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They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part tahi)

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no-tppa

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The New Zealand government is negotiating an international agreement that could have a huge effect on the lives of ordinary kiwis. It’s called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), and it involves eleven Asian and Pacific-rim countries, including the United States. If it goes ahead, we risk damage to our innovative economy, our pristine environment, our health, and the ability to shape our own future.

Because the negotiations are being conducted in secret, what we know about the TPPA comes from leaked documents and detective work. We live in a democracy, which means we have the right to know what is done in our name and to have a say. “ –  It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

Wellington, NZ, 29 March 2014 – Over 300 people gathered on a sunny, breezy day in downtown Wellington’s Cuba Mall, as party of a nation-wide protest against the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA);

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James Nokise, Comedian/Performer, MC’d the event, and spoke with just the right ‘mix’ of humour and  seriousness to the people;

 

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James Nokise - Comedian - Performer

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Though an  estimated 300 people attended the protest,  at times there seemed far more, as Cuba Mall was packed;

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The TPPA is currently being negotiated in secret, a point of fact which many find anti-democratic; threatening; and just plain unfair;

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Others understand the reality that the TPPA is not concerned with our welfare – but of the welfare of corporates to do as they wish, with minimal democratic oversight;

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Tom Rippon, Vice President for New Zealand Actors Equity, addressed the people and  had this to say on implications for the TPPA;

“Some of you may be aware that New Zealand gave up nearly all of its ability to regulate local content on our televisions in 1994. Under the General Agreement for Terms and Trade, or GATT for short, Jim Bolger’s National government, promised unlimited market access to any foreign broadcast service and their products if they were a signatory to the The World Trade Organization. In other words any moves to introduce regulation for local content including a compulsory television quota, similar to those seen in most if not all western countries, would breach our WTO obligations.

Subsequently, when Helen Clark’s government sought to introduce ways to support the production of local content they were completely hamstrung by this agreement and were rendered powerless to turn back the clock.

I should note here that the government did make one reservation relating to Maori broadcasting. And we’re very glad they did, or we wouldn’t have the successful and culturally vital Maori Television Service — which to this day continues to screen the highest proportion of locally produced content compared to all the other broadcasters.

In 2011, New Zealand content accounted for a measly 31% of all programming from 6am to midnight. This compares to a much healthier 60% in Europe and 55% in Australia. New Zealand performers are the living embodiment of our culture. Every time we step in front of the camera, every time we perform, we tell a story articulating our nation’s hopes, dreams and experiences. This ability to speak to one another with our own voice must be maintained into the future.

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the GATT agreement on steroids. A corporate power grab on a scale never before seen in human history. This treaty is so repugnant that if a full text of the negotiations were released to the public tomorrow it would cease to exist by the end of the week because anyone with a brain and a gag reflex would reject it outright and the politicians involved in the negotiations, in our case John Key and his Trade Minister Tim Groser, would be forced to pull out due to overwhelming public pressure and condemnation.

Let’s not forget, this is an election year. As performers we have been stymied and constrained for two decades but this is where we draw the line, for the sake of our future generations our government must ensure that our culture is protected and reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And you must let them know that if they don’t, come Sept. they will pay the price and together we will vote them out.”

(For full text of his speech, please click here.)

In case Dear Leader believes that the hundreds who turned up on Saturday afternoon were “professional protesters”, the abundance of home-made signs indicated otherwise. These were ordinary Wellingtonians turning up, to show their opposition to the TPPA;

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Young and old, all cultures and races, and the ubiquitous Every Man and his dog;

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Some of the many signs expressing peoples’ views;

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Bolivian  Indigenous Rights activist,  Mayra Gomez, addressed the people, telling them how so-called “free” trade agreements had opened countries up to lawsuits by corporations. Ms Gomez said that the  the TPPA  would likewise allow foreign corporations to sue New Zealand for perceived “loss of profits;

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Ms Gomez gave three examples of how corporations had used “free” trade agreements to sue sovereign governments.

In her first example, she cited the case of  US-based Occidental Petroleum winning a US2.4 billion lawsuit against Ecuador, at a World Bank Court, under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, when the Ecuadorian government terminated its contract with Occidental citing breaches of licensing conditions and   environmental concerns.

In a second and even more bizarre example,   RENCO Group sued  Peru for $800 million because the Peruvian government had ordered the corporation to clean up lead pollution which had severely affected the children of La Oroya –  one of ten most polluted places on earth, according to Friends of Earth. RENCO used the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement to undertake it’s lawsuit.

