the figures, let’s say for health, a variety of economists say that we needed about 700 million a year just to keep pace, yet health is getting about 570 million a year. You’ve frozen the schools’ operational budgets, so to be absolutely clear, per capita spending on health and education, it’s down, isn’t it?”

English replied,

“No. Look, I couldn’t say for sure whether it’s up or down. “

Which he repeated;

“It’s not a measure we apply… Now, per capita, I can’t tell you whether it’s up or down. “

It beggars belief that a Finance Minister, responsible for a budget of $77.4 billion of taxpayer’s money, appears not to know if per capita spending on health and education is up or down.

This would be akin to mum and dad doing the weekly grocery shopping – and not knowing how many children to buy food for.

It simply is not credible that a Finance Minister would be unaware of such basic information.

So which is it – incompetence or evasion?

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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References

TV3 The Nation: Interview with Bill English

Fairfax media:  Budget 2016 – $700m needed for health to stand still – CTU

NZ Herald: New Zealand Budget 2016 – At-risk students targeted, operational funding frozen

Budget 2016: Core Crown expenses

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You might be suffering from capitalism

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on  29 May 2016.

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= fs =

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

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1949-state-house-in-taita

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State Houses – “Wrong place/wrong size”?

Last year (2015), National confirmed it’s intention to sell-off thousands of state houses to “community groups”;

Hundreds of state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill could be sold to independent providers in the first phase of the Government’s plans.

In January Prime Minister John Key announced that state house reforms would see up to 2000 state homes sold to “community housing providers” this year, as it cuts the number of state houses it owns by 8000 over three years.

Although the Government was marketing the process as “transfer” the houses would be sold to community groups, generally charity based providers. Because the houses would have to be kept as social housing rather than private sales, the houses were expected to be sold at a discount to the market value.

After nationwide consultation, Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said that the first sales were likely to take place in Invercargill and Tauranga.

In a blogpost in November last year, I pointed out the oft-repeated phrase used by our esteemed dear Leader and various Ministers;

Various ministers, including our esteemed Dear Leader,  have indicated that up to “a third” of state houses are “in the wrong place or wrong size (or ‘type’).

The “wrong size/wrong place” claim is the argument used by National to advance a major sell-off of Housing NZ properties.

On 1 November, 2014, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said on TV3’s ‘The Nation’,

“It’s about being smart in what we’re doing. So you just look at us having the wrong houses, in the wrong place, of the wrong size..”

On 2 December, 2014, the Minister responsible for Housing NZ, Bill English expressed his agreement with the proposition of one third of Housing NZ homes being in the “wrong size/wrong place” ;

“Yes. As recently as just last month Housing New Zealand issued a press release that said: ‘around one third of our housing stock is in the wrong place, wrong configuration or is mismatched with future demand’.

[…]

… in fact, a third of them are the wrong size, in the wrong place, and in poor condition.”

On 28 January this year, John Key announced in his “state of the nation” speech;

 “Around a third of Housing New Zealand properties are in the wrong place, or are the wrong type to meet existing and future demand.”

After lodging an OIA request with relevant Ministers late last year information released under the  Act suggests that National’s oft-repeated claim that around “one third” ( or 22,000)  of  state houses are in the “wrong place and wrong size” was not wholly supported by Housing NZ’s own figures. As I reported last November;

Housing NZ currently  “manages 67,245 homes” (as at 30 June 2015). When Key, and other National ministers refer to “around a third of Housing NZ properties”, simple arithmetic translates that fraction into 22,190 homes being the “wrong size/wrong place” .

[…]

In a response eventually received on  29 October 2015,  information in the form of a  chart -“Stock reconciliation taking into account impaired properties as at 31 January 2013” – was attached;

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minister english oia response 29 october 2015 - HNZ housing stock - wrong place wrong size

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In two columns headed “Right Place, wrong home” and “Wrong Place“, the respective figures add up to 13,560. This constitutes a little over half of the “22,000” that is being bandied about by National.

Like much of National’s “facts”,  the numbers did not stack up.

Which led to the last question I put to the Minister; “If HNZ houses that are in the “wrong place” are sold/given away to community organisations – what will make those houses suddenly become in the “right place”?

Because if it’s in the “wrong place” when owned by Housing NZ – why would it suddenly be in the “right place” owned by someone else?

The Minister’s response was baffling. In his 29 October 2015 letter to me he said;

“The Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers. In Tauranga and
Invercargill for example, the areas identified for initial potential transfers of social
housing properties from Housing New Zealand to community housing providers, MSD’s purchasing
intentions anticipate stable demand. Following a transfer, any new provider would receive
both the properties and a contract with MSD to continue to provide social housing.”

[See full text of letter here]

English’s response seemed to cast a distinction between State housing “in the wrong place/size” and properties to be sold/transferred to community organisations.

Yet, his statement above would appear to contradict a statement issued by English and Bennett earlier on 6 May last year, which is explained further below under the heading, “The Great Invercargill and Tauranga Sell-Off”.

See: State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

State Houses, “Wrong place/wrong size”? – Up-date

English’s responses to my questions were vague and offered little in the way of specific detail. In a follow-up letter to the Minister, I repeated two of my questions;

I refer you to two questions which you have not answered in my OIA request;

4. Where are they situated that are considered the “wrong place”?

5. How many areas have been designated “wrong places”?

His response arrived too late to be included in my November 2015 blogpost, but is still highly relevant to the growing housing crisis in this country. On 9 December 2015, English said;

“The analysis produced by Housing New Zealand  in 2013 and provided to you with my previous response [see table here – FM] identifies  the number of houses as being in the wrong place on a regional basis. No specific locations have been designated ‘wrong places’ and, based on this analysis, each region has some properties assessed as being in the wrong place. These will generally be in provincial  areas away from the main centres.”

[See full text of letter here]

In none of the Minister’s correspondence was he able to provide specifics as to where State houses were in the “wrong place”. The ‘best’ he could do was list five regions; Auckland East & South; Auckland North West & Central; South Island, Central North Island, and Lower North Island.

Surprisingly, Auckland was deemed to have  8,180 houses  that are supposedly “Right Place, wrong home”  and a further 420 that are in the “Wrong Place” – 8,600 in total.

However, the Minister’s data was contradicted by the 2014/15 Housing NZ Annual Report which confirmed the on-going high demand for housing in Auckland;

“Across the country we also have too many three-
bedroom properties, while demand has grown for smaller
one- or two-bedroom homes or for much bigger homes.
Demand for homes in the Auckland region is high and
more Housing New Zealand homes are needed.” (p22)

English did, however, point out that “these will generally be in provincial  areas away from the main centres“.

Even that has proven to be a mis-leading assertion from the Minister. Tauranga is certainly a “main centre” by most definitions, and the choice of that city would  prove to be embarrassing to National, as the next chapter below showed.

The Great Invercargill and Tauranga Sell-Off

As National began to roll  out it’s sale of State houses, Bill English specifically referred to State houses being sold in  Tauranga and Invercargill. On 6 May last year, Bennett and English released this statement;

“This is another important step to creating a more effective and efficient social housing sector with more housing providers supporting tenants and their needs.” – Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English.

As announced by the Prime Minister in January, the Government’s Social Housing Reform Programme includes plans to transfer 1000 – 2000 HNZC houses to registered CHPs over the next year.

“We’ve gone through a robust process to identify the first areas for potential transactions. Tauranga and Invercargill have been chosen because they have stable demand for social housing, and active community housing providers keen to consider the next steps. Providers in other regions are also interested.” – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett

The same media statement referenced;

The Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) is designed to get more people in need into quality social housing – either through Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) or registered Community Housing Providers (CHPs). The objectives of the Social Housing Reform Programme are to:

  • […]

  • Ensure social housing is the right design and size and is in the right places for people who need it.

English and Bennett continued to exploit the “wrong size/wrong place” spin that National was using to disguise the privatisation of State housing.

Bear in mind English’s statement in his 29 October 2015 letter to me, where he said;

“The Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers. In Tauranga and
Invercargill for example, the areas identified for initial potential transfers of social
housing properties from Housing New Zealand to community housing providers, MSD’s purchasing
intentions anticipate stable demand. Following a transfer, any new provider would receive
both the properties and a contract with MSD to continue to provide social housing.”

Obviously the Ministers find it difficult to keep their “story” straight.

In March this year, potential buyers for State houses in Tauranga and Invercargill had been lined up;

Four potential buyers have made the final shortlist to buy over 1400 state houses being sold in Tauranga and Invercargill.

[…]

In Tauranga, Accessible Properties, Hapori Connect Tauranga, and Kaiana Community Housing Partners made the shortlist to take over 1124 properties or tenancies.

However, even as National’s English and Bennett were prepping State houses for sale, the country’s housing crisis began to be reported elsewhere throughout New Zealand.

Tauranga was one of them;

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Housing situation critical - Tauranga principal - radio nz

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Tauranga gripped by housing crisis - sunlive

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Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars - TVNZ TV1 News

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Community leaders, social agencies call for urgency on 'housing crisis' - bay of plenty times

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People living in caravan parks while waiting for a rental - bay of plenty times

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Campsites for emergency housing debate - bay of plenty times

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People resorting to living in camping sites and caravan parks?

Is that what this country has come to after thirty years of neo-liberal “reforms”? To become a South Pacific version of America’s trailer-park “communities”?

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trailer park community USA

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If, by shuffling ownership of State houses from Housing NZ to “community groups”, National believes it will solve our housing crisis and growing homelessness – they are far more out of touch than I ever thought possible.

This is not just a stubborn pursuit of a free market dogma that has failed to meet basic social needs – this is pseudo-religious self-delusional behaviour from our elected representatives. English, Key, Bennett, Smith, et al, appear to be paralysed into inaction, like possums caught in the headlights of an approaching truck.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett floundering around like a beached cetacean. She first denied that a housing crisis existed in New  Zealand on 20 May;

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No housing crisis in NZ - Paula Bennett - radio nz

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Five days later, she was willing to bribe homeless and State housing tenants up to $5,000 to quit Auckland, making  a sudden announcement that caught Finance Minister Bill English off-guard;

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Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders and state house tenants to leave Auckland

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I have said it before and will repeat my conclusions that National is incapable of resolving this crisis. Considerable State intervention is required, and that is anathema to a political party whose very DNA is based on the free market; reducing State involvement in commercial and social activities; and promoting private good over community benefit.

It will take a collective anger from New Zealanders to take notice of what is happening in their own society. At the moment, so many New Zealanders seem insulated from the  growing social problems that are worsening with each passing day.

As Shamubeel Eaqub said on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, on 26 May, there is an absence of empathy amongst many New Zealanders – a moral-disconnect with the poor; the homeless; those who have been left behind after thirty years of failed neo-liberal theory.

Remarkably, Eaqub invoked the name of Michael Savage, when New Zealanders were capable of building and solving social ills. For an economist,  Eaqub has deep insight where we have arrived in the year 2016;

The only thing that’s missing now is aspiration and leadership,” he said.

Perhaps our economist friend has nailed the problem perfectly; 21st century New Zealand is not just suffering from economic poverty. There is a poverty much, much worse.

A poverty of spirit.

And that affects us all, regardless of wealth and income.

 

 

 

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References

Fairfax media: Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

TV3: The Nation – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett

Parliament: 6. State Housing—Suitability of Housing Stock

Fairfax media: John Key Speech – Next steps in social housing

Letter from Bill English, 9 December 2015

Housing NZ: 2014/15 Annual Report

Beehive.govt.nz: Next steps in social housing reform announced

Fairfax media: Invercargill state houses may survive sell-off as Government reveals short-list

Radio NZ: Housing situation critical – Tauranga principal

Sunlive: Tauranga gripped by housing crisis

TVNZ News: Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

Bay of Plenty Times: Community leaders, social agencies call for urgency on ‘housing crisis’

Bay of Plenty Times: People living in caravan parks while waiting for a rental

Bay of Plenty Times: Campsites for emergency housing debate

Radio NZ: No housing crisis in NZ – Paula Bennett

Interest.co.nz: Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders

Radio NZ: Airport CEO, health leader & economist look at the Budget

Additional

Dominion Post: Housing MPs cost taxpayers more

Treasury: Social Housing Transactions

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Paula Bennett blindsides her own Finance Minister in desperate scramble to respond to housing crisis

The Standard: Newshub poll – Key’s government has failed on housing

The Standard: Bennett’s housing “announcement” is a re-announcement and a lie

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

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emmerson - homeless - National govt housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 May 2016.

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When National is under attack – Deflect, deflect, deflect!

22 April 2016 8 comments

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national-and-john-key-blames

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As I have pointed out in previous blogposts, when threatened with bad headlines or a scandal of some description, National’s automatic defense is to generally to default to one of three* deflections;

  1. Blame previous the Labour government
  2. Release story on ‘welfare abuse’
  3. Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event

There are plenty of past instances of this kind of strategy.

In February 2013, the Auditor-General found that National gave Skycity special treatment when negotiating a convention centre in return for 500 additional pokie machines. In a damning report, Deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith said;

“Although decisions were made on the merits of the different proposals, we do not consider that the evaluation process was transparent or even handed.”

National’s response was immediate. The following day, Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows launched into an attack on so-called welfare fraud;

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government-cracking-down-on-benefit-fraud

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In May 2014, faced with mounting criticism over National’s incompetent mis-handling of legalised synthetic marijuana, our esteemed Dear Leader announced a new policy to introduce a new, restrictive, regulatory framework for psychoactive substances. Key had no shame in blaming Labour for the  Opposition attempting to offer solutions to a botched drug-policy that National was wholly responsible for;

Mr Key said that, in hindsight, the Government should have taken an ultra conservative view last year and not given any legal high substances a waiver.

And he said the Labour Party forced his Government’s hand over announcing a new ban on synthetic drugs, which will take effect on 8 May.

The Government’s new ban was announced late on Sunday after the Labour Party said it would announce on Monday its own plan to immediately stop the sale of synthetic cannabis and other psychoactive substances.

Mr Key said his cabinet decided last Tuesday on a ban but wanted to keep quiet about it to cut down on stockpiling by consumers.

He said the Labour Party has not affected the Government’s policies on synthetic drugs but forced its hand in terms of the announcement.

Also in mid-2014, National was hit with multiple bad-news media stories;

Smith gives nod for open-cast coal mine on conservation land

NZ unprepared for a deep water oil spill,  Greens say

Consumers hard hit by hefty electricity price rises

National’s fix over GCSB draws a storm of protest

Loans door shutting on first-home buyers

High petrol prices hit struggling families

Job ad stall hints at unemployment rise

SkyCity deal doesn’t add up: Treasury

Housing plan ‘a weak compromise’

Right on cue,

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thousands-stopped-from-getting-benefits-not-entitled-to

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Currently, our esteemed Dear Leader is facing political, media, and public heat over New Zealand being a party to the tax-haven industry. When challenged, Key first denied that New Zealand was a tax haven;

“Tax havens are where there is non-disclosure of information – New Zealand has full disclosure of information, and so all you’ve got is New Zealand’s taken a different view from a lot of different jurisdictions and that’s because the way we tax is we tax a settlor.

In other words, it’s all about making sure New Zealanders pay their fair share of tax, what we’ve got is quite a legitimate regime.”

As mounting evidence from several sources disproved Key’s weak assertions, he was forced to announce an enquiry into the country’s trust laws.

Then Labour Leader, Andrew Little, challenged Key to disclose his tax-returns – which Key refused point blank.

