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Posts Tagged ‘Gerry Brownlee’

David Seymour – A Valid ‘Hit’ and a Colossal ‘Miss’

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For lone ACT MP, David Seymour, November has been a “mixed bag”.  The leader of a near-non-existent Party scored this month – though only one was a try/goal/bowled-out. The other was a foul/offside/no-ball that all but negated his previous success.

A Hit, A Very Palpable Hit!

ACT’s David Seymour has panned a $24,000 junket by Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard and former National Minister, Gerry Brownlee. The 48 “diplomatic mission” was timed to coincide with an All Black game being played in Tokyo.

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Aside from the obvious question how  a two-person trip lasting two days could possibly rack up a $24,000 bill for taxpayers, one wonders if our elected Parliamentary representatives aren’t remunerated sufficiently generously that they can pay their own way to a rugby game.

If Mallard and Brownlee were bathing in champagne, I hope they at least had the decency to save tax-dollars by bathing together? (Togs optional.)

As Mr Seymour said, pointing out the blindingly obvious:

They are literally taking the mickey out of New Zealanders by saying a 24-hour trip that happens to coincide with the All Blacks playing was a diplomatic effort.

Gerry Brownlee earns $180,000, Trevor Mallard earns $296,000. If they want to go to the rugby in Japan they can afford it whereas a lot of taxpayers can’t.

There’s no chance that this is about taxpayer benefits. if you believe that you probably think Gerry should be running on for the ABs against England next week – it’s not a public benefit, therefore they should pay the money back.”

David Seymour quite rightly fulfilled his duty as an Opposition MP by making public his concerns and asking why taxpayers were footing the bill for a typical kiwi-bloke’s weekend away for a bit of footy.

This is the raison d’etre for an Opposition MP and in this case, Mr Seymour caught another member of another Opposition Party in his parliamentary snare. Both Brownlee and Mallard had their snouts in the public trough, and Mr Seymour called them on it.

In doing so, the MP from Epsom has earned his place in the House and his pay for the year.

A Colossal Miss!

When it comes to political game-playing, it would be hard to beat David Seymour’s recent Trumpesque utterances on the “deadly perils of the humble shopping bag”.

Three years ago, Seymour became a zealous disciple for the plastic-bag industry. As people became more aware of the damage caused to the environment – especially sealife – moves were made to phase out this ubiquitous aspect of modern life. The threat to sealife was mostly invisible, but evidence quickly mounted that the waste from human civilsation was having dire consequences.

Out-of-sight-out-of-mind was no longer an option.

For some bizarre reason (possibly because ACT is the party of “free enterprise” and is wedded to capitalist values at any cost?!) Seymour thought it would be a brilliant idea to take up the cause of the plastic bag.

In July 2015, Seymour told RadioLive that phasing-out single-use plastic bags  and replacing them with  re-usable shopping bags would kill “20 people a year”. Seymour suggested that a “reusable bag sitting in the hot boot of their car with a bit of blood that’s seeped out of some steak or chicken – you end up with infections and potentially people dying“.

He gave no evidence for his claim. His allegation – much like his Party – was ignored.

In August this year, Seymour was beating the Plastic Drum again – this time raising another ‘bogeymen’ – of people replacing single-use plastic bags with thicker plastic bags. Again the claim was made on a private radio station – NewstalkZB – perhaps because he thought he would be given an uncritical reception by his hosts at a privately-owned, profit-driven, commercial radio station.

In the same month, Seymour berated the Coalition government that “the Greens’ nutty ban on single-use plastic bags has claimed its first victim.”

Seymour was referring to a small Porirua company called “Kiwi Plastics“, which produced single-use plastic bags. The company owner, Angelus Tay, was highly critical of the move to phase out single-use plastic bags;

“The bag can’t defend itself, so you blame the product. People think it’s so easy and they’re all just thrown away. Then they’re ending up in the sea and it’s a ‘plastic problem’.  The days are numbered because the bags will be gone next year … I’ll tell the staff it’s not my fault, it’s the government policy.” 

Angelus Tay blamed the government for having to close his business and Seymour parroted the line.

Except… Mr Tay has a somewhat dubious record when it came to his company’s safety record. In 2011 he had been fined $45,000 for dangerous workplace practices;

Kiwi Plastic Company Limited was convicted of failing to guard two of its bag sealing machines after an unannounced visit by Department of Labour inspectors found the guards had been removed.

The machines, which seal the sides of plastic supermarket bags, could heat up to 210degC.

Inspectors also found an employee had been taught to over-ride automatic shutdown mechanisms.

Earlier, in 2002, “Kiwi Plastics” and its owner/director, Angelus Tay, were prosecuted for a similar offence after three of his employees were badly injured in a workplace accident.

The closure of his factory may have been related to the planned phase-out of single-use plastic bags. It may also have been a direct consequence of Mr Tay’s cavalier disregard for workplace safety.

But you wouldn’t know any of this reading David Seymour’s press statement  lamenting of the closure of “Kiwi Plastics“.

More recently, on 2 November, in an example of political re-cycling, Seymour re-newed his claim that re-usable shopping bags could kill up to 20 New Zealanders a year.