And lastly, Ms Gomez revealed how US-based company, Lone Pine Resources, sought $250 million in “damages”,  claiming that  Canada had violated its North  America Free Trade Agreement committments – because it had imposed a moratorium on fracking in 2012, to conduct  environmental-impact assessments on the impacts of leached fracking chemicals and gases.

Ms Gomez concluded with a short, simple statement that drew heavy applause from the people;

“Until self-determination of indigenous people is not respected, there will not be sustainable goals achieved! Genuine sustainable goals! Lastly we call on the repeal of all existing agreements; a moratorium on all new agreements!”

Interesting to note that none of the problems caused by free trade agreements have ever been reported by any mainstream media in this country. It is up to overseas new media, bloggers, etc, and special interest groups to report on these events.

Because of the mainstream media “blackout” on these stories, very few New Zealanders are aware of what has happened in Ecuador, Peru, and even Canada – a fellow First World, Commonwealth state. Had these issues been properly reported, most New Zealanders would be horrified at the prospect of joining yet another free trade agreement that could leave us exposed to corporate lawsuits in offshore, secret tribunals.

The trivialisation of the media is so complete, that it is utterly derelict in it’s duty to report on issues that will have far-ranging consequences for all New Zealanders, for the foreseeable future.

As an example of media laziness, I refer the reader to this screenshot of NewstalkZB reporting on the nationwide protests;

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newstalkzb article - thousands march against tppa

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As the reader will notice, NewstalkZB could not even bring itself to post a photo of any of the actual protests, from any of the cities. Instead, it used a stock footage image of police, lined up against a building, from a totally unrelated event.

Ms Gomez was followed by  Victoria University economist, Geoff Bertram;

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“Following up the placard that’s to my right, that says “TPPA is not free trade”. Economists have put a lot of effort and time over the last century, into making the case that free trade can be a good idea from which all can benefit. And ndeed, any of you can go down and buy a flat screen tv and computer down at Tory Street will be familiar with the benefits you can get from free trade. But this deal is not about that. It’s being sold with two terms that you should not be taken in by. One is free trade. The other one is partnership. This is not really about partnership. It’s not really about free trade.

The sort things that are central to the so-called trade trade part of the agenda are in the area of non-tariff barriers. That is to say, restrictions on the ability of certain companies or agents to gain access to markets on terms thatr are favourable to them. So things like copyright,intellectual property, regulatory arrangements, and so on are central to negotiations agenda and it’s important to note that economic theory does not give the sort sort of support for removing non-tariff barriers.”

Geoff  explained about the “partnership” aspects of the TPPA,

“… About partnerships. Partnerships can come in various forms… in actual fact partnerships can also be extremely unequal and exploitative. And this one is not an equal partnership. This one is part of a geo-political project which has in the Pacific has the United States aghainst China, in a contest over influence and power and economic control across a wide area of the world. And New Zealand is stuck in the middle of this conflict because China is our biggest trading partner [and] the United States is a very major part-player in both our history and current economy and politics.”

Geoff Bertram pointed out a story in the Dominion Post where the United States was seeking to extend it’s influence by offering to help the European Union reduce it’s dependence  on Russian gas supplies by selling them gas instead. He said the US would first demand that Europe sign a Trans Atlantic partnership agreement. The Europeans, he said, “were  particularly anxious about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement arrangements” in the Partnership Agreement. Germany had refused to participate. There was strong resistance in Europe to signing the agreement.

Geoff said that the US pressuring of the Europe Union to join the partnership agreement “is what you’re looking at there is the exercise of power – it’s not the working out of economic theory, it’s the exercise of power“.  He read out a statement from President Obama, from a recent media story, that he said explained precisely was “free” trade agreements were all about,

“Once we have a trade agreement in place, export licenses for projects — for liquefied natural gas destined to Europe — would be much easier, something that’s obviously relevant in today’s geopolitical climate.”

He warned that power was “asymmetric in the modern world” and that New Zealand stood to be primarily on the losing side of any “power exercising that comes into play”. He further warned that we should be “very careful about stories” that the TPPA was supposedly about free trade.

His speech was simple, easy to understand by those of us who are not trained in the esoteric “arts” of economics, and had a ring of truth to it. He was warmly received by those listening.