Again, on cue, National’s media strategists dropped a Deflection #2 ‘bomb’ into the public discourse, with this offensive vilification of ” basically young males” from Bill English;

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Farmers agree Kiwi farm labourers 'hopeless' - radio nz - bill english - beneficiary bashing

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English’s disparagement of young, unemployed New Zealand men was roundly condemned by fair-minded New Zealanders – but the demonisation tactic had worked. For a moment, the public and media had taken their eyes of the Tax Haven ball. Which would not be the first time;

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hey everyone look up there

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However, in making that ill-advised comment, English may have accidentally opened a can of inconvenient but still-salient facts;

  1. Prior to the 2007/08 GFC, unemployment stood at around 3.4% – or 78,000 workers.
  2. As the GFC/Recession impacted on our economy, unemployment reached 7.3% by 2013 – throwing 154,000 people out of work.
  3. Seventysix thousand people lost their jobs as a result of dubious activities in the financial markets. Or did those 76,000 suddenly decide to voluntarily give up their jobs to go on the dole for $200 a week?
  4. Though the official unemployment rate is currently at 5.3% – there still remains 133,000 out of work.
  5. In 2009, National scrapped the Training Incentive Allowance which benefitted many solo-parents looking to re-train and move off welfare into paid employment

The history of entrenched high-unemployment can be seen to have taken root in the late-1980s, as right-wing economic “reforms” were implemented by Roger Douglas and his cronies. Note the rise of unemployment rate and numbers from late 1987 and early 1988, when neo-liberalism was introduced into the economy and workplace;

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trading economics - unemployed persons - 1986 - 1989

 

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trading economics - unemployment rate 1986 - 1989

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Reference: Trading Economics – Unemployed PersonsUnemployment Rate

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So not only was English blaming 133,000 workers for being out of work as the global economy was slowly recovering from the Global Financial Crisis – but is evidently blaming workers for the steady rise of unemployment since the implementation of neo-liberal economics in this country.

Free trade agreements have also played a role in the destruction of jobs in New Zealand. As more and more manufacturing and service jobs were relocated to low-wage societies (China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Fiji, India, etc), the numbers thrown out of work increased in our own country.

Cheap clothes and shoes from low wage societies are not cheap. They were paid for with the jobs of our fellow New Zealanders.

Bill English’s repugnant diatribe at Federated Farmers – where his ignorant, red-neck views no doubt found sympathy with certain elements from the crudely-informed rural community – are in stark contrast with his stated comments on 28 May 2009. As the GFC storm was beginning to buffet our economy, English was full of sympathy as more and more people were ending up unemployed;

“We are particularly concerned that the economy creates new jobs. The burden of a recession falls most harshly on those who lose their jobs and on their communities. We owe them every effort to create the opportunity for a new job.”

Mr English apparently no longer believes “we owe them every effort to create the opportunity for a new job” and has shifted the “burden of recession” firmly back onto the shoulders of the unemployed.

Or perhaps it is high time that people started asking the acolytes of the Church of Neo-liberalism – at what point do they understand and accept that blaming the victims of their failed, inflexible, free-market doctrine will not make that ideology work?

How long do we have to wait, Mr English?

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stock-photo-9680569-square-peg-in-a-round-hole

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Postscript

* In Auckland’s on-going housing-crisis situation, a fourth Deflection can be applied as a useful tactic to take the heat of National’s inept policies;

4. Blame the RMA

Number 4 deflection can be used in conjunction with Number 1 deflection. Or even Deflection #2, for maximum reactionary responses from the ill-informed.

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References

Fairfax media: SkyCity report slates Government ministers

Radio NZ: Govt cracks down on benefit fraudsters’ partners

Radio NZ: Legal highs to be regulated by July

Radio NZ: Thousands stopped from getting benefits not entitled to

Radio NZ: NZ’s ‘world-class’ tax system defended

Parliament: 3. Prime Minister—Statements

TV3 News: ‘No doubt’ NZ is a tax haven – expert

Radio NZ: Farmers agree Kiwi farm labourers ‘hopeless’

Fairfax media: ‘Hopeless’ comment a sign of a tired Government

Employment.govt.nz: Employment and unemployment – March 2008 Quarter

Trading Economics: Unemployed persons

Statistics NZ:  Household Labour Force Survey: September 2012 quarter

Statistics NZ:  Labour Market Statistics: December 2015 quarter

NBR: Bennett cutting a benefit that helped her – Labour

Scoop media: Speech – Bill English – Budget 2009

Additional

Radio NZ: Deputy PM will not apologise for comments (alt. link) (audio)

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Hypocritical narrative blames the victim rather than the cause for economic ‘failings’

The Standard: Trickledown has failed

The Standard: Offers of help flood in to Bill English

Previous related blogposts

Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us?!

The Mendacities of Mr Key #2: Secret Sources

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

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Yellow-crosses

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 April 2016.

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

28 December 2015 3 comments

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solid-energy-chief-executive-don-elder-and-hon-bill-english-at-mataura-9-sept-2011

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

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

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

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

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Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Key and English have consistently lied on this issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest SOE to disclose financial difficulties is Landcorp;

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Landcorp in 'pretty tight situation' – English

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

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

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

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CCMAU - SOE gearing and dividend expectations - national government

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter to Solid Energy followed the same pattern;

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

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

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

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

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

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

National was looting every SOE of every spare dollar.

The questions now demanding  answers;

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

And the last question;

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

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

Some very, very expensive chickens.

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References

Radio NZ: Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

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

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

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

TV3 News: Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

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

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

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

Additional

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

Previous related blogposts

The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies?

Dirty Dealings with Solid Energy

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

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

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

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

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solid energy - english - ryall

 

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

18 September 2015 18 comments

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cold and damp houses - newspaper magazine front pages

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Recent statements by Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett,  Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English,  Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith, and Prime Minister John Key, have been shown to be deceptively misleading – and in many instances, outright lies.

Their public utterances have been revealed  to be untrue after this blogger discovered a statement from Housing NZ, buried deep within one of their Annual Reports.

#1 – Nick Smith

On 25 April 2014, Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith, was indignant when he rejected a claim by the Labour Party that National was planning to siphon off  Christchurch earthquake insurance payouts to Housing NZ as government dividends.

As Radio NZ reported;

Papers obtained by Labour under the Official Information Act reveal plans to delay maintenance and redirect Canterbury quake insurance payouts to meet the Government’s demands for increased returns from state housing.

Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says Housing New Zealand has agreed to pay higher dividends to the Government by using some of its $320 million insurance payment and putting off repairs and maintenance.

Mr Twyford says the Government is robbing Housing New Zealand in Canterbury to fund dividends going into the Crown account. He says Housing Minister Nick Smith needs to explain why money that should have gone into the rebuild has gone into Government coffers instead.

But Housing Minister Nick Smith says it’s not a case of earmarking any particular income towards the dividend, but it’s not true to say it will come from the insurance payout.

He says insurance proceeds are going towards capital expenditure, including 2000 new houses, which will be under construction by the end of 2015.

Dr Smith says Housing New Zealand has always been expected to return a dividend to the Crown, including under the previous Labour-led Government. This comes from normal operating revenue, including rent and rent subsidies from the Government.

Housing New Zealand’s latest statement of intent shows $308 million in insurance money earmarked for capital expenditure this financial year.

#2 – Bill English

Barely five months later, Housing NZ announced a dividend of $118 million to be paid to the government for financial year – the largest since 2009-10;

Housing New Zealand returned a $108 million dividend in the past financial year, the third largest ever paid.

At the time the responsible minister, Bill English said the higher dividend would allow the Government to help more people with serious housing needs.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the idea the Government was continuing to make money off State housing when children were getting sick from living in those houses was unacceptable.

He said the Crown must rule out taking a dividend until all Housing New Zealand stock was up to standard.

“Given that Housing New Zealand homes are actually killing their residents, I think it makes no sense for there to be any dividend at all.

“Everything that they get should be ploughed back into making sure that their homes are safe.”

Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English justified the massive  dividend with the extraordinary statement;

“Housing New Zealand has sufficient cash to invest in new houses and at the level that we’ve specified, and to do its maintenance programmes. So really the dividend is about just a bit of pressure on them to be efficient.”

The cash-grab by National had been hinted earlier, on 24 March, when Bill English signalled that maintenance on HNZ properties would be deferred;

Mr English says the lack of maintenance on state houses is concerning and that in the long run the government will need to invest the $1.2 billion dollars in state houses to get them up to scratch.

However, he says that won’t all happen this year.

When asked why Housing New Zealand had not spent as much money as it should have on maintenance, Mr English put the blame partly on the previous Labour government saying they had chosen to build new state houses rather than fix up old ones.

Yet, that quiet admission did not stop both Paula Bennett and Bill English from repeating their ‘spin’ that Housing NZ had sufficient cash for necessary maintenance of their housing stock;

Bill English  – 5 June 2015

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

#3 – Paula Bennett

Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Housing – 12 June 2015

@ 4.28

“What I will say is that it’s not, um, not a money problem. So there is enough money there for us to get that stock up.”

@ 5.42

“It’s not actually about the money. The money is there to be spent on the maintenance.”

Bill English – 8 September 2015

“Housing New Zealand has sufficient cash to invest in new houses and at the level that we’ve specified, and to do its maintenance programmes.”

Bill English – 9 September 2015

@ 2.36

“The constraint on repairs isn’t cash. They have enough money to do the jobs that they need to do.”

@ 4.28

“With respect to the maintenance. Ah, yes, if any tenant lets Housing NZ azbout any, what they call urgent maintenance needs, and they got 125,000 of those notifications, ah, in the last year or two, ah, then Housing NZ has the cash to act on those…”

@ 6.11

“In fact, our main challenge there is not [a] lack of money…”

@ 6.35

“So the constraint isn’t cash, it’s a lack of houses.”

All of which was  revealed to be dishonest spin by these two Ministers, when this statement was discovered from Housing NZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

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housing nz annual report 2013-14 maintenance cutbacks

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.” – [p28]

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Perhaps English and Bennett forgot – or did not realise – that Housing NZ would disclose the true nature of their lack of funds for on-going maintenance of their increasingly dilapidated properties.

#4 – John Key

Perhaps English and Bennett both hoped that the media and public would buy their #1 deflection – that it was all a problem left over from the previous Labour government. Even our esteemed Dear Leader repeated the same spin in Parliament on 26 August this year;

“But what I can say is that this Government is proud of the fact that it is spending $300 million a year improving the mess we inherited from Labour. Its own house was never in order. It is not in order at the moment. No wonder we inherited-“

“It would be easier to take the member seriously if what Labour did when in Government was actually maintain the houses. But, in fact, not only did it not do that, it let them run down … It is a joke for the Labour Party members to come here and talk about this. They ran the housing stock down. They should hang their heads in shame—that is what they should do.”

“Where is the moral compass of an Opposition that just failed to upgrade and maintain houses? They were a mess under the Labour Government. They were a disgrace, and this Government has actually had to fix them up. It is the same old story all the time with Labour: hopeless in Government; roaring like lions in Opposition.”

“I am advised by the Minister responsible for HNZC that the previous Labour Government suspended the maintenance on those properties to build more properties. Labour let those houses run down, it let those tenants get sick, and now in Opposition it wants to pass the buck to someone else. It is a disgrace, Mr Little. It is a disgrace.”

In that one exchange, Key repeated the Blame Labour mantra four times.

During the 9 September interview on Radio NZ’s ‘Checkpoint‘ with Bill English, Guyon Espiner voiced his obvious disgust/weariness at that hoary old excuse;

“Ok, I think after seven or eight years we’ve had enough of you blaming the [previous] Labour government.”

Bennett and English did the same throughout various Radio NZ and television interviews.

At one point during the  9 September Radio NZ interview, English even  blamed tenants for the state of their run-down homes;

English: “And generally the reason a repair or an upgrade doesn’t happen is because they don’t –  is because they need to be told it’s needed, ah, they’re not in every house every week  but when, y’know as I said -“

Espiner: “So hang on, it’s the tenant’s fault, for not telling them, is it?”

Key used that blame-gaming on 26 August, in Parliament,  during his previously mentioned blame-game session;

“But also I will say that my mother took absolute pride in making sure that she kept the house clean, tidy, and ventilated.”

So, according to Key, English, and Bennett, the poor state of Housing NZ properties is due to;

  1. The previous Labour Government
  2. Tenants

Nothing to do with $664 million in dividends siphoned off by National to fund reduced tax revenue post-2009/10 tax cuts, which led to National demanding bigger and bigger dividends from SOEs such as Solid Energy; state-owned power companies, and social services such as Housing NZ.

If ever there was a clearer picture of transferring wealth from low-income New Zealanders to the top 10% of income earners and “high net worth” (ie; filthy rich) individuals – it is the financial gutting of Housing NZ.

Despite claims that Housing NZ has “the money is there to be spent on the maintenance” – the facts prove otherwise. Housing NZ’s own statement condemns two ministers and the Prime Minister as manipulative liars;

“To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.”

# 5 – Nick Smith (again)

Perhaps the most tragic result of National’s cash-grab was the death of two-year old Emma-Lita Bourne, who died in a grotty, damp, cold State house. The death was preventable, as the Coroner, Brandt Shortland ,reported;

The coroner’s report into the toddler’s death, which was released on Thursday, says the poor condition of the state house in the South Auckland suburb of Otara was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s death.

[…]

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s health status.”

Building and Housing Minister* Nick Smith, expressed his version of human empathy with this callous observation of the little girl’s short life;

“People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new.”

Three lying ministers and an emotionless psychopath/automaton.

This is what we have for a government.

It also offers a third option for National’s blame-gaming spin when challenged on their failures;

 

  • The previous Labour Government
  • Tenants
  • Winter illnesses

 

No doubt National will come up with other excuses and others to point a finger at. This is, after all, the party of personal responsibility.

#6 – Memo to Mainstream Media

In the meantime,

Memo to Mainstream Media:

Next time English, Bennett, or Key claim that Housing NZ has sufficient money, after dividends are extracted, to carry out maintenance please ask them why HNZ stated in their 2013/14 Annual Report;

“To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.”

Because we’d really like to know.

* National has not one, but three ministers for housing portfolios. And they still can’t get it right.

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Addendum1 – Housing NZ dividends under National

HNZ Annual Report 2009-10 – $132 million   (p86)

HNZ Annual Report 2010-11 – $71 million   (p66)

HNZ Annual Report 2011-12 – $68 million   (p57)

HNZ Annual Report 2012-13 – $77 million   (p47)

HNZ Annual Report 2013-14 – $90 million –  (p37)

HNZ Annual Report 2014-15 – $108 million –  (p33)

HNZ Statement of Performance Expectations 2015/16 – $118 million – (p12)

Total: $664 million (over seven years)

Addendum2 – Housing NZ dividends under Labour

Annual Report 2001/02 – $9 million (p51)

Annual Report 2002/03 – $3 million (p55)

Annual Report 2003/04 – $176 million (p50)

Annual Report 2004/05 – $44 million (p42)

Annual Report 2005/06 – $14 million (p71)

Annual Report 2006/07 – $20 million (p54)

Annual Report 2007/08 – $13 million (p51)

Annual Report 2008/09 – $2 million (p71)

Total: $281 million (over 8 years – no figures found for ’00-’01 period)

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1-in-10health

Source: Shelter.org.uk

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References

Radio NZ: Housing NZ not cash cow – minister

Radio NZ: Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend

Radio NZ: Morning Report – English defends $118M Housing NZ dividend (alt. link)

Radio NZ: Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend – audio (alt. link)

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2009-10 (p86)

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

TVNZ News: English concerned by State House deferred maintenance bill

Radio NZ: The state of state housing (alt. link)

Parliament: 2. Housing New Zealand Corporation, Minister – Confidence

Fairfax media:Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

National Party: About Personal Responsibility

Previous related blogposts

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

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Theres always a market solution - housing nz - bill english

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 September 2015.

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

Another broken promise from National…

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National Party - 2014 election - social housing policy - Housing NZ

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On 12 June, Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennet was interviewed on Radio NZ’s ‘Nine to Noon‘ programme. Kathryn Ryan asked why there were so many  thousands of State houses in desperate need on maintenance.

In the interview, Bennett claimed that money was not a problem in Housing NZ’s maintenance programme;

@ 4.29

“What I will say is that it’s not a money problem. So there is enough money there for us to get that stock up. It is a big programme of work that is constantly ongoing…

[…]

…So it’s not a matter of neglect.”

And again @ 5.41

“Which is really my point. So we’re saying it’s not actually about the money. The money is there to be spent for maintenance.”

Bennett’s statements were a parroting of  Bill English’s previous claim, made on 5 June  on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, who also denied  money was the core problem of run-down Housing NZ properties;

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

Bennett and English have both blamed lack of tradesmen and other spurious excuses for rundown houses.