As the afternoon progressed, numbers swelled, as more people arrived to join in with the protest and listen to speakers;

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Men and women, maori and pakeha, standing together in solidarity, on an issue that will affect us for generations to come;

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These are the faces of ‘ordinary’ (maybe not-so-ordinary – actually extraordinary!) New Zealanders who are concerned at the secrecy of the TPPA and the negative impact it will have on our sovereignty, as  New Zealand opens itself up to the threat of multi-billion dollar lawsuits by trans-national corporations;

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Eileen Brown, Policy and Programme Organiser from the CTU (Council of Trade Unions) spoke to the people;

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“The Trans Pacific Partnership contains threats to our health system; to our public services; to public enterprises; and our ability to use government purchasing to develop our economy and to our improve environment; the working conditions of New Zealanders, and our right to make laws and regulations that are in the interests of most New Zealanders.

…This agreement could have governments preventing employers to meet conditions such as paying a living wage. It could prevent governments requiring suppliers  to meet health and safety conditions that are currently being developed to improve our apalling health and safety statistics in New Zealand workplaces.

Each of these is a major concern.

So, to, is the absence of consultation. The secrecy in which negotiations are being held, and the fact that it is being adopted by governments without full public examination and opportunity for comment.

But perhaps the greatest threat and the greatest concern in the long run is what this represents. This kind of agreement increases the power of international  corporations and it reduces the power of elected governments and it’s citizens to resist corporate demands. It fails to learn the lessons of the Global Financial Crisis which demonstrated the enormous damage that irresponsible corporations can do to the world economy.”

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This was an issue that cut across generations;

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Many faces, one message;

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The Nurses Organisation was represented at the protest, and was at the fore-front when the march to Parliament began;

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To be concluded: They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part rua)

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References

Fairfax media: Hundreds join TPPA protest in capital

It’s Our Future:  What is the TPPA

Scoop media: Gordon Campbell on the leaks about the Trans Pacific Partnership

South Centre: When Foreign Investors Sue the State

Friends of the Earth: Pay the polluter $800 million! Trade deal injustice for the children of La Oroya

Friends Committee on National Legislation: Exposing Biggest Trade Deal in U.S. History

NewstalkZB: Thousands march against TPPA

ABC News: Obama Highlights Need for US-EU Energy Cooperation

Support groups

Facebook: It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

Facebook: Aotearoa is Not for Sale

Copyright

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

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

Acknowledgement

This blogger wishes to thank Mana Party organisor, Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati, for kindly lending me her camera. Mine finally gave up the mechanical ghost and I would not have been able to complete this blogpost without her timely assistance. I am deeply appreciative of her kindness and trust.

– Frank Macskasy

 

 

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Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 April 2014.

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Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters…

A radio talkback host finally discovers her audience?

On 17 February, NZ Herald columnist, Kerre Woodham, wrote about NZ First MP Richard Prosser and his tedious racist ranting in a little-known, trashy, magazine called “Investigate”,

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Bigotry lurks below surface

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald – Bigotry lurks below surface

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Investigate” is a right wing/”Christian”/pro-gun/climate-change-denying/anti-Labour rag that goes where no intellgent media cares to go. In short, a perfect vehicle for the likes of the Richard Prossers of the world.

Woodham, a talkback radio host on Newstalk ZB, expressed her views forthrightly on her nightly talkback slot. To her surprise and mine, she wrote,

But the first three or four callers out of the blocks all thought Prosser had a point and came up with the same sort of ignorant generalisations. All male Muslims marry 10-year-old girls. They all wish the West harm. They stone women to death. They. They.

Source – IBID

As if all 1.6 billion people have exactly the same beliefs, values and attitudes.

It was incredible. I had no idea people really thought like that – yet they walk among us.”

Really, Kerre?

I’m somewhat surprised that she has only just discovered the feral nature of so many talkback callers?! The fact that anonymity protects these callers only emboldens their unsophisticated, bigoted worldview.

Once upon a time, bigots would express their rants only in smoke-filled tearooms up and down the country’s factories or the old-style booze-barns, where alcohol disconnected their last remaining brain-cells, whilst at the same time lubricating their tongues into uncontrolled warp-drive.

Not any more. Since commercial radio hit our shores, bigots have been provided with a ready-made podium that reaches across the country, and in their mad rantings, validate each others’ crazy beliefs. Much like Fox has it’s own viewers in the US.

So it kind of staggers me that she’s only just realised this? Extraordinary.

One can only assume that Kerre mentally ‘zoned out’ (as I do when ads are on television) during her caller’s rants, and only returns her attention when they stop to draw breath. Or their caregivers are urging them to take their meds.