But according to Housing NZ, the reason for our run-down State housing stock is very much a matter of lack of money, as I pointed out to Kathryn Ryan in an email I sent to her during her interview with Bennett;
from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jun 12, 2015
subject: Paula Bennet on Housing maintenance funding
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Kia ora Kathryn,Paula Bennett’s assertion that Housing NZ has plenty of funds for maintenance is at variance with this statement from Housing NZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

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The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Furthermore, on page 36 of the 2013/14 Annual Report, Repairs and Maintenance is given as $220 million for the period.This is $1 billion less than the $1.2 billion quoted by Bill English to TVNZ’s Corin Dann on 24 March, this year.

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Either Bennett is ignorant, or she is spinning.

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Either way, not a good look.

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-Frank Macskasy

Ms Ryan read out my email, on air, subsequent to the interview.

Hopefully, the media will pick up on what is obviously a gross distortion from National’s spin doctors. By asserting that  there is no lack of money available, this shifts responsibility from  government to blaming others for lack of maintenance.

It also deflects attention from the fact that National has used Housing NZ as a cash cow by demanding dividends, in a futile attempt by Bill English to balance the government books and post a surplus (which he has also failed at spectacularly), as this ‘Dominion Post‘ editorial highlighted;

This year the Government expects to get $220m in tax and dividends from the corporation. It wants profits as well as social services. And it is also in thrall to its ideology of semi-privatisation.

Housing NZ was explicit in it’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

It is up to the media to challenge Ministers when they make assertions that are patently untrue.

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References

Radio NZ: The state of state housing

Radio NZ: The state of state housing (audio) (alt. link)

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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CGw9SZjUgAA0Shw.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 June 2015.

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Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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a-country-of-opportunity

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The last few weeks have produced some curious stories from the media, relating to the current government that, at first glance, have no common thread linking them.

Closer scrutiny yields a different perspective…

1 April 2009

National implements first round of tax cuts.

According to Dear Leader Key, the 2009 tax cuts cost the government $1 billion;

“…The tax cuts we have delivered today will inject an extra $1 billion into the economy over the coming year, thereby helping to stimulate the economy during this recession. More important, over the longer term these tax cuts will reward hard work and help to encourage people to invest in their own skills, in order to earn and keep more money.”

1 October 2010

National carries out second round of tax cuts.

According to information obtained from Parliamentary Library in May 2012, and released by the Greens, the 2010 tax cuts cost the country an additional $2 billion;

The Green Party has today revealed that the National Government has so far had to borrow an additional $2 billion dollars to fund their 2010 tax cut package for upper income earners.

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.

Cost of both tax cuts, in terms of lost revenue: $2.6 billion – $3.2 billion, per annum.

8 May 2014

Then-Minister for Housing, Nick Smith confirms in Parliament that National has been demanding multi-million dollar dividends from Housing New Zealand;

“The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year is $90 million.”

The dividend payable does not include taxes paid by Housing NZ.

24 September 2014

Fonterra cuts payout to farmers for dairy milk solids  by 70 cents to $5.30/kg milk solids.

6 October 2014

Dear Leader Key reveals that the international fall in dairy prices will affect the government’ tax revenue. Key states;

It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as $5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year...”

Reported by TV3’s Brook Sabin on the same day;

“A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.”

10 December 2014

Fonterra announced that payouts to farmers would drop from $5.30/kg of milk solids to $4.70/kg. A Fairfax report states;

The predicted payout could hurt the national economy for a couple of years, including tax revenue.

28 January

Dear Leader Key announced the sale of 1,000 to 2,000 state houses within the year, and suggested there might be further sales later.

30 April

Fonterra announces further reduction of milk solid payout to farmers from $4.70/kg milk solids to $4.50/kg of milk solids.

6 May

National announced that it’s entire stock of 370 state houses in Invercargill, and 1,250 in Tauranga, would be put on the market to be sold off.

22 May

National’s 2015 Budget included;

  • Dumping the $1,000 Kiwisaver ‘kick-start’ government contribution
  • $684 million deficit for 2014/2015
  • a new travel tax on arriving/departing airport travellers
  • extension of a telecommunications tax to fund government’s rural broadband expansion programme

31 May

A story in the NZ Herald by Lynley Bilby reported that schools throughout the country were cutting back on their activities due to funding constraints;

Financially strapped secondary schools are cutting back on classroom activities, dropping field trips, ditching science experiments and even removing courses after a crackdown on parent donation rules.

[…]

In one case a secondary school had to abandon an NCEA Level 2 biology field trip to the beach because it could not afford to hire a bus.

The science teacher had to apply to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to alter the data collection assessment so the students would not fail.

Another school was forced to alter its science curriculum by reducing experiments to trim costs.

One school said it had done away with activities outside the school gates, including a sea kayaking standard for year 12 physical education students.

Principals reported outdoor education programmes, food, hospitality and technology courses could be affected by the funding guidelines.

[…]

The recently released Budget saw the Government fund school operational grants to the tune of $1.32 billion for the 2015/16 financial year.

But the NZSPC  [New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council] said that was not enough to meet costs, particularly for low decile schools.

It is apparent that state funding of education  is inadequate, and schools are either having to make drastic cuts to  “classroom activities, dropping field trips, ditching science experiments and even removing courses” – or raise “voluntary donations” from parents. Those “donations” and fundraising events by parents and teachers raised more than $357 million in  2012, an increase of  $16 million from 2011.

Nearly a third of a billion dollars – that is the shortfall of full funding of education in this country.

1 June

National announced the launch of so-called “social bonds“, where;

…the Government will pay a return to investors, determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved.

The Government said social bonds were about the private and public sector organisations operating together to fund and deliver services.

This year’s Budget set aside $28.8 million to fund what is essentially contracting  out some mental-health services to private investors. As Health Minister, Dr Jonathan Coleman explained in Parliament the next day;

” One of the benefits of social bonds is that they protect service providers by shifting financial risk away from the providers and on to investors who provide the funding and who are better placed to absorb risk…

[…]

…social bonds are an exciting financial instrument with the potential to revitalise social policy delivery and inject private sector funding and innovation into the sector.”

Note the term used by Dr Coleman (quoting from a Dept of Internal Affairs report); “financial instruments”. According to investopedia.com, a “financial instrument is defined as;

A real or virtual document representing a legal agreement involving some sort of monetary value. In today’s financial marketplace, financial instruments can be classified generally as equity based, representing ownership of the asset, or debt based, representing a loan made by an investor to the owner of the asset.

[…]

Financial instruments can be thought of as easily tradeable packages of capital, each having their own unique characteristics and structure. The wide array of financial instruments in today’s marketplace allows for the efficient flow of capital amongst the world’s investors.

In effect, funding for mental health services is being transferred from the State – the traditional source – to private investors. Plainly put – National is seeking investment funding for mental health services.

These so-called “social bonds” appear to be a continuation of privatisation-by-stealth.

Interestingly, the right-wing think-tank, ‘New Zealand Initiative‘ (formerly the Business Roundtable and NZ Institute) published a report in March advocating the use of  social  bonds, and calling for the government to implement them. Three months later, National did precisely that.

As the government’s tax revenue was slashed by between $2.6 billion – $3.2 billion, per annum, after the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts, National’s tax-take and expenditure was further put under pressure by the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis; the resulting Great Recession; rising unemployment; tumbling dairy pay-outs; and the Christchurch re-build.

National’s much heralded prediction of a  $372 million Budget surplus this year collapsed into a massive $684 million deficit – a turn-around of nearly a billion dollars.

A billion dollars – the cost of the 2009 tax cuts.

But added to the fiscal deficit is another deficit; the hidden social costs which New Zealanders are slowly, belatedly, waking up to.

Community organisations are winding back, or closing down completely;

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womens-refuge-cuts-may-lead-to-waiting-lists

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nz-herald-govt-funding-cuts-reduce-rape-crisis-support-hours-government-funding-cuts

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Relationships Aortearoa - funding cuts - Anne Tolley - budget 2015

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State assets such as housing and schools are suffering a lack of maintenance, the likes of which we have seen only in Third World nations. The recent case of Northland College in Kaikohe revealed a badly run-down facility that was so delapidated that police  asked to use them for training simulations because they represented the closest thing available to a “ghetto environment”, according to school principal, Jim Luders.

Luders’ description of his school is hard to believe in 21st century New Zealand;

“The conditions are appalling. They’re unsafe. There’s water leaks, mould, asbestos in parts. It’s without doubt the worst school stock in New Zealand.

I would challenge any school to send in photos that are worse.”

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Northland College students stuck with 'worst classrooms in New Zealand'

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Back in 2008, an ERO report highlighted the poor state of Northland College. Seven years later, the problem remains unchanged.

New Zealand’s State housing does not fare better. TVNZ’s Corin Dann wrote this piece on 24 March, which should have raised alarm bells throughout the nation (it did not);

The Finance Minister is signalling a deferred maintenance bill for the country’s state houses of $1.2 billion will have to be met by the government in future.

Community housing providers looking to buy state houses off the government say they believe Housing New Zealand has failed to carry around $1.2 billion in maintenance on state houses.

[…]

Mr English says the lack of maintenance on state houses is concerning and that in the long run the government will need to invest the $1.2 billion dollars in state houses to get them up to scratch.

[…]

When asked why Housing New Zealand had not spent as much money as it should have on maintenance, Mr English put the blame partly on the previous Labour government saying they had chosen to build new state houses rather than fix up old ones.

However, when pressed he conceded that “looking back everyone could have performed better”.

$1.2 billion dollars. Half the cost of the 2010 tax cuts.

Which, in part, explained why the Salvation Army assessed National’s offer to buy some State houses – and promptly ran a mile. As the SA’s spokesperson, Major Campbell Roberts stated, with crystal clarity;

“We would be faced with significant maintenance issues, houses which have got the wrong tenants … we would also need to do extensive development.

We would be putting so much resource into this that we could not actually put resource into anything else.

We can’t guarantee that we would be able to improve things for the state tenants, which is exactly what we would want to do by taking [the properties] over at this stage, on our own.”

Community Housing Aotearoa director, Scott Figenshow, was even more to the point;

“Our members are very concerned about the families they work with, and are only interested if they can do a better job than Housing New Zealand. At the moment the sums simply don’t stack up.

Last month the Government confirmed $1.2 billion of deferred maintenance on the state housing stock. Why would a provider want to purchase a liability?” 

Figenshow suggested, instead, that Government reinvest the $220 million it was forecast to receive in tax and dividends from Housing NZ, back into much needed maintenance and upgrades.

For two year old Emma-Lita Bourne, tenant of a State house in Otara, South Auckland, the situation is academic. She died last August living in an environment that was clearly not conducive for human health and well-being;

Two-year-old Emma-Lita Bourne died in Auckland’s Starship Hospital in August last year following a brain haemorrhage.

She had been taken to hospital with a fever, which turned out to be a form of pneumonia.

In his findings, released on Thursday, coroner Brandt Shortland said pneumonia played a part in Emma-Lita’s death and the Housing New Zealand home in Otara where her family lived may have been to blame for her ill-health.

Other children in the family also became sick while the family was living there, with one suffering from rheumatic fever.

[…]

In May 2014, Emma-Lita’s family had been fast-tracked up the waiting list to be transferred to a better state house, because of the rheumatic fever risk.

Although they’re now living in a different home, the move didn’t happen before Emma-Lita’s death.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the government’s policy to fast-track those at risk of rheumatic fever into better homes has helped 270 families.

As Radio NZ reported Coroner Brandt Shortland’s findings;

“In my view, the house unfortunately was unhealthy for this family.

I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s health status.”

Housing NZ’s general manager of tenancy services, Kay Read,  accepted the likelihood of a link;

“Our responsibility is to provide warm, safe and dry housing and, from the reports in this situation, it appears that we’ve failed.”

The above Radio NZ story features photos of another Housing NZ property also in a delapidated condition, with mould and condensation streaming down the walls. The property is tenanted.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, Minister for Housing, Bill English,  denied that money was the core problem of run-down Housing NZ properties;

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

English’s assurance that Housing NZ “not short of money to do the job” appears to be contradicted by Housing NZ’s  2013/14 Annual Report;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Furthermore, on page 36 of the 2013/14 Annual Report, Repairs and Maintenance is given as $220 million for the period.

This is $1 billion less than the $1.2 billion quoted by Bill English to TVNZ’s Corin Dann on 24 March, this year.

Whilst clouded in waffle, English admitted that “the system” (ie; government and Housing NZ) was responsible for this little girl’s death;

“Regardless of the cause it’s a tragedy for this family. It appears that while the system worked to some extent, we’ve got to test whether it was responsive enough quickly enough to the very real needs of this family.

They didn’t really have the option of ordering a higher grade of insulation for the house.

We’ve got a strong focus on organising the government services around vulnerable families – and this is a vulnerable family – rather than expecting those vulnerable families to find their way around various government departments.

This type of case should illustrate I think to the people making public policy, including us, that we’ve got some way to go yet to be as responsive as we should be when there’s serious issues going on in this family.”

. English responds to criticism of state houses - radio nz - morning report - audio.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that New Zealanders have died for lack of adequate state funding of social services. For Minister Bill English, this is no doubt a matter of déjà vu, bringing back memories of late Northlander, Rau Williams, and late Southland farmer, Colin Morrison;

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Died waiting for by-pass - Otago Daily Times, 6 April  1998  (1)

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The 6 April 1998 ‘Otago Daily Times’ story stated;

Riverton dairy farmer Colin Morrison (42) has lost his race for a triple heart by-pass, dying of complications and leaving his widow, Christine, and his doctor blaming Health Minister Bill English and the health system for his death.

[…]

Mrs Morrison last night did not want to speak to Mr English, who is also her local MP. She said the minister and the health system had  failed her family and her husband.

“I don’t think I could cope. I know I can’t blame one person but I have got to have something or someone to blame. I wrote him a letter saying I blamed him [Mr English] but I blame the system as well”, she said.

His GP, Dr Russell Pridgeon, of Riverton, last night called on Mr English to resign, saying he held him morally responsible for Mr Morrison’s death.

A month later, then-Health Minister Bill English conceded that his government’s “booking system” was a failure – but not before others died on his watch as Health Minister;

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four-forced-off-waiting-list-die-the-press-15-march-1999

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Bill English did not resign, though National were swept from office the following year by Helen Clark’s Labour-led coalition.

English is now Minister for Housing.

And once again, people are dying.

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Addendum1

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Addendum2

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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

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Addendum3

The National government does not have money to spend on refurbishing state housing, but it does have money for other projects;

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john-key-defends-cost-of-flag-referendums

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References

Parliament: Hansards – Tax Cuts – Implementation

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

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable—Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

Agrimoney.com: Dairy rout spurs $4bn cut to Fonterra milk payout

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Fairfax media: Slashed Fonterra payout will affect all NZers

Radio NZ: PM states housing intentions

Otago Daily Times: Fonterra cuts dairy payout forecast

Radio NZ: Tauranga, Invercargill state houses to be sold

Radio NZ: Budget 2015 – What you need to know

Fairfax media: International airfares will rise new departure tax

Radio NZ: Telecommunications tax will hit consumers

NZ Herald:  Secondary schools to slash spending

Radio NZ: Social bond system to target mental health

Parliament: Hansards – 5. Mental Health Services—Social Bonds

Investopedia.com:  Financial Instrument

NBR:  Roundtable and NZ Institute morph into new libertarian think tank

NZ Intiative: Social Impact Bonds

Government Economics Networks: The case for social bonds: A new way of financing and delivering social services

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – The essential guide

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

TV1 News: ‘Devastating news for vulnerable Kiwis’ – Relationships Aotearoa struggling to stay afloat

Fairfax media: Government may let Relationships Aotearoa fold

TV1 News: Relationships Aotearoa hanging on at ‘awful’ 11th hour

Radio NZ: Counselling service rejects claim it’s badly run

NZ Herald: Northland College students stuck with ‘worst classrooms in New Zealand’

Radio NZ: Northland ‘slum’ school fix-up very slow

TV1 News: English concerned by State House deferred maintenance bill

Radio NZ: Salvation Army won’t buy state houses

Fairfax media: Salvation Army says no to state houses

NZCity:  Girl’s death should spur action – Greens

Radio NZ: Damp state house linked to child death

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

Housing NZ: 2013/14 Annual Report

Radio NZ: English responds to criticism of state houses (Alt. Link) (audio)

Dunedin Star: Death – the Northland Way

NZPA: English agrees system flawed

TV1 News:  Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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

NZ Herald: John Key defends cost of flag referendums

Additional information

Mana News: Housing under neoliberalism

NBR: Matthew Hooton – Gulf games fail to deliver

NBR: Matthew Hooton – Flying sheep endanger McCully

NZ Herald: Bryce Edwards – Political roundup – The bizarre ‘bribery’ and flying sheep scandal

NZ Herald: Dita De Boni – Kiwis hoodwinked over state housing

Radio NZ: Demand increasing on schools to fund out classroom activities

Radio NZ: Government hikes up Housing NZ dividend almost 20 percent (audio)

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, this is Now #6

Budget 2013: petrol taxes

“It’s fundamentally a fairness issue”- Peter Dunne

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)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

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200000-abandoned-for-national-tax-cuts-ht-william-joyce.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 June 2015.

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The Mendacities of Mr Key # 12: No More Asset Sales (Kind of)

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Lying National lying john key

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On 25 February 2014, Dear Leader John Key announced to the nation that his government’s asset sales programme was over;

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“Just as we did before the last election we’re making our position on share sales clear to New Zealanders before we go to the polls later this year. We’ve achieved what we wanted with the share offers in energy companies and Air NZ. We’re now returning to a business-as-usual approach when it comes to  [state-owned enterprises]. The truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme, or they sit in the category that they are very large like Transpower but are monopoly assets so aren’t suited.”

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Like so many of  the Prime Minister’s promises, that “Key Committment” did not last long. Not even a year.

As Fonterra’s payout to farmers collapsed and weakening exports to China’s slowing economy began to impact on the government’s tax-take,   Bill English’s much-heralded promise of a Budget surplus sank deeper than the m.v. Rena in 2011. English promised almost exactly a year ago on 16 May 2014;

It’s a real surplus and it follows a string of improvements in deficits starting at $18 billion four years ago, this year about $2.5b and next year a surplus of $370 [million], and then bigger surpluses after that.

Barely three months after the 2014 elections, Treasury had bad news for English and the National government;

Treasury this morning delivered a body blow to the Government’s hopes of returning to surplus, saying it now expects a deficit of over half a billion dollars for the June financial year.

At this morning’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, Acting Treasury Secretary Vicky Robertson said despite solid growth in the economy, the Crown’s finances would take a hit from lower than previously forecast tax take.

That had seen Treasury change its forecast operating balance before gains and losses (Obegal) for the 2014-15 year from a slim surplus of $297 million to a deficit of $572 million.

Treasury said softer outlook for economic drivers of the tax such as lower dairy prices and interest rates had seen the expected tax take for the year fall by $600 million.

In the same Herald report, English and Key  were both frantically doing their best King Canute impersonations since King Canute took a day to go to the beach;

But Finance Minister Bill English was this morning still clinging to the hope Treasury is wrong and the books will indeed be back in black this year as he and Mr Key have promised for some years.

I’m hopeful we will,” Mr Key told reporters this afternoon.

The view of the Minister of Finance is that we can still achieve that surplus. There’s a lot of different factors moving around here at the moment.

By 2 May of this year, even  National’s spin-meisters had run out of steam, and on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, English was forced to admit that the world was indeed round and not flat; money-printing pixies did not exist; and dreams of a budget surplus were a Tory fantasy;

No, I don’t call it a failure. It is what it is, and that is for the 14/15 year, we budgeted $370 million surplus. It looks like it will be a $500 or $600 million deficit, and the surplus will be the next year. So we’re on track.”

So “the surplus will be the next year“?

The Minister had better be hoping that the Christchurch re-build; the Auckland housing boom; and renewed growth in China’s economy,  will continue to stimulate the economy. Otherwise, that “500 or $600 million deficit” will balloon into $1 billion or $2 billion or…

National’s expensive, multi-billion dollar 2009 and 2010 tax cuts may not have been such a clever move after all.

English, though, is not about to surrender. His government’s policies may be predicated on tax revenue from re-building a semi-destroyed city; an unsustainable housing boom in Auckland; and waning dairy exports – but National’s Finance Minister has other ideas up his sleeve.

In his 2 May interview on ‘The Nation‘, English committed the government not to cut spending;

Lisa Owen: Okay. Well, before on The Nation, you said that the Government would not make any cuts to reach surplus. Is that still your plan?

Bill English: That’s right. We’re not going to make any specific extra decisions now just because our tax revenue’s a percentage point – 1 percent down.

If past experience has taught us one thing about this government; if they promise you one thing, you can be sure that somewhere, in some back room; they are planning something completely different.

English has committed the government not to “make any specific extra decisions now just because our tax revenue’s a percentage point – 1 percent down”.

It’s just a shame we can’t believe a word of what he says. The cuts had begun long before English uttered his lies to Lisa Owen.

The story unfolds…

16 May 2014…

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Budget 2014 - Surplus real, says English .

National’s “economic whizz-kid” had promised the country a “$372 million surplus” – as well as “an increase to paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 18, free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under 13,  extra money to ease the cost of early-childhood education, eligibility for paid parental leave extended, and the existing parental tax credit to  rise“.

Labour’s social policies had been nicked by National. English basked in political glory. Sceptics were ignored. The country went to the polls four months later.

20 September 2014…

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National Party wins third term

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And then reality began to reassert itself.

16 December 2014…

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No surplus this year - Treasury

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National’s core policy; it’s raison d’être; it’s reputation amongst New Zealanders who are only vaguely politically conscious – is it’s so-called “reputation for fiscal prudence and responsible economic manager”, and it was rapidly being sucked down a flushing toilet of indebtedness. If it couldn’t deliver on it’s promise of returning the books to surplus – as Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, had done between 2000 and 2008 – then what good was it?

English looked at his options to cut spending, and to raise money without creating headlines that shrieked “panic” or “broken promises”.

28 January 2015…

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Up to 8,000 state houses could be sold under John Key's radical plan - asset sales

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So much for Key’s assertion that “the truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme”.

Truth and John Key parted company a long time ago. Key’s announcement that up to 8,000 State houses could be sold came only eleven months after his earlier committment to New Zealanders that no further state assets would be sold.

13 April 2015…

John Key denies there is a housing crisis in New Zealand;

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.

21 April 2015…

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No free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - National - under 13s

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National’s broken promise flew in the face of committments made prior to last year’s general election, as then-Health Minister, Tony Ryall said;

Free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children aged under six will be extended to all children aged under 13 from July next year, Health Minister Tony Ryall says.

Budget 2014 is investing $90 million over three years from 1 July 2015 so primary school-aged children can go to a doctor for free, any time of the day or night, and get their prescriptions free as well, he says.

“National brought in the policy of free GP visits and prescriptions for children under six, including free after-hours visits. Thanks to our prudent management of the health budget, we are extending this policy to all children under 13.

This is what careful financial management can deliver to Kiwi families.

Interestingly, there was a very minor – but all-important word missing between two otherwise identical Facebook postings by John Key and the National Party;

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Facebook - free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - John Key - under 13s

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Facebook - free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - National Party - under 13s

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Note the one missing word – “all” – from Key’s Facebook statement.  Otherwise, the statement is identical to the National Party Facebook page. Someone in the National Party’s politburo obviously wasn’t keeping track of re-writing their election promises.

Green Party Health and ACC spokesperson, Kevin Hague, hit the nail on the head when he demanded;

If one in ten kids have to pay up to $38 to go to the doctor when they have an accident, then that visit is not free and that’s a broken promise. It begs the question: what other promises are the Government going to renege on this year in a bid to save a bit more money?  This shows how desperate the Government is to reach a surplus that it’s trying to pinch pennies from injured children.”

30 April 2015…

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Government offloads 2800 state houses to Auckland development company

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Attempting to justify the transfer, English announced;

Over half of the new houses will be sold to help offset construction costs, and the remainder will be retained as social housing. Our bottom line is that there will be at least as many social houses in Tāmaki as the 2800 there now.

As with previous promises, National’s assurances cannot be relied upon. Ministers will utter soothing reassurances one day – and weeks, months, or years later will find justification why they had to retract.

National ministers simply cannot be trusted to keep their word. Even if 7,500 new homes are built, there is no guarantee that “half of the new houses will be … retained as social housing“. National will find a reason to sell them.

English further stated;

The Government owns one in 16 houses in Auckland and we need to do a better job with them for the sake of tenants and aspiring homeowners, as well as for the neighbourhoods they live in and the wider city…

…This transfer of ownership of HNZC properties and the responsibility for tenancy management to TRC will enable faster construction of warm, dry and safe houses that better meet people’s needs.”

His comments are a repetition of National’s spin that NZ Housing properties are ‘badly run down and in dire need of maintenance’;

Finance Minister Bill English has confirmed the Government will need to spend $1.5 billion upgrading state houses as they are sold to social housing providers.

Mr English conceded many state houses were not up to standard and had not been properly maintained.

He said the cost of deferred maintenance had risen to $1.5 billion and that the matter had been raised during discussions with social agencies considering buying state houses.

“They’ve highlighted that. So part of the benefit of the process we’re going through is that these agencies are going to apply a very tight scrutiny to the state of the houses that maybe they might be looking at buying.”

Mr English blamed the former Labour-led Government, saying it had focused more on building new state houses than on maintaining existing homes.

English’s apportioning of blame to the previous Labour government is disingenuous.

The sole reason why Housing NZ has not been able to maintain it’s properties is that it has had to pay dividends from income (rent paid by low-income/beneficiary tenants) to successive governments. According to National’s Building and Housing Minister, Dr Nick Smith;

The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year [2014] is $90 million…

Fairfax reported Nick Smith as stating;

Smith said the dividend had been been fairly consistent in the past several years – $71m in 2010, $68m in 2011, $77m in 2012 and $90m in 2013.

Four years worth of dividends – $306 million – were paid to the government’s Consolidated Fund. No wonder Housing NZ is unable to maintain it’s properties.

National was brutal in it’s expectations of huge windfalls from Housing NZ;

The letters reveal that on six occasions ministers asked for dividends to be hiked, or paid faster. In March 2010, Maurice Williamson wrote: “I expect . . . a significantly higher annual return to the Crown.”

Phil Heatley, when he was housing minister, asked that in 2011-12 and 2012-13 the dividend be $45m higher than that forecast in the 2011 Budget. Later he revised expectations upwards, to $251m over three years.

In July last year, Smith said “dividend levels should be significant enough to represent a challenge”.

These demands from National ministers were placed on a government department charged with housing the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Williamson, Heatley, and Smith were content to bleed Housing NZ and let tenants live in cold, damp, miserable conditions.

Williamson, Heatley, and Smith – National’s 21st century slumlords.

As with Solid Energy, National exploited government departments and SOEs such as ACC, as “cash cows”, with which to balance their books to return to Budget surplus. (see: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys )

It is also worthy to note that National Ministers are employing spin when it comes to state house  sales. English and other ministers use the term “transfer” and not sale.

On 6 May, Bill English stated that  houses would not be sold “unless tenants get better services and taxpayers get fair and reasonable value“.

On TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 May, Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett, admitted that her government was selling state housing;

@ 2.13

Corin Dann: “But the point is, they are going to get these houses, they’re going to be sold these houses, aren’t they? You say transfer but it’s a sale of houses at a discount, right?

Paula Bennett: “Well, I’m sure it’ll be less than the market value, yes.

These are sales, not a transfer. “Transfer” implies a change of ownership without cost or exchange of money. There is Big Money involved in state house sales.

[Incorrect information deleted. – FM]

6 May 2015…

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 Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

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The Great Sell-off of Housing continues under National – with the government disposing of all state housing in Tauranga and Invercargill. Radio NZ reported;

The Government has announced it will begin selling off up to 1600 state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill to social housing groups.

There are 370 state houses in Invercargill and 1250 in Tauranga and it’s understood all of them could be sold if buyers come forward.

Only vetted and registered community housing providers will be able to buy them and, depending on their negotiations with the Government, they may not have to pay the market price.

There is nothing to stop private developers from acquiring state houses through back-door means, as this report on a landlords website explained;

The state houses will only be available for sale to registered Community Housing Providers (CHPs).

However, Housing NZ Minister Bill English said that registered CHPs can partner with other organisations to acquire and develop social housing.

Any transfer of houses will not affect the rent tenants pay or their eligibility for subsidised housing, and properties transferred as social houses will also have to stay as social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise.  In both Tauranga and Invercargill, Housing New Zealand owns a significant number of houses so there is potential for more than one organisation to acquire houses for community ownership.

This means there could be scope for private investors to get involved in the provision of social housing – either by becoming a registered CHP or by partnering with a registered CHP.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 May, Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett confirmed that private investors could “partner” with Community Housing Providers to purchase state houses; re-develop the properties; and sell new residences at a profit.

On 6 May, English assured the public;

Any transfer of houses will not affect the rent tenants pay or their eligibility for subsidised housing, and properties transferred as social houses will also have to stay as social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise.”

Of course National will agree. This is a wholesale sell-off of state housing. Why wouldn’t they agree to new owners on-selling these properties for a profit? Otherwise new owners would be stuck with old, dilapidated properties, requiring expensive repairs, and soon getting into deep debt.

This is privatisation, by stealth,  through the back-door, using intermediaries. This is a whole new level of government subterfuge.

It also exposes John Key’s assurance – that state assert sales have ended – as a lie.

Conclusion

Finance Minister Bill English is desperately scrabbling for every dollar he can claw back. Miserly does not even begin to aptly describe this government’s actions.

It seems that the tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 are being paid for by paperboys and girls; sick children; welfare beneficiaries; and Housing NZ tenants.

It remains to be seen what further cuts in social spending Bill English has planned. His reassurances on 2 May 2015 – that there would be no cuts to social spending – are to be treated with the same contempt as other promises, assurances, and committments that have been made, and broken, by John Key, Bill English, et al.

Governments are at their worst and most dangerous, when desperate. And this is a desperate government.

Addendum1

Karol, writing for The Standard, has more on this issue. See: “Key Govt asset stripping state housing‘.

Addendum2

Registered community housing provider, Habitat for Humanity Invercargill-branch  chairman, Stephen Falconer, is an enthusiastic cheerleader for National’s covert privatisation programme. He told the Otago Daily Times on 7 May;

We’re a private organisation, essentially, and we think that private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government on most things.

Because private enterprise has done such a stirling job thus far in meeting demand for housing in Auckland, Christchurch, and elsewhere?

It is disappointing that an ostensibly community organisation like Habitat for Humanity has bought into the government narrative, complete with parroting neo-liberal cliches that “private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government“.

If it were true that “private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government“, then why does Habitat for Humanity exist?