Worse still, even some radio hosts contribute to this swirling sewer of prejudice. I think we all know who I’m referring to.

Regarding Prosser. He’s a distraction.

And I really can’t be arsed writing any more about him any further.

Radio NZ – How helpful is the NBR really trying to be?

The National Business Review (NBR) published a piece on alternative funding, written by Peter Griffin on our last remaining non-commercial public broadcaster, Radio NZ (see: The NPR model and what may be in store for Radio NZ).

Martyn Bradbury has dissected and deconstructed most of the Griffin’s op-ed here: Why the NBR are wrong about Radio NZ.

Essentially, Peter Griffin’s piece boils down to shifting funding from the State, to private donations – a form of quasi-privatisation. It is typical neo-liberal, Libertarian bullshit to further “remove the State from our lives”. (Ignoring the fact that many/most of us actualy like having the State providing certain services.)

It also means further reductions in government spending, thereby allowing for more tax-cuts.

That’s what it usually always boils down to; tax cuts. More money for the One Percenters, and for Middle Class aspirationists (aka, The Terminally Deluded).

It’s a money thing for people like Griffin and other Friedmanite Fellow-travellers.

It’s hardly ever a value thing.

Oscar Wilde once said, “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That observation describes neo-liberals to perfection.

The NBR article reports that Radio NZ has an annual budget of $31,816,000. Which, by the way, has not changed since 2009.

That’s $7.24 (approx) for every man, woman, and child in this country. Per year. Or 14 cents a week, per person.

Well, bugger me. 14 cents a week, per each New Zealander?!

It occurs to me that for 14 cents a week, we’re getting a pretty damned good service for our money.

Could I really, really, really be radical, and suggest… pauses… that we raise it to… pauses 20 cents a week?!

Jeez, most of us probably have that stuck down the backs of our sofas!

If 14 cents a week is what troubles Mr Griffin, then I seriously question his priorities. In fact, if I sent Mr Griffin a cheque, for 14 cents, every week, I doubt he’d take the time and effort to go down to the bank and deposit them into his account. But who knows – maybe he needs the cash? Especially since he’s currently on some junket study in the “US on a Fulbright-Harkness Fellowship to study innovation in media”.

I suspect “innovation in media” is a crude code for further commercialisation and lessensing of state involvement in media matters.

What is deeply troubling is that National has a not-so-secret agenda to commercialise Radio NZ.

Radio NZ has the biggest viewing audience in the country. But it doesn’t feature in radio ratings because it has no advertising and thus no revenue. Commercially-speaking, it is ‘invisible’.

The barbarians at the gate, National, want to change this. They want Radio NZ monetised, mongrelised, and earning bucks so the Nats can balance their books and probably cut taxes again and again and… (See previous blogpost: NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly.)

In return we get a dumbed down State radio. Like TVNZ. Imagine ‘Seven Sharp’ on Radio NZ, instead of ‘Checkpoint’. The rumbling you just heard was my stomach turning.

Which is why Peter Cavanagh is being “encouraged to move on” at the end of this year.

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Radio NZ on the hunt for next chief executive

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald – Radio NZ on the hunt for next chief executive

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Make no mistake. This is the current agenda.

As Jonathan Coleman revealed in 2010,

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman says he has not threatened Radio New Zealand board members with removal, but has made his expectations for their performance clear.

Documents released under the Official Information Act to One News show that Dr Coleman has told Radio NZ not to expect any new funding for the foreseeable future.

Radio NZ costs about $38 million a year to run, but the Government is demanding a shake-up to counter rising costs.

In meeting notes from last November, Dr Coleman was advised that replacing the board was an option if they could not find a solution.

“A defensive approach to wait out for the next year or two in the expectation that it will again be business as usual is not an option.

“Members of boards who are not able or prepared to meet these expectations might need to move on or be replaced by members who can.”

Dr Coleman wrote to board chairwoman Christine Grice at the start of the month asking for a list of the options being considered.

“We have to be prepared for an environment where there may be no new funding available for a number of years,” the letter said.

“This may require a change of mindset on the part of the board and senior management, one that embraces open-minded consideration of alternative revenue models, as well as a thorough examination of options for reconfiguring services.”

This morning, Mr Coleman told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme board members were aware they had no option but to deliver cost-saving measures like other Government-funded organisations.

“What I have said to the chair (Christine Grice) is that there is a significant challenge here and I do need reassurance that you feel you have the right personnel on the board, and that you personally are up for the challenge,” he said.