Addendum3

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett is interviewed by Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A. Along with Bill English’s admissions, her comments are a disturbing indication where National is going with state housing.  See:  Govt social housing target 3000 homes

 

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References

NZ Herald: PM – no more SOEs to sell after Genesis

John Key: My key commitments to you

NBR: Weak dairy prices prompt analysts to pull back Fonterra forecast payout for next season

The Independent: How China’s slowing GDP growth could drag down the global economy

TV3 News: National Party wins third term

NZ Herald: No surplus this year – Treasury

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – Surplus real, says English

TV3: The Nation – Bill English

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – Surplus real, says English

TV1 News: Up to 8,000 state houses could be sold under John Key’s radical plan

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

NZ Herald:  No free GP visits for all children – Government

National Party: Free doctors’ visits, prescriptions for under 13s

Facebook: John Key

Facebook: National Party

Scoop media: Govt breaks free doctors visit promise to kids

Fairfax media: Government offloads 2800 state houses to Auckland development company

Radio NZ: Govt to spend $1.5b fixing up state houses

Parliament: Hansards – Questions for Oral Answer — Questions to Ministers – 8 May 2014

Fairfax media: Nats milking Housing NZ – Labour

Fairfax media: Not much in the cupboard for English to dine on

NZ Herald: State houses in Tauranga and Invercargill to go on the market

TVNZ Q+A: Govt social housing target 3000 homes

Landlords – For Kiwi Property Investors: State houses to go on sale in Tauranga & Invercargill

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 – ‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media: Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

Radio NZ: Tauranga, Invercargill state houses to be sold

Otago Daily Times: Invercargill among first state house transfer sites

Previous Related Blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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)

“It’s fundamentally a fairness issue”- Peter Dunne

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

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

Other blogs

Polity: Housing horrors

The Jackal: Nationals housing failure

The Standard: Key Govt asset stripping state housing

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I will never turn my back on the poor

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

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“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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If there is a crystal-clear example why a functioning democracy must have  vibrant, critical current affairs programmes on free-to-air televesion, then  TV3’s ‘The Nation‘ on the morning of 2 May was top-of-the-pile. Without doubt, this land-mark episode was a powerful insight into the general competence (or lack, thereof) of two of the government’s senior ministers; Finance Minister Bill English and Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

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Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga -- TV3's 'The Nation' host & interviewer, Lisa Owen -- Finance Minister Bill English

(L-R) Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga — TV3’s ‘The Nation’ host & interviewer, Lisa Owen — Finance Minister Bill English

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The highly talented host-interviewer, Lisa Owen, interviewed both, drilling deep down, and extracting information; admissions; and more critically – waving aside pathetic attempts to fudge legitimate answers. The resulting exchanges did not make for a ‘happy day’ for either government minister, revealing one totally out of his depth, and the other unwilling to admit that his stewardship of the country’s economy has been an abject failure.

1. Finance Minister Bill English

In  the opening months of World War 2, there was a period from September 1939 to May 1940, known as “the Phoney War“. Both the Allied Nations (led by Great Britain) and the expanding Third Reich were technically at war, but major military operations did not commence until Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg on 10 May 1940.

In New Zealand, we might have referred to those first eight months as a “Clayton’s War” – the war you’re having when you’re not really having a war. (For those old enough to remember, “Clayton’s” refers to a non-alcoholic beverage marketed in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s. It was heavily promoted with the catch-phrase, “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. The marketing campaign was an advertisers dream-come-true, catching the public’s attention. The product, unfortunately for the manufacturers, was less successful. )

The same could be said of New Zealand’s so-called “rock star economy” and “recovery”.

By nearly all accounts, our recent growth has been predicated on three factors;

  1. The Auckland housing boom/bubble
  2. The Christchurch Earthquakes re-build
  3. Exports – particularly dairy – to China

The first is reliant purely on borrowing from off-shore to fund speculative activity. When that bubble finally bursts, we will be left with a multi-billion debt; thousands of bankruptcies; and an economy in tatters as capital flight takes place.

The second is a short-term growth-spurt which owes it’s origins to two natural disasters – literally disaster capitalism.

The third is built upon China’s unsustainable growth, and has recently fallen away, returning Australia as our number one trading partner, as the value of dairy commodities plummet.

The first two are unsustainable. The last is reliant on a major trading partner’s economic well-being. As with New Zealand’s lamb and butter exports to the UK prior to it joining the EEC in January 1973, we have placed our export “eggs” in one, very big, very fragile, basket.

Against this backdrop of The Phoney Economic Recovery,  the following financial facts should give us cause for concern;

  1. The on-going cost of the 2009 and 2010 tax-cuts, estimated to be around $3.8 billion per year, and up to $4.26 billion last year
  2. Plummeting dairy prices resulting in lower payout to farmers and taking $7 billion out of the economy
  3. Reduced tax-take by the government is around $4.5 billion

In view of unsustainable tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010; the economy taking a $7 billion “hit”; and lower than anticipated tax revenue by this government, it was hardly unexpected that Bill English’s promises of a surplus this year have collapsed.

Lisa Owen challenged the hapless Finance Minister in a sixteen minute long interview. In this excerpt, English is evasive when asked questions about the governments surplus;

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Full interview here

Throughout the interview, English was upbeat and insisted that a surplus was just around the corner;

“Well, okay, it would be nice if the number got there this year; it’ll just take a bit longer. What’s important here is the trajectory. So Government is closing its deficits; it’s getting to surplus. We’ll soon be in a position to start paying off debt. Our expenditure’s under control; the revenue’s a  bit harder. You’ve just seen in the last day or two, dairy prices are going down again; that has an impact. So we’re sufficiently confident in the direction that we’re not going to cut services or cut entitlements to try and chase a larger surplus number.”

Lisa Owen asked the Minister: “Okay. Well, before on The Nation, you said that the Government would not make any cuts to reach surplus. Is that still your plan?

English replied;  “That’s right. We’re not going to make any specific extra decisions now just because our tax revenue’s a percentage point – 1% down.”

Then, incredibly, English maintained that tax-cuts were still on National’s agenda;

Owen: “I just want to look at some of the big promises, like tax cuts. They were meant to come from that $500 million that you now don’t have. But is it fair to say that they’re not really likely now?

English: “As we indicated last year, we wouldn’t be able to contemplate that until 2017 for some of the reasons that you’ve outlined. So at the moment, the ability to deliver some kind of moderate tax cut hasn’t changed and we would have the next couple of budgets to work out how that would happen.”

Owen: “Hang on, Minister. It has changed, hasn’t it, Minister, because you’ve just identified the fact you’ve got less money, so it must have changed.

English: “Well, we’ve shifted the money from next year to the year after; that’s technically what’s actually happened. We’ll deal with that as time goes on, but the point I’m making is our finances are-“

Owen: “Is it likely that your tax cuts then will be delayed as well? Maybe 2018, not 2017?

English: “No, we’re not suggesting that. We said at the end of last year that they would be possible in 2017. We’ve made allowance for that.”

It beggars belief that we have a Finance Minister willing to entertain the notion of tax cuts at a time when dairy prices are dropping; tax revenue is falling; and public debt has ballooned to $59.9 billion  and rising by $27 million per day, every day.

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public debt - NZ Treasury

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Never mind tax cuts – when do we, as a nation, start to repay this debt mountain?!

The reality is that if National proceeds with promises of tax cuts in 2017 (which is an election year – bribe anyone?) New Zealand will have to  borrow from offshore to make up the shortfall in revenue. Our debt mountain will continue to grow.

English himself admitted that the deficit this year will be in the order of around half a billion dollars;

“…It is what it is, and that is for the 14/15 year, we budgeted $370 million surplus. It looks like it will be a $500 or $600 million deficit, and the surplus will be the next year. So we’re on track.”

Somewhere in National’s gross mis-management of the economy, they have gone from a $370 million surplus to a potential $600 million deficit – just shy of $1 billion lost.

How does a government make such a colossal mistake? “It is what it is” is hardly an explanation.

Throughout the interview, English kept repeating the mantra of a future surplus;

“The direction is pretty clear. Our surpluses will come and they will grow, and we’ll be able to pay off debt.”

“The target remains getting to surplus, and in the Budget, you’ll see the details of where the Government is up to with it. But I’m indicating that despite falling a bit short in 14/15, we’re on track for surplus.”

Though English insisted that there would be no cuts to spending, he did use coded language for possible reductions to welfare spending;

Owen: “Is it likely that your tax cuts then will be delayed as well? Maybe 2018, not 2017?”

English: “No, we’re not suggesting that. We said at the end of last year that they would be possible in 2017. We’ve made allowance for that.”

Owen: “Okay. So what about measures to curb poverty, then? Will they have to be delayed? Because the Prime Minister identified them as something of a priority. Is that going to be delayed?”

English: “Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a while, particularly focused on communities and families with persistent deprivation and caught in a cycle of dependence. And so you could expect to see us continue with that sort of programme through this Budget…

… Or sickness and invalids beneficiaries with more support for their health issues and more support for employment, could actually get out of dependency, off welfare and remain in work.

Because as we all know, invalids don’t actually have real disabilities or debilitating injuries or diseases – they are simply on a “cycle of dependence”.

When in trouble, blame someone else. In this case, invalids.

Owen then moved on to the issue of Auckland’s growing housing crisis and nailed English on this government’s spectacular inability to manage and address that city’s housing shortage. English simply blamed the Auckland Council;

“Well, the migration numbers have stayed high, bearing in mind about half of migrants appear to go to Auckland; the other half go to the rest of the country. But there’s pretty clear signals that Auckland City Council need to get on with the job. They are the ultimate decision-maker around the infrastructure and around the consenting for new houses. We’re giving them the toolkit to enable them to do it faster, but there’s clearly a lot more to be done, and we’ll keep looking for more tools to help the Auckland City Council to do the job they need to do.”

When still in trouble, keep blaming someone else. In this case, the Auckland Council.

Thus far, National’s grand strategy to cope with Auckland’s housing crisis is to shift ownership of 2,800 properties from Housing NZ to the Tamaki Redevelopment Company – as if shifting properties around on a giant ‘Monopoly’ board will somehow solve the problem?

Owen pointed out to English that in transferring 2,800 houses to the Tamaki Redevelopment Company, that he was breaking a previous committment;

Owen: “Now, hang on a minute. There you offloaded 2800 houses, and I thought you had a cap on getting rid of state houses of about 2000. So is that cap gone now?

English: “Well, no. What we’ve said is Housing New Zealand will own at least 60,000 houses, and that certainly hasn’t changed. Government remains the owner—”

Owen: “No, you said a cap, Minister. So has the cap gone now with this 2800 houses? The cap’s blown?

English: “No. Government will remain the owner of the Tamaki houses. We’ve simply put them in a different government company, which has been set up specifically to regenerate that community, because it’s a very particular skillset.”

English had all but surrendered to Owen’s persistent questioning by outright admitting his government’s failure to address Auckland’s mounting housing crisis;

“That’s right. We’re not meeting demand. I certainly agree with that. Whether it gets worse before it gets better, forecasters can argue over that. We’ve got plenty to do to meet the demand that’s been there for a while. And as I said, the Government’s supporting Auckland City, trying to get them a better toolkit and making our own contribution through redeveloping our own land in Auckland.”

For English, this interview was possibly the worst in his political career. He had to explain why his commitment to returning to surplus this year was now in tatters, and why his government’s housing plan for Auckland consisted of moving state housing from owner to owner, without adding significantly to the overall stock.

The only reason why National’s reputation for being a “sound prudent fiscal manager” survives intact is because New Zealanders are not paying attention.

But worse was to come when Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga took the chair and was also interviewed by Lisa Owen. What followed was a debacle of Hekia Parata proportions.

2. Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga

With on-going  privatisation of State services dressed up as so-called “Public-Private Partnerships” (PPPs), Lisa Owen put several questions to the Corrections Minister on the role of UK company, Serco, which has been contracted to run the new prison at Wiri.

His responses were jaw-droppingly incompetant. The man was totally out of his depth, as these excerpts show;

Owen: “So are they getting paid and how much?”

Lotu-Iiga: “Well, the contract is between Serco and PlaceMakers, and I’m not privy to those sums, but—”

 

Owen: “So you don’t know how much the business is going to make—”

Lotu-Iiga: “I don’t have the figures on me, but we could ask Serco what the contract’s for.”

 

Owen: “Out of the inmates building framing and having these contracts. So who makes the profit out of the contract?”

Lotu-Iiga: “ Well, we don’t know whether there’s profits being made, but what PlaceMakers—”

 

Owen: “Why don’t you know that, Minister? Because this is under your watch.”

Lotu-Iiga: “Well, I spoke to the managing director of PlaceMakers yesterday, and they said that they will pay a standard contract for fees to Serco. I don’t know what that amount is…”

 

Owen: “Right, so in terms of rehabilitation, but you don’t know who’s making a profit or if one’s being made?

Lotu-Iiga: ” Hang on. They’ve got a commercial transaction between Serco and PlaceMakers. I don’t know what that figure is, but we can work it out.”

 

Owen: “Even with that $30 million? Even with that $30 million profit that they’re making per annum?”

Lotu-Iiga: “I don’t think they’re making a $30 million profit.”

 

Owen: “You don’t think it’ll make $30 million, and what you’re saying is it’s still saving money even though this company is making a profit out of it? It’s still saving us money even though they’re taking that profit.”

Lotu-Iiga: “It’s… Well, it’s saving the taxpayer money. It is saving the taxpayer money.”

 

And then this astounding admission from the Minister that must have had every viewer that Saturday morning choking on his/her milo/tea/coffee, and the Prime Minister speed-dialling his Chief-of-Staff;

Owen: “Who employs those monitors? Who employs the monitor in the prison? “

Lotu-Iiga: “There will be— If I can just finish, there will be an ombudsman. They will be subject to complaints—”

Owen: “So the monitor in the prison, Minister, just to be clear, the monitor in the prison; who employs the monitor?
Lotu-Iiga: “My understand is that the monitors are based in the prisons, but they report to the Department of Corrections.”

Owen: “Who employs the monitor and pays their wages, Minister?

Lotu-Iiga: “Well, I don’t have those facts on me, but they do report—”

Owen: “Well, I do. The person who employs the monitor— the person who employs the monitor is the company, Serco. They employ the monitor, and pay their wages.”

Lotu-Iiga’s spectacular ignorance of his own portfolio has almost certainly destroyed his political career. He will also have disappointed his political strategist and mentor, controversial far right-winger,  Simon Lusk.

Lusk was employed by Lotu-Iiga during the 2008 election campaign for the Maungakiekie Electorate Campaign. In return, as well as being paid by Lotu-Iiga, in his Maiden Speech in Parliament the newly-elected MP openly acknowledged Lusk’s involvement in his election to Parliament. In this Youtube video, Lotu-Iiga mentions Lusk at 3:56. Note who is sitting behind Lotu-Iiga – Aaron Gilmore, another Lusk protégé.

Bad luck, Simon.

It is not often that I feel sympathy for a Minister of a National Government. When I do, it is the pity I feel for a doomed man whose career has come to a grinding, crushing halt.

At the next Cabinet re-shuffle, Lotu-Iiga will be joining Kate Wilkinson, Phil Heatley, and Aaron Gilmore in political oblivion.

Dead Minister Walking.

3. Political Panel

Mike Williams, Bernard Hickey & Jamie Whyte comment on interviews with Bill English and Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. Note ex-ACT leader, Jamie Whyte’s cringe-worthy apologistic comments on behalf of English, and why he thinks government debt does not matter.

4. The Programme

All in all, this was one of the most outstanding episodes of “The Nation” with excellent interviews; topical subject matter; and insightful analysis by (most) of the panellists. Lisa Owen joins Kim Hill as two of this country’s most formidable interviewers.

This is the sort of programming Mediaworks should be broadcasting at Prime Time. My “money” would be on people desperate for informative television – who are sick to their stomachs on a sickly diet of “reality tv” – to flock to such a viewer-friendly scheduling.

Good, quality, current affairs should never be tucked away as some sort of “guilty pleasure”.

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References

Wikipedia: The Phoney War

Wikipedia: Claytons

Rabobank: Country Report New Zealand

Farming Show: Australia becomes top trading partner once again

Radio NZ: Price drop another blow for dairy farmers

NZ Herald: Brian GaynorPlans for jump-start reveal differing styles

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

Fairfax media: Dairy prices fall at Fonterra GlobalDairyTrade auction

Beehive: Fact sheet – Personal tax cuts

Radio NZ: English concedes surplus target unlikely

Youtube: The Nation – Can National promise a surplus by 2016?

TV3: The Nation – Interview –  Finance Minister Bill English

Treasury: Debt

Fairfax media: Public debt climbs by $27m a day

Fairfax media: Government offloads 2800 state houses to Auckland development company

TV3: The Nation – Interview – Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga

Wikipedia: Serco

Simon Lusk: Clients

Fairfax media: The rapid rise of a well-educated man

Youtube: Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga MP – Maiden Speech

Previous related blogposts

Tax cuts and jobs – how are they working out so far, my fellow New Zealanders?

Did National knowingly commit economic sabotage post-2008?

Budget 2014 – Why we will soon owe $70 billion under this government

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

When the Rich Whinge about paying tax

Two Tax Strikes against Dunne?

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

National’s Ohariu candidate admits contact by Simon Lusk

Power Struggle in the National Party?!

Other blogs

Unframed: John Key has no credibility on debt and no Plan B

Acknowledgement

Tim Watkin, Producer of “The Nation“, for interview transcripts; link to Youtube excerpt featuring Bill English; and valuable insights.


 

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debt-mountain-cartoon.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 May 2015.

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Christchurch City Council – Having your asset-cake and eating it

28 March 2015 2 comments

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Prelude

On 29 January 2013, Prime Minister John Key announced that the rebuild of Christchurch would be a Herculean, multi-billion dollar task;

New Zealand also faces a domestic construction boom. That will be centred, of course, on Christchurch, where the total spend is now estimated to be around $30 billion.”

By 15 May 2014, National’s Finance Minister, Bill English delivered his sixth Budget speech to Parliament. The cost of the Christchurch re-build  had escalated by $10 billion;

The total cost of the rebuild has been estimated at $40 billion and the Government’s share will be significant.

On current estimates, the Government’s contribution to the rebuild is expected to be $15.4 billion, of which $7.3 billion will be incurred by the Earthquake Commission, net of reinsurance proceeds.

Despite central government’s massive re-build bill for Christchurch, in his Budget Conclusion, English was at pains to repeat his new mantra;

The Government’s books are on track to surplus next year and are the envy of most developed countries.”

The surplus English referred to was an Operating balance Before Gains and Losses (OBEGAL),  forecast to be a hair-thin  $86 million for 2014/15.

English’s  Budget document pointed out;

Government is still borrowing a net $78 million a week, and in dollar terms, net debt is expected to peak at $64.5 billion in 2015/16...”

Little wonder that English stated, with blinding obviousness four days earlier;

It means we will need to maintain firm expenditure control beyond our return to surplus...”

Which is why an increasingly nervous Finance Minister, conscious of spiralling re-build costs, came down hard and crushed any suggestion that taxpayer’s money be used to subsidise the proposed SkyCity convention centre;

There’s no contingency for that. If the less preferred option ended up being the option then that money would be part of the Budget process.”

Firm expenditure control in this case meant that the government-purse was firmly shut. And padlocked.

National Government’s Predictable Response

In May 2011, barely three months after Christchurch’s devastating earthquake that killed 185 people, there were already suggestions from Gerry Brownlee that the Christchurch Council would have to sell part of their community-owned assets to fund the re-build.

National’s mis-handling of the economy, with two unaffordable tax-cuts,  as well as the Global Financial Crisis and resultant recession,  had left the government’s books deep in the red.

At first, Brownlee was coy at any suggestion of asset sales;

I don’t foresee the council having to sell any assets, though in the end that will be their choice.

But in the next breath, he added;

I would suspect that Treasury have had a look at the city council’s balance sheet, given that we are going to have to take a whole lot of debt onto our [the Government’s] balance sheet.

It’s only natural we would have a look at what the council can stand [to pay].

Yes, there is provision in this legislation for Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] to suggest to council that they might need to sell something.

Brownlee denied that government or Treasury had been scoping CCC assets with a view to partial (or full) privatisation;

The accusation is that Treasury have been looking at council assets with a view to what the council will sell. That is, I think, completely erroneous.

On 9 February 2012, a year after the second earthquake,  Brownlee admitted in Parliament (in response to questioning by the future mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel);

In the days leading up to that particular injudicious comment from me there were numerous discussions going on with the council—between the senior executives, the mayor, me, and the senior executives of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority—over a number of issues that we want the council to take some responsibility, alongside us, for. Although Treasury officials will have talked to the council, I am unaware of exactly what that discussion would have been about. But let me tell you that when the Government is spending $5.5 billion anywhere we expect the recipients of that to have some plan for how they will participate in what will be a very, very expensive recovery, and that plan has to be a lot better than saying “We’re just going to put up the rates, and we’re going to borrow a lot more money”.”

Brownlee would have us believe that he was “unaware of exactly what that discussion would have been about” between Treasury officials and  Christchurch council?  As Minister of Earthquake Recovery of that devastated city, that proposition is simply not credible.

Brownlee was not being truthful.

The Minister’s denial was further shown to be less than truthful with this evasive response in Parliament on 2 August 2012;

I have received advice from Treasury and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority on a range of funding options for the rebuilding of Greater Christchurch, to which the Government has committed $5.5 billion to date. Alongside the Christchurch City Council, I support the regeneration of our city, which will be enhanced by the development of the central city plan, released on Monday. I have publicly acknowledged the funding challenges for both the city council and the Government. Councillors and I have agreed to discuss, alongside our respective organisations, a sensible and achievable time line and funding programme for the delivery of the blueprint. I approach these discussions in good faith, as the thousands of city residents would expect us to do so. I intend to say no further on this matter.

The full text  of a remarkable, and somewhat ‘testy’ exchange between Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, and the then-Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, under-scored the sensitivity of any suggestion that central government was putting the “squeeze” on Christchurch to sell community-owned assets and relieve pressure on English’s struggle to balance the books.

By May 2013, all pretences that asset sales were not being discussed were firmly kicked to the side, with John Key entering the political fray (and Gerry Brownlee standing pensively and obediently in the background);

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Christchurch rebuild - Council needs to come to the party - PM

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Key was clear with Christchurch residents in his expectations;

The only other option available to it is that it doesn’t actually embark on some of the projects it might want to embark on. In the end Cantabrians will have to have a say on what they think is the right mix.

I actually personally hold the view that for Canterbury, where you love sport, happen to be pretty darn good at it, and have climatic conditions that argue that a covered stadium might make sense, then actually it could be a really sensible thing to do.

And if it was up to me I would make that choice in a heartbeat if it meant changing the mix of assets, but I understand for lots of other people they might not hold that view.

This is the chance to get it right. I just urge everyone to think that through.  There is the opportunity to have some quite fantastic facilities here.

The Government is quite happy to step up and put $15bn in, and there is a limit as to how much we can put in, and some of it must come from the council.

The threat is obvious; ‘cough up the extra cash by selling some of the family silver, or  no more rugger for you lot’!

Faced with National firmly closing off any options to meet ever-increasing re-build costs, Christchurch was faced with few alternatives and on 1 August last year the Council caved to central government pressure in the form of a report from investment bankers, Cameron Partners. As Mayor Lianne Dalziel admitted;

We’ve got nothing, there isn’t even wriggle room any more, there’s just nothing there, we’re over the line and we have to pull it back before 2017.

Creating financial certainty will attract much needed investment in the rebuild. We want to work alongside the Canterbury earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to scope the possibilities for a one-stop landing point for both local and foreign investors.”

Note the year Dalziel refers to: 2017. An election year.

Dalziel’s reference to “both local and foreign investors” is an oblique acknowledgement that the Christchurch City Council will have to part-privatise community assets to raise money that will not be forthcoming from Key’s government.

She was more forth-coming here, on the same day;

Releasing capital from our balance sheet alongside the other options, (including increased income, reduced operational expenditure and government assistance), is clearly one of the ways we can address the uncertainty around the city’s finances.

Dalziel also hinted at why Christchurch was forced to undertake asset sales;

The purpose of releasing capital would be to generate funds to assist in solving the identified funding shortfall; provide the level of confidence and certainty required to develop a credible long term financial strategy and get on with the rebuild of our community facilities, infrastructure and housing; allow CCC to buffer Christchurch residents and businesses from the exponential rates increases; and allow CCC to align our vision and strategic objectives for the rebuild with our asset portfolio – that is, what we own and operate.

It is simply untenable – both from a commercial perspective, as well as morally – that citizens in one city should be forced to pay for the rebuild of their infra-structure. This was a disaster not of their making.

Any suggestion that the cost should not be spread more evenly around the country would create a precedent that we are each solely responsible for any disaster that might befall our own region. Do New Zealanders really want to go down that road? They should think long and hard if that is the kind of society they want for themselves and their children.

Earthquake Recovery Minister could not endorse the Cameron Partners report fast enough, releasing this statement on the same day – 1 August;

The Cameron Partners report makes it clear some major areas of financial uncertainty are causing headaches for Christchurch City, including the cost of repairing and replacing the city’s essential horizontal infrastructure [pipes, roads, waterways].

When we signed the cost-sharing agreement with the council in June 2013 we foresaw this and undertook to do a thorough review of where the shared costs of the rebuild lay by 1 December this year.

Once we have this information we can consider if any amendments are required to the cost-sharing agreement.

Officials from CERA and the Treasury are working with the council already to ensure the review provides Christchurch City with the clarity it needs to help make some of the big decisions ahead of it.”

National had won.

Brownlee had successfully forced Christchurch Council to adopt unofficial National Party policy; that Council’s were expected to divest themselves of strategic assets if funding for extraordinary projects was required. This was the same policy that Brownlee had forced on Auckland, to fund it’s rail loop, and which he outlined on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, on 30 June 2013;

Rachel Smalley:John Key said on Thursday that Auckland should consider selling its assets in order to meet some of these costs. Should the Council consider that?”

Gerry Brownlee: Well I think it’s one of those things that’s inevitably going to be on the table. Remember that we’ve got a programme that is now set out for the next 10 years, and as we come up to the point where you’re getting the business case together for the city rail link and that huge expense that’s involved in that, and recognise that you’ve got a 2016 Local Body Election as well, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t something that was considered by some people.”

But more was come on 6 December 2014, Brownlee was demanding that Christchurch Council increase the level of asset sales;

So it’s a positive step but it’s not the end yet. I do have some worries that it might be a little timid and particularly if it were to lead to much higher rates there in Christchurch.

Murray Horton, from the lobby group ‘Keep Our Assets Canterbury’, was correct when he warned;

Once a chunk of ownership of those assets, the council’s assets, is gone then it won’t be long before there are calls for more to go.

Horton’s prescience was proved barely three months later.

Costs & Consequences

On 26 February, 2015, four years and four days after the city’s second quake, the Christchurch City Council voted;

“...subject to public consultation, the council will release $750m in capital through the sale or partial sale of assets the council owns through its commercial arm, Christchurch City Holdings, to help plug its $1.2 billion funding shortfall.

By the following day, Brownlee was demanding more asset sales, which he repeated more forthrightly on TVNZ’s Q+A on 

I don’t think you can put a particular price on it. What I think they need to do, and I’m sure that the council will get there. I’ve got to say the council have been edging their way to a position that I think will leave them in a good space progressively. What really is necessary is a sales process that gets you the highest possible price. If you go out and say, ‘Look, I’m just going to sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that,’ then you’re not going to get any premium on it at all. And if you’re going to sell something, you may as well get as much for it as you possibly can. That’s my real point.

[…]

…if you look at something like the airport. It’s essentially a real estate company that just provides parking for planes. You could break it down to being that simple. It’s still going to get used. It’s still going to provide the service the city requires whoever owns it. It is partly price controlled through the Commerce Act, as is Orion. Completely price controlled. So the idea that someone else would buy it and the pricing of your electricity lines are going to become completely out of control is completely wrong. ”

The sale of community assets is a perfect fit with National’s ideological and fiscal needs;

  1. Ideologically, National is as wedded to privatisation as it ever was. It is only held back from a  more radical asset sales programme by public opinion – a point no doubt reinforced through National’s on-going secret polling.
  2. Fiscally, forcing local territorial authorities to finance infra-structure through sales of community-own assets lets central government off the hook, and gives English his desperately needed surplus.

Territorial Authorities have little control over Point 2.

With regards to Point 1, however, Territorial Authorities finding themselves under financial pressure can be more strategic when it comes to finding ways and means to navigate political pressure from the likes of right-wing governments and ministers like Gerry Brownlee.

One such mechanism is found within Christchurch City Council’s own document, “Council decision on proposed Financial Strategy“, where it states;

The sale of 14.3 % of Orion on condition that the shares are only offered to another public entity, such as another TA [Territorial Authority], or an institutional investor such as NZ Super Fund, and that any agreement would be subject to the shares returning to the CCC should the investor wish to sell down its share at a future date.

The same document suggests the sale of 34% of Lyttleton Port Company and 9% of Canterbury International Airport Ltd to “a suitable strategic partner“.

The latter measure opens the proverbial slippery slope to further down-selling of Christchurch Council’s shares in both companies. As such, it would be unacceptable to most Cantabrians (and New Zealanders, who have experienced the down-side of sales of strategic assets).

The NZ Super Fund would be an ideal partner for a Territorial Authoritory such as Christchurch Council. At present the NZSF’s investment in New Zealand amounts to only  13.8% in 2014  (down from 14.2% in 2013).

Not only would the NZSF offer an ideal means by which to keep these assets in New Zealand ownership, but would retain the profits instead of seeing them sent off-shore, worsening our Balance of Payments even further.

It would also fulfil the Super Fund’s  2009 directive from the Minister of Finance “requiring us to, while always investing in a prudent and commercial manner, identify and consider opportunities to increase the allocation to New Zealand assets in the Fund“.

Lastly, the Christchurch Council could eventually re-purchase the shares from the NZSF once the city’s re-build was essentially completed and it’s books were back to some semblance of normality.

The first option should always be that local strategic assets remain in local ownership, so that everyone in the community benefits.

In the face of intransigence from an ideologically-bound, and fiscally inept National Government, the best we can hope for is Plan B.

Plan B: transferring ownership, by temporary sale, to the New Zealand Super Fund. It ticks nearly all the boxes.

Additional – Christchurch City Asset Holdings

  • Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL) is the commercial/investment arm of the Christchurch City Council.
  • CCHL manages the Council (ratepayers’) investment – worth around $2.6 billion – in these seven fully or partly-owned council-controlled trading organisations.
  • CCHL is forecasting to paying $46 million in dividends for 2015/16 period.
  • CCHL Special dividend for 2015/16 period: $549,300,000
  • “The return on our CCHL investment from cash dividends has averaged 3 per cent in the last three years and 4 per cent in the last 10 years. When the appreciation in the capital value of its investments is taken into account, CCHL has achieved an internal rate of return over the past five years of 8.0per cent a year, or 25.9 per cent a year since its inception in 1996.” (Source)

Trading Organisations

Orion New Zealand Ltd: 89.3% shareholding

Christchurch International Airport Ltd: 75%

Lyttelton Port Company Ltd: 78.9%

Christchurch City Networks Ltd (trading as Enable Networks): 100%

Red Bus Ltd: 100%

City Care Ltd: 100%

Selwyn Plantation Board Ltd: 39.3%

[Acknowledgement Fairfax Media]

 

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References

National Party: Prime Minister’s Statement to Parliament

NZ Treasury: 2014 Budget Speech

NZ Treasury: Rebuilding Christchurch

NZ Treasury: Budget Priorities

Beehive.govt.nz: Budget will confirm track to surplus in 2014/15

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister prefers not to spend taxpayer cash to avoid Sky City ‘eyesore’; no money in Budget 2015 for it

Fairfax media: Christchurch door open for asset sales

TV3 News: Government accounts show $18.4 billion deficit

Scoop media: Parliamentary Questions And Answers Feb 9 2012

Green Party: Eugenie Sage questions the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery on Christchurch asset sales

NZ Herald:  Christchurch rebuild – Council needs to come to the party – PM

Fairfax media: Cameron Partners Review – full report

TV One News: Christchurch facing huge financial black hole

Sharechat.co.nz: Christchurch considers selling strategic assets stake to fund rebuild

The Press: Council asset sales mooted to help raise $900m

Scoop media: Brownlee says its up to Len to sell assets for loop

Radio NZ: Asset sales plan ‘may be too timid’

The Press:  Christchurch City Council votes for $750m asset sales

The Press: Gerry Brownlee says Christchurch rate rise as ‘too much’

Scoop media: TV1 Q+A – Govt will protect identities of NZ troops – Brownlee

NZ Super Fund: 2014 Annual Report

NZ Super Fund: 2009 Ministerial Directive

Statistics NZ: Balance of Payments and International Investment Position – December 2014 quarter

Christchurch City Council: Christchurch City Long Term Plan 2015 – 2025

Christchurch City Council: Council decision on proposed Financial Strategy

Additional

Christchurch City Council: Long Term Plan consultation document adopted

Previous related blogposts

Christchurch, choice, and charter schools

Christchurch – Picking the bones clean?