That challenge involved looking at all operational options including staffing numbers, sponsorship arrangements and studio budgets. (Source: NZHerald.co.nz.)

And thus, the National Business Review’s funding suggestions are indeed helpful – to their neo-liberal masters.

The attack on Radio NZ – our last public, non-commercial broadcaster – takes on new and disturbing dimension. It takes Dumber and Dumber to it’s final conclusion.

An Open Message To a New Incoming Government

This has to end.

No, I don’t mean outlawing National (tempting… tempting…) as an anti-social gang. I mean that it is time that a new centre-left government took measures to protect the assets that we, as a nation and people, have built up over the years and decades.

National governments come and go every three years – but the damage they do to our state assets and services can have on-going, lasting effects that lock-in negative consequences, for the foreseeable future.

As Geoff Bertram stated on 13 February, when he addressed an anti-asset sales rally in Wellington;

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Geoff Betram

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“Here’s the problem. Electricity was once an essential service provided to households at the lowest price, consistent with covering the industry’s costs.

Since 1986 the sector has been corporatised and part-privatised, and it’s pricing has been driven by the quest for profit by giant companies that have the market power to gouge their consumers.

As the owner of three of those companies, the New Zealand government has therefore become a predator. And now the Treasury wants to cash in on that rort by selling out half the government’s stake.

What that means in terms of the options for the future, for government to turn around and come back from the predator model, and return to a social service approach for energy supply, is being closed off.” (See previous blogpost: Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua))

If neo-liberal governments can take action to close off future policy changes which could potentially return State services to “a social service approach” – then surely it is not beyond the wit and means of centre-left governments to do likewise. But in the opposite direction.

It is incumbent on the next centre-left government that it must look at ways and means to entrench and protect our state assets. Whether those assets be roads, hospitals, an airline, power companies – or a non-commercial broadcaster – it is time that the potential for market-based “reforms” is closed off – once and for all.

Is it possible to entrench legislation?

Yes, it is.

I. Entrenchment

Section 268, sub-section 2, of the Electoral Act 1993, states, in part,

2) No reserved provision shall be repealed or amended unless the proposal for the amendment or repeal—

(a) is passed by a majority of 75% of all the members of the House of Representatives; or

(b) has been carried by a majority of the valid votes cast at a poll of the electors of the General and Maori electoral districts…

If the Parliamentary term can be entrenched for three years, requiring either “a majority of 75% of all the members of the House of Representatives… or… by a majority of the valid votes cast at a poll” – then surely we can use the same mechanism to lock-in and safe-guard public ownership of our remaining state assets.

That should include Radio NZ and an accompanying legal charter guaranteeing its funding and non-commercial structure.

II. Funding

How does one protect and guarantee funding for a particularly vulnerable entity such as Radio NZ?

There is one mechanism already in place, and which has been operating at arms-length from success governments since 1977; the Remuneration Authority (see: State Services Commission – Remunerations Authority).

The Authority’s role, as outlined on the SSC website,

The Authority

Under the Remuneration Authority Act 1977, the Remuneration Authority is responsible for annually considering and determining the remuneration and allowances of Members of Parliament and the Judiciary, as well as specified statutory officers and members of local authorities and community boards. The Authority also determines the fees for the appointees to Independent Crown Entity boards. The Authority is made up of a Chair and two members; all of whom are part time. The Authority is supported by an executive officer.

We have the tools, we can re-build it…

It should be a simple matter to amend legislation to insert the following,

The Authority also determines the fees for the appointees, and operating-budget increases in line with ministerial salaries, to Independent Crown Entity boards.

Those are two suggestions.

No doubt a Labour (or Green)-led Coalition government has far more intellectual/institutional fire-power at its disposal to dream up ways and means to protect future funding for crucial state-owned entities such as Radio NZ.

This should be a top priority, along with addressing child poverty and unemployment in this country.

Otherwise, this term we lose 49% of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, and further sell-down of Air New Zealand. And when the Middle Classes get another rush of blood to their heads and re-elect the Nats again (say, 2020 or 2023), they’ll sell the rest. And then sell 49% of TVNZ. And six years later sell the remaining 51%…

It’s a cut to our state companies and services by gradual degree. Until there is nothing left. And power prices end up soaring so most low-income neighbourhoods are in darkness and our state hospitals are over-flowing with the sick, as infectious diseases run rampant.

And Radio NZ sounds like ‘The Rock’ or ‘The Edge’.

A new centre-left government must make this a priority.

There is no alternative.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2013.

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