The “Free Market” is a fair-weather friend


 

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This blogpost was submitted to the Christchurch City Council as a submission to the Long Term Plan, on 22 March 2015.
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 March 2015.

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

1 November 2014 11 comments

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1949 state house in Taita

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

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Bill English comes clean on National’s intentions for HNZ privatisation

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On 14 October, in a report on The Daily Blog, I wrote,

In his story, TV3’s Brooke Sabin raised the question,

“So a big cull of state houses is about to get underway, but the crucial question is: Will all that money make its way back into social housing or will some be pocketed by the Government? The official response is that hasn’t been worked out yet.”

Yes, it has, Mr Sabin.

The money will indeed be “pocketed by the government”.

For no other reason than their re-election in 2017 depends on it.

The TV3 story reported that up to 22,000 homes worth an estimated $5 billion could be sold off. This would make it one of the biggest asset sales in recent history – when John Key himself promised an end to state asset sales in February this year.

It is also a time when 5,563 are on Housing NZ’s ever-growing waiting list.

Three days later, on 17 October, Brook Sabin’s question was answered in full, and my prediction (once again) proved to be correct. A quote from our esteemed Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English,

‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

Finance Minister Bill English says the proceeds from selling state houses are unlikely to be spent on new state houses and may go into the Consolidated Account.

“I mean, if we want less stock, there’s not much point in rebuilding stock with it” …

Hat-tip: Anthony Robins

Whilst National “made noises” about some  Housing NZ properties being sold, or transferred to social organisations early in the year, there were no pre-election policy announcements  remotely resembling those made public by Bill English two weeks after the election. (See: National’s pre-election policy: 2014)

This was a radical, unannounced, policy that has taken the country by surprise.

In the Herald, columnist Dita De Boni was scathing in her condemnation of Key’s heretofore secret plan to sell  state houses,

Those conditions gave the Labour Government – elected in 1935 – a mandate to make the provision of state housing a top priority. Then Minister of Housing Walter Nash told New Zealand it could not prosper or progress with a population that “lack[s] the conditions necessary for a ‘home’ and ‘home life’, in the best and fullest meaning of those words”. It was a popular sentiment at the time, but look how far we have since regressed. We again have children and their parents living in cars and sheds. We have thousands of homeless; old diseases and ingrained misery have returned as sections of the population struggle to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

And at this critical juncture in our history, our Government is looking, instead, to offload state housing. It is the absolute, ultimate irony: a public welfare system that bridges the gap left by market failure, that, when starved, denigrated and under-resourced, as it is now, can only, apparently, be saved by the market.

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The Government has tried to slip the sell-off of state housing under the radar: I guess they don’t want to be seen to be contradicting their pre-election promise not to sell any more state assets. They focus instead on “first home affordability” – a much more pressing concern for their supporters (as long as it does not affect their other supporters, who don’t want too much new housing to depress the capital value of their property).

[…]

It is hard to understand how reverting to the Victorian solution of seeing churches and social agencies haphazardly tackle this gaping social wound will work. They don’t have the resources, for one thing. They are also not plugged into the bigger picture – the social needs of the tenants, the transport and logistics needs of new housing and so forth, all things a clever, committed government can oversee. Not ours then, which is trying desperately to shift the immediate costs of social housing elsewhere, and the benefits to a crony cohort.

One method they’ve used is to seed the idea with the public that state housing is all let to gang members and chronic social misfits who trash their properties and refuse to move out. Of course, that does describe a percentage of state house tenants – or any tenants.

Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think that housing is one of the core concerns of Government, and that the provision of state housing – as well as its proper management and upkeep – is fundamental. It is astonishing that a Prime Minister who grew up in a state house, and has gained huge political advantage from being able to trumpet that fact, can’t see why it is wrong to pull up the ladder after him.

I encourage the reader to read Ms De Boni’s full piece. It is a savage indictment of John Key’s miserable agenda to get the State out of social housing.

New Zealanders should be under no illusion:  housing in this country is about to get a whole lot worse before it improves. We can expect to see more over-crowding;  entire families living in cars, under bridges;  the rise of  the first squatter camps since the Great Depression; more poverty; and more spreading disease.

Bill English has made it abundantly clear: this government will be selling state houses. It will not be “rebuilding stock” (houses).

This may not be what New Zealanders voted for on 20 September – but did 1,131,501 voters who ticked the box for National expect better?

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References – Part 3

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Radio NZ: PM rules out more asset sales

Fairfax media: Housing NZ waiting lists swamped

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up: Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

NZ Herald: Dita De Boni – State house poster boy callous to pull up ladder

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2014

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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)

Other blogs

The Jackal: More homelessness under National (30 July 2012)

The Standard: Unaffordable housing & the culture of greed

No Right Turn:  A surprise policy

Social Groups

Facebook: Affordable Housing For All

Facebook: Housing NZ Tenants Forum

Facebook: Tamaki Housing Group- Defend Glen Innes


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Irony of ironies, a National Party 1938 election poster

Irony of ironies, a National Party 1938 election poster

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 October 2014

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= fs =

Budget 2014 – What deceits lie in this document?

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Putting voters to sleep through the budget

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Looking through the on-line Budget document on Treasury’s website, I happened to notice something… peculiar.

The following page is entitled  Responsibly managing the Government’s finances and is part of Finance Minister Bill English’s summary. As such, it is a political document and not a Treasury report.

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1. Responsibly managing the Government's finances

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Note the five graphs on this page. Notice anything about them?

Any… inconsistencies?

Let me “lump” them together, so they can be better compared;

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1. Responsibly managing the Government's finances - graphs isolated

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Note the starting dates on each graph. They differ in nearly each case;

  1. 2012/13
  2. 2006/07
  3. 2009/2010
  4. 2004
  5. 2004

At first glance, there appears no reason for the difference start-dates of each graph.

That is, until you look at what each graph represents.

Graphs number 2, 4, and five show the previous Labour government in an unfavourable fiscal light.

#2: Shows “Core Crown Revenue” falling from 2006, and “Core Crown Expenses” rising from around the same time.

#4: Shows “Budget Operating Allowances” much higher under Labour – highlighted by the use of red and blue column lines – than National. The 2008 red-bar is erroneous.

#5: Shows “90 Day Interest Rates” higher under Labour than National – again highlighted by the use of red and blue graph lines.

Meanwhile, graphs 1 and 3 show National in a more positive position;

#1: Shows  “Total Crown operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL)” starting from 2012/13, and reducing. There is no prior context depicted for any previous years. The overall impression is a favourable one to the viewer.

#3: Shows “Net Core Crown Debt” rising from 2009; peaking at 2013/14; and dropping thereafter. Again, there is no prior context depicted for any previous years.

If we replace the mis-leading charts with more accurate representations, the picture is unsurprisingly different. A verticle red line on the right hand, accurate graph, pinpoints where Bill English’s graph (on the left) starts.

1. Total Crown operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL)

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Bill English's misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

Bill English’s misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

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The more accurate  version on the right gives a more complete picture of successive government’s Total Crown operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL), and put’s National’s record in context.

2. Core Crown revenue and expenses

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    Bill English's misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

Bill English’s misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

 

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The more accurate  version on the right gives a more complete picture of successive government’s Core Crown revenue and expenses, and put’s National’s record in context.

This next one is a personal favourite of mine, and National/ACT supporters hate it with a passion.

3. Net core Crown debt

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Bill English's misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

Bill English’s misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

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The more accurate version on the right gives a more complete picture of successive government’s Net core crown debt, and put’s National’s record in context. It also happens to highlight Labour’s track record in reducing the country’s sovereign debt – something that jars with Right Wing historical revisionism that attempts to depict Labour as an incompetent fiscal manager.

4. Budget operating allowances

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1. Responsibly managing the Government's finances - Budget operating allowances corrected version

Bill English’s misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

 

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Whilst English’s graph (on the left) has a start point in 2004, it is highly inaccurate. Note the red bar for 2008, showing Labour having a Budget operating allowance of around $7 billion. This is false. As the blue bar on the graph on the right shows, the Budget operating allowance for 2008 was just under $2.5 billion – one third of what English’s chart depicts.

Note: the chart on the right, with the blue bars is taken from Budget 2013 – Bill English’s own document from last year. The correct data (blue graph) is supported by a 2010  Treasury working-paper,  Fiscal Institutions in New Zealand and the Question of a Spending Cap.

Either the red bar for 2008 is an error – or a deliberate attempt to further portray the previous Labour government in a bad light. Considering that three out five graphs appear to have been selectively presented, the possibility that the 2008 red-bar was deliberately fudged cannot be excluded.

5. 90-day interest rates

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Bill English's misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

Bill English’s misleading version on left; More accurate version on right.

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English writes that “Future Budget allowances are set at sustainable levels… [graph inserted] ...which is helping to take pressure off interest rates“.

Actually, the reason that the OCR and 90 Day Rates are currently at a historic low has little to do with “future budget allowances“. The Reserve Bank does not set current OCR/90 Day Bill Rates against “futurebudget allowances.

Indeed, the RBNZ dropped the OCR to 2.5% in April 2009, the following year from recession hitting our economy.

There is next to no reason for English to have included the 90 Day Interest Rate in his Budget document, except to attempt to take credit for historically low interest rates that were the result of a global financial crisis and not because of any actions his government took in 2007/08.

Not unless he, John Key, and the rest of the National caucus were sitting in Board Rooms across Wall Street?

Not unless he, John Key, and the rest of the National Party were in government a full year before the 2008 general election?

And not unless Bill English also wants to also claim responsibility for high interest rates in the 1990s, when the National Party governed under the leadership of Jim Bolger, with finance ministers Ruth Richardson and Bill Birch? When interest rates peaked at over 15% in 1990 and were consistently high throughout the 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, this is one graph that did not find it’s way into Bill English’s 2014 Budget document;

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mortgage interest rates since 1990

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As for Budget 2014 – I suspect it is a document that will soon reveal more hidden surprises for us all.

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References

NZ Treasury: Budget 2014 – 1. Responsibly managing the Government’s finances

NZ Treasury: Operating Balance (2002-2011)

NZ Treasury: Core Crown revenue and expenses (2000-2014)

NZ Treasury: Net core Crown debt (2002-2012)

NZ Treasury: Operating Allowances

NZ Treasury: Fiscal Institutions in New Zealand and the Question of a Spending Cap

Reserve Bank NZ: 90-day rate

Reserve Bank NZ: Mortgage interest rates — since 1990

 


 

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Norm Kirk

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 May 2014.

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= fs =

Budget 2013: Student debt, politicians, and “social contracts”

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budget 2013 - education - tertiary education - student debt

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The problem of student debt – now at over $13 bllion – continues to be a thorn in the side of successive governments. Labour tinkered with it by cancelling interest whilst student were studying; National has taken a ‘stick’ to the problem  by threating to arrest so-called “loan defaulters” if they dare return to New Zealand.

If National’s aim was to force New Zealanders to stay overseas and never return, it’s a fantastically clever plan. No one in their right mind would come back to New Zealand if they faced a risk of arrest.

Even conservative media have jumped into the fray with this anonymously written editorial in today’s (20 May) Dominion Post,

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Dominion Post Editorial Loan defaulters break 'social contract'

Acknowledgment: Dominion Post – Editorial – Loan defaulters break ‘social contract’

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Part of the unattributed (are editorial writers so frightened of public back-lash?) editorial stated,

“After all, if the people concerned had a low income and found it genuinely hard to repay, they were free to argue the point and try to make a deal with the tax-gatherer. Others could easily repay their loans but simply ignored the Government’s inquiries.

Those who have refused to do anything now face the threat of the bailiffs and, if they persist, of arrest. It’s hard to know what else the Government could do. Those who refuse to respond are breaking the social contract.

Students, after all, do not pay the full cost of their tertiary education. Even with the loans, they are being subsidised by the taxpayer. In return for that aid, however, they must make a contribution themselves.”

Acknowledgment: IBID

This demanded a response to the anonymous author of that piece;

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from:     Frank M <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:     Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date:     Mon, May 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM
subject:     Letter to the editor

 

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The Editor
DOMINION POST

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In your editorial, “Loan defaulters break ‘social contract”you state, “Those who have refused to do anything now face the threat of the bailiffs and, if they persist, of arrest… Those who refuse to respond are breaking the social contract.” (20 May)

There is no such “social contract”.

The original social contract was for taxpayers to fund education; allow students to graduate without massive debt; get into good careers;  earn good salaries, and then pay it forward for the next generation to gain a free education.

That was the social contract.

And considering the numbers of politicians who got a free education in the 1970s and 1980s (John Key, Steven Joyce, Peter Dunne, Judith Collins, Bill English, Nick Smith, et al), it worked very nicely for them.

How much have they paid paid of their tertiary education?

Not one bean, I’ll wager.

Perhaps Key and English should set an example and make a “contribution” (plus interest for delayed payment) for the free tertiary education that was paid by taxpayers at the time.

It’s called leading by example.

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-Frank Macskasy

(address & phone number supplied)

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Previous Related Blogposts

Budget 2013: How NOT to deal with Student loan defaulters

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= fs =

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

24 February 2013 8 comments

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That was then…

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September 2011,

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura  - 9 sept 2011

Source

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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This is now…

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February, 2013…

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No more bonuses at Solid Energy - English

Source

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State miner to return to coalface

Source

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A year and a half  later, neither Dear Leader Key nor Little Leader Bill English seemed terribly keen to be associated with  any more  photo-ops with Don Elder.

In fact, the much vaunted sod-turning in September 2011, to build a brand-new $25 million  briquette plant at Mataura, was no longer quite so glamous. Despite probably still having Southland dirt on his shoes, both Bill English and John Key were at pains to distance themselves from Solid Energy’s highly publicised energy projects,

“Four or five years ago they set out on a big programme of expenditure on alternative energy, including researching into lignite down south to coal gasification and other research-based speculation, and that hasn’t turned out the way they thought.” – Bill English, 22 Feb 2013

“The second thing is that they made a number of investments which have proved not to be very valuable and the Government has been working on that process for the last couple of years.” John Key, 23 Feb 2013

It’s amazing how politicians seem to have this ability – verging on a preternatural super power – to distance themselves from something  they had only recently embraced and supported with whole-hearted gusto.

Interesting to note that as well as the $23.5 million in bonuses paid  over the past two years to 950 employees,  Solid Energy also paid out considerable dividends to the government;

 

30 June 2009 – $59.9 million (source)

30 June 2010 – $54 million (source)

30 June 2011 – $20 million (source)

30 June 2012 (paid at 30 Sept 2011) – $30 million (source)

Total: $163.9 million

Plus millions more paid in company tax.

With the data above, I have some questions;

  1. It seems remarkable that National only discovered a couple of days ago that Solid Energy’s financial position was not sound. What was Bill English doing last year?
  2. How could Solid Energy’s financial position go from a pre-tax profit of  $127.5 million (see: Solid Energy shines despite earthquakes) in August 2011 – to a massive $389 million debt this year? Did National gouge one of our cash-state-cows?
  3. With Solid Energy’s expansion projects (which Bill English must’ve known about, as he turned a sod of earth in Southland on 9 September 2011), were the dividends paid since 2009 realistic?
  4. With National’s track record of constantly shifting responsibility away from themselves, who are pointing the finger at? With all the highly paid Ministers, board members, and executives – will the office cleaner be held to account?
  5. Is the corporate model, with big salaries and bonuses paid to executives and an evident  lack of transparency, appropriate for state owned enterprises?
  6. Will workers be made to suffer job lossses and subsequent economic hardship, because of the actions of  Solid Energy’s executives and Crown Ministers? Why aren’t the workers offered the same ‘golden parachute’ that ex-CEO Don Elder most likely received?

No doubt neo-liberals will point to the failure of  ‘Solid Energy’ as proof-positive that governments cannot run state-owned businesses.

Not true.

This is proof positive that National (or other right wing) governments cannot run state-owned businesses.

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Acknowledgement

Tim Jones, Coal Action Network Aotearoa

Previous Blog Post

That was Then, This is Now #17

Other Blogs

Robert Guyton: Comments on Solid Energy

The Standard: Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy

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The betrayal of our young people

10 October 2012 11 comments

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In 2007…

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Today, in the suburb where I grew up, I want to talk about what I consider to be an important part of The Kiwi Way. I want to talk about opportunity, and hope, and how we can bring these to some of the most struggling families and communities in New Zealand.

Part of The Kiwi Way is a belief in opportunity and in giving people a fair go.

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

We want all kids to have a genuine opportunity to use their talents and to get rewarded for their efforts. That’s The Kiwi Way, and I believe in it. After all, I was one of the many kids who benefited from it

You might ask “where will the money come from?”

The fact is we are already spending millions of dollars for Wellington bureaucrats to write strategies and to dream up and run their own schemes. I want more of those dollars spent on programmes that work, regardless of who thinks them up and who runs them.”

John Key, 30 January 2007

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Unemployment rate December 2007:

77,000 (3.4%)

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In 2008…

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“The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.

  • We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.
  • We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.
  • We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.
  • We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.
  • We will be more careful with how we spend the cash in the public purse, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of government spending.
  • We will concentrate on equipping young New Zealanders with the education they need for a 21st century global economy.
  • We will reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy, and we will say goodbye to the blind ideology that locks the private sector out of too many parts of our economy.
  • And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect.  “

John Key, 29 January 2008

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In 2010…

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“90-Day Trial Period extended to all employers

The 90-day trial period is to be extended to enable all employers and new employees to have the chance to benefit from it, says Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson.

The extension is among planned changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 that Prime Minister John Key announced today in a speech to the National Party Conference.

“The Government is focused on growing a stronger economy and creating more jobs for New Zealand families.”

“There are a lot of people looking for work and the changes announced today will help boost employer confidence and encourage them to take on more staff….”

… “Trial periods were introduced to encourage employers to take on new staff and I’m pleased to see this is occurring”.”

Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Labour, 18 July, 2010

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In 2012…

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Household Labour Force Survey: June 2012 quarter

Unemployment: 162,000 (6.8%)

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“New youth pay rates kicking in

The Government will re-introduce a a youth pay rate which will see 16-to-19-year-olds making a minimum $10.80 per hour.

The new pay rate, to be called the ‘starting-out wage’, will not be compulsory but 40,000 teens will be eligible.

It will kicks in on April 1 next year and the Government estimates it will create up to 2000 youth jobs in the first two years.

The starting-out wage will be set at 80 per cent of the adult minimum wage, which is currently $13.50 per hour.

It will apply for six months after starting with a new employer. The move was National Party policy ahead of the election last November.”

Dominion Post, 9 Oct 2012

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The above facts and stats tell a grim story.

The prologue to this story are the high expectations which John Key presented to the people of New Zealand in 2007 and 2008.

In 2007, Key spoke of  “opportunity, and hope, and how we can bring these to some of the most struggling families and communities in New Zealand “.

In 2008, Key pledged that  “we will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.

Four years later;

National’s latest ‘offering’? To cut the minimum wage for 16 to 19 year olds.

The logic of this policy – planned to start on 1 April 2013 – defies comprehension. In fact, the only way it can be understood is that National is utterly desperate.

New employment figures are due out on 4 November from Statistics NZ, and this blogger predicts that unemployment will rise from 6.8% (currently) to 6.9% or even 7%.

Quite simply, none of National’s policies have worked.

Even Key’s promise to raise wages has been an abject failure, sending thousands of kiwis to Australia and further afield, in search of jobs.

National’s plan to cut the wages of young New Zealanders is similar to their cynical ploy to depict welfare beneficiaries as lazy, drug-users, criminals, etc.

Instead, they are targetting 16 and 17 year olds – who have no vote – and have no voice in Parliament.

And they are targetting 18 and 19 year olds – who are adult enough to drink, get married, and go to fight in wars overseas – but will not be paid an adult’s wage.

National claims that the new youth rates will create 2,000 new jobs. Aside from mocking this figure as a gigantic step down from the 170,000 “new jobs” promised last year – it is more likely that those 2,000 jobs will simply displace older workers.

In doing so, the employment of young people on lower pay will simply mean,

  1. Less money spent by young people on services and consumer goods,
  2. Young people unable to support themselves fully
  3. A new motivation to send more New Zealanders overseas
  4. New Zealand becoming a low wage economy of the South Pacific

How can a young New Zealander survive on $432 a week – less tax?!

It wasn’t too long ago that Bill English admitted on TVNZ’s Q+A, on 6 November 2011,  that it was almost impossible to live on the full minimum wage ($13.50/hr),

GUYON:  Okay, can we move backwards in people’s working lives from retirement to work and to wages?  Mr English, is $13 an hour enough to live on? 

BILL:  People can live on that for a short time, and that’s why it’s important that they have a sense of opportunity.  It’s like being on a benefit.

GUYON:  What do you mean for a short time?

BILL:  Well, a long time on the minimum wage is pretty damn tough, although our families get Working for Families and guaranteed family income, so families are in a reasonable position.Source

If it’s “ pretty damn tough ” to live on $13 or $13.50 an hour – what on Earth must it be like to try to survive on $10.80 per hour?

And how does our smile & wave (and forgetful) Dear Leader reconcile slashing the minimum wage by his promises to raise wages?

Specifically, these promises,

“We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008

We want to make New Zealand an attractive place for our children and grandchildren to live – including those who are currently living in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere. To stem that flow so we must ensure Kiwis can receive competitive after-tax wages in New Zealand.”  – John Key, 6 September 2008

“We will also continue our work to increase the incomes New Zealanders earn. That is a fundamental objective of our plan to build a stronger economy.” – John Key, 8 February 2011

The driving goal of my Government is to build a more competitive and internationally-focused economy with less debt, more jobs and higher incomes.” – John Key, 21 December 2011

By now, more and more New Zealanders are waking up to one simple reality; National cannot lead this country to prosperity or anything remotely resembling it. Their policies for growth seem predicated on,

  • cutting wages
  • asset sales
  • bullying and demonising beneficiaries
  • planning dangerous and unsound deep-sea drilling of the East Coast of the Nth Island
  • mining in conservation lands

It is the height of desperation and bloody-mindedness that National’s major policy of job-creation relies on cutting wages as some kind of “bribe” for employers.

It is the depth of stupidity that will see young people on $10.80 displacing older workers, as employers cut costs in order to maximise their profits – especially as consumer spending is dropping. (See: Electronic card spending drops in September)

It is this sense of sheer miserly selfishness that resulted in,

  • tax cuts in 2009 and 2010 which benefitted the richest in this country
  • abolishing tax credits for children, so they were now taxed on their megre earnings from jobs such as paper-delivery

Is this, then, an act of desperation from John Key and his inept “government”?

You better believe it is. And things are about to get a whole lot worse as National turns this country into a low-wage economy, making us the ‘Mexico’ of the South Pacific.

My message to New Zealand is two-fold;

1.

Voters: if you want more of this incompetant government that takes money from our young people, whilst cutting taxes for the richest  – vote National.

For those foolish people who vote National: enjoy your life here in New Zealand. Do not follow us to Australia.

2.

Labour Party: pull your finger out. It is high time you started firing on all cylinders and presented this country with an alternative vision and road.

Now’s good.

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Additional

Radio NZ: Listen to report on Checkpoint

Radio NZ: Listen to Checkpoint interview with Phil O’Reilly (Business NZ)

Radio NZ: Listen to Peter Conway on Checkpoint (CTU)

Radio NZ: New teenage workers’ pay rate set

Fairfax media: New youth pay rates kicking in

Fairfax media: Division over ‘starter’ wage

Other Blogs

The Jackal: National determined to increase exodus

No Right Turn: The return of youth rates

 

 

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= fs =

Authors of our own mis-fortune?

20 February 2012 5 comments

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“Those who would actively choose to drive New Zealand into further debt to pay for tax cuts lack real ambition for our economy.”Finance Minister Michael Cullen, 7 March 2008

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“…in 2005 we promised tax cuts which ranged from about $10 to $92 a week, roughly $45 a week for someone on $50,000 a year. I described it as a credible programme of personal tax cuts and I’m committed to a credible programme of personal tax cuts. I believe that an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts that delivers the sort of magnitude that we’ve had in the past is potentially possible.”John Key, Leader of the Opposition, 20 May 2008

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“National will fast track a second round of tax cuts and is likely to increase borrowing to pay for some of its spending promises.” –  John Key, Leader of the Opposition,  2 August 2008

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“Our tax policy is therefore one of responsible reform…  We have ensured that our package  is appropriate for the current economic and fiscal conditions… This makes it absolutely clear that to fund National’s tax package there is no requirement for additional borrowing and there is no requirement to cut public services… National’s rebalancing of the tax system is self-funding and requires no cuts to public services or additional borrowing.”John Key, Leader of the Opposition, 20 October 2008

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“Taxpayers do not want further tax cuts if they mean more government borrowing, a new survey shows. The survey comes as social welfare campaigners say tax cuts failed to help those most in need. The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development survey found that while most people wanted tax cuts planned for 2010 and 2011, they did not want them if it meant further borrowing… The survey found most people would spend the tax cuts on living expenses, while others looked to credit-card debt and mortgage payments. “New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, 11 April 2009

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In 2008, National campaigned on promises of tax cuts knowing full well this country could not afford them. By November 2008, as New Zealand went to the polls, the international global banking crisis was in full swing, and recession was beginning to hit nearly every single nation on Earth (Australia and China were the lucky exceptions).

By March 2008, the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corp had identified 76 American banks as “in trouble”.

By July 2008, US financial giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in trouble – and by September, both corporations were placed into a form of receivership.

A week later, and Lehmann Bros – one of the largest financial institutions in the US filed for bankruptcy. On the same day, the Russian stock market was forced to close, as shares plunged by up to 20% in a day.

On 26 September 2008, it was officially declared that New Zealand was in full recession.

(See full Time here.)

Against this backdrop, National proceeded with it’s election promises of tax cuts. As unfolding events would show, they were irresponsible promises – and carrying them out in April 2009 and October 2010 was even more reckless,

“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.”NZ Herald, 6 October 2008

Fast-forward four years, and we are now having to pay for those taxcuts – which were funded by borrowing other peoples’ savings from offshore banks,

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Source

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Full Story

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Full Story

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It is obvious to all but the most blinkered National/ACT supporter that our debt is growing because we have a shortfall of revenue, caused by this government’s ill-conceived tax-cuts. That shortfall is in the order of $1.4 billion.

A business columnist for the NZ Herald wrote,

“Just how much became apparent yesterday with the $1.4 billion drop in forecast tax revenue for this financial year.

The overall upshot is the Government’s cash deficit has blown out from $13.3 billion to $15.6 billion this year taking into account the unexpected expenditure and the drop in forecast tax revenue.”Fran O’Sullivan, 15 December 2010

CTU President, , Helen Kelly wrote,

“The unsuccessful tax switch (we called it a “tax swindle” at the time) last year was not fiscally neutral as was claimed. There is a $1.4b revenue hole. It wasn’t a fair switch. The gap in take- home pay between someone on $30,000 and someone on $150,000 a year grew by $135 a week as a result of tax cuts made by this Government.”Helen Kelly, 23 May 2011

And ex ACT MP, Muriel Newman said,

If we look back at the state of the books just before the last election, the impact on the country of the recession and the earthquakes become more evident. Crown revenue today is $1.4 billion lower than three years ago and Crown expenses $2.2 billion higher.Muriel Newman, 14 November 2011

Interestingly, Ms Newman blames the  blow-out in  government debt on “the recession and the earthquakes” – but makes no reference to the ’09 and ’10 tax cuts. In fact, she pours petrol on a bon-fire by saying that “ACT would lower the top rate of income tax to 25% and the company tax to 12.5%“.

One can imagine what that would do to the government deficit! (But then again, ACT would sell every single state-owned enterprise and scrap most welfare, to fund their deep tax cuts.  A society governed under ACT policies would be utterly alien to anything most New Zealanders could have dreamed of. I suspect Australia’s population would rise by four million, practically overnight.)

And, spelling it out in even simpler terms, the PSA’s analysis of the figures,

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“Tax Cuts Widen the Gap Between Rich and Poor

  • Government chose to make tax cuts in worst recession in 70 years
  • Total tax cuts worth $5.5 billion
  • Top 10% income earners got tax cuts worth $2.5 billion
  • GST increased to 15% – hurts low and middle income most
  • Tax cuts + GST left $1.4 billion hole in budget

Since 2008, National has introduced tax cuts that cost New Zealand around $5.5 billion a year in lost revenue. Most of the benefit has gone to the wealthiest.

National’s first set of tax cuts – the personal tax cuts and ‘Independent earner rebate’ taking effect in April 2009 – cost approximately $1 billion a year.

The second set of cuts – cutting the top income tax rate from 38% to 33%, and the company rate to 28% – will cost $4.5 billion a year, according to figures from the 2010 Budget. That gives a total of $5.5 billion.

National claimed that because it was also increasing GST, the tax changes would be “revenue neutral” – that is, the increase in GST would cancel out the income tax cuts. In fact, the losses from the income tax cut will outweigh the gains from GST by $1.4 billion. In other words, the so-called “tax switch” has blown a $1.4 billion hole in the budget.

The tax cuts have also made New Zealand a less fair place. According to Labour, the wealthiest 10% of New Zealanders will get 43% of the tax savings. And the gap in take-home pay between someone on $30,000 and someone on $150,000 a year grew by $135 a week as a result of the tax cuts.

New Zealand’s income tax rates are among the lowest in the OECD, as the Tax Working Group acknowledged.

In Australia , for example, income over $80,000 is taxed at 37%, and income over $180,000 is taxed at 45%.

Figures from the OECD itself show that, before National’s tax cuts, New Zealand’s “all in” top income tax rate – a measure that includes all taxes on income, including local and regional ones – was 38%. In contrast, the all in top income tax rate in Australia was 47%, and in most countries it was higher still.”PSA.org.nz

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This blog can confirm the PSA’s statement that “figures from the OECD itself show that, before National’s tax cuts, New Zealand’s “all in” top income tax rate – a measure that includes all taxes on income, including local and regional ones – was 38%“.

Why did they do it? Why did National make a $1.4 billion committment it knew we could ill-afford?

Answer:

  1. Because they could.
  2. Because they wanted to be the government. Badly. And nothing quite wins votes like promises of tax cuts (even unaffordable ones).
  3. Because they probably had no idea how bad the recession would be? Rubbish. Of course they knew: John Key’s background was in international finance. He knew precisely how bad the Recession was – and how bad it was likely to get in Europe.

The question is: why did we, the voters, do it? Why did 1,053,398 New Zealanders cast their vote for National in 2008? Why did we vote for tax-cuts – something we knew was unaffordable?

Whatever the reason, we are having to pay for those tax-cuts – or rather, the $1.4 billion in revenue short-fall that we now have to borrow from overseas.  In doing so, as this government continues to post budget deficits, it continues to cut back on services; raise government charges; and sack those state workers who have spent many years of their lives doing all the things we expect done for us in education, health, defence force, border control, conservation, etc.

It is inevitable that, unless New Zealand wins the international equivalent of Lotto, this government (or it’s successor, sometime in the next three years) will have to raise taxes again. Or, steal a page from Gareth Morgan’s book and implement a new, Land/Wealth tax. There is no other way to pay of our debt and pay for Christchurch’s re-build.

Something for all New Zealanders to ponder, next time National (or any other Party) promises us a tax cut, in return for our votes.

In the mean time, Bill English signed a document last year called a “PREFU” – Pre Election Economic & Fiscal Update,

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This document is now worthless. It may have only one use left.

And finally, will Finance Minister Bill English accept “overall  responsibility for the integrity of the disclosures within the Update“?

Does any politician ever accept responsibility for anything?

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