This time Seymour quoted a source for his assertions: a 2013 “research”-paper from George Mason University, located near Washington DC. According to their own website, George Mason University ranks 801st out of 1,000 universities world-wide.

By contrast, the University of Auckland ranks 85th.

Auckland University Professor and microbiologist, Siouxsie Wiles, rubbished Seymour’s claims, stating they had already been debunked;

“So it’s written by two professors of Law and Economics who are not microbiologists or public health experts.

They’ve taken a data set around people who are hospitalised or deaths in San Francisco and looked at before plastic bags were banned and then afterwards. They’ve then drawn a bunch of conclusions which if anybody in public health looked at would say no, not true at all.

I do think we need to have a little bit more education about how people should be using their [reusable] bags and how you should be treating certain food groups.

But to take – I’m not even going to call it a study – to take this information and then draw the conclusions that the researchers have is irresponsible actually.”

Fellow scientist (epidemiologist) and public health expert, Professor Michael Baker from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, also slammed Seymour’s claims;

“The authors appear to be well qualified in law and economics. It would have been reassuring to see authors or contributors to this research with skills in key relevant areas such as epidemiology and environmental microbiology.

Based on the data presented here, I don’t think any epidemiologist would say that this study has demonstrated a causal relationship between the ‘grocery bag ban’ and foodborne illness. I think it would be absurd to extrapolate figures from this report to the NZ situation, without doing a lot more analysis and investigation of the US experience.”

Professor Baker also revealed that the  2013 “research”-paper had been funded by a free-market “environmental” think-tank called Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC’s website describes itself as “The home of free market environmentalism“.

It’s funniest statement is presented without a shred of self-awareness of satire;

“Our research examines how markets encourage cooperation instead of conflict over natural resources…”

Donors to PERC have included corporations such as  Exxon Mobil, the far-right Koch Foundation, and Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking – a right-wing funder of various causes. The Dunn’s Foundation is known for minimising human influence in climate change.

According to watchdog group, Conservative Transparency;

Dunn’s Foundation’s purpose, according to documents filed with the IRS, is “to advance the understanding and practice of classical liberalism, market capitalism, free enterprise, individual political and economic liberty and to reduce the impact of the use or threat of force by coercive organizations (both public and private) against the people of America and the world, principally through education and persuasion.” It pursues its mission by giving out massive quantities of money to conservative and libertarian groups.

Apparently PERC likes single-use plastic shopping bags.

Little wonder that Seymour has latched onto this dubious “report”.

Seymour’s “solution” to the mounting plastic pollution in our environment? To fine litter-bugs;

“The problem is with this small percentage of people so arrogant they think its okay to let their rubbish fly around and end up in the sea, and we should be punishing those people more stringently.”

The only problem with his “solution” is that litterers do not have their names stamped on their plastic rubbish.  These single-use plastic bags were spotted on an Oriental Bay beach, and in a tree lining the streets adjacent the Upper Hutt railway station.

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Who pays for this littering? (This blogger retrieved the plastics bags on the water’s edge on the beach and placed them in a nearby bin. The yellow supermarket bag in the tree was not readily accessible.)

In fact, much of  the beach was littered with the detritus of human civilisation, with various forms of plastic strewn across the shore;

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There goes our “clean green” image.

Suburbs were not exempt from plastic rubbish. This blogger collected a bagful of (mostly plastic) rubbish on an afternoon walk through his neighbourhood;

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Whilst some have now abandoned the use of plastics such as straws, such as “The Churchill“, in Wellington’s CBD;

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– a certain coffee-chain retailer persists in offering customers these disposable plastics;

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– and sure enough, on the footpath immediately outside “Starbucks“, lay a plastic straw that had been carelessly thrown away.*

According to David Seymour, “we should be punishing those people more stringently”.

But none of the plastic rubbish had anyone’s name on it. So his suggestion becomes meaningless. Except… Seymour isn’t really concerned with increasing littering fines. Seymour wants  to shift focus from producers of plastics to litterers. His suggestion is a strategy of deflecting from  the real problem: the growing mountain of plastic waste that is clogging our oceans, waterways, beaches, streets, gutters, parks, forests… no place is exempt.

In case anyone thinks this is an exaggeration, the next time you are out and about walking – look down. Look at the grass-verges on your street; your city footpath and gutter; along your beach or park. All of a sudden, the amount of rubbish littering our environment becomes more apparent. You may be amazed at what you have not been noticing until now.

This is what David Seymour chooses to ignore. Seymour complains that “It’s not the bags that are harming the environment, it’s the way people are using them.”

And that is the problem: we are using them. And they are everywhere.

But for David Seymour, MP for Epsom, a $24,000 junket at tax-payer’s expense is more worthy of his righteous indignation than the fouling of our environment. He has either been ‘captured’ by the plastics industry (perhaps willingly) – or this was a publicity stunt to improve ACT’s near-zero poll rating.

Neither possibility is  reassuring.

Mr Seymour may know the dollar price of some things – but the value of other, more important things, continues to elude him.

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* Note: Suspicious minds need not worry that this blogger placed these items on the ground. There is enough rubbish in the environment already without having to ‘doctor’ a situation. Most items in images were retrieved and appropriately disposed.

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References

Radio NZ:  David Seymour on Japan junket: Trevor Mallard ‘a well-known sports fanatic’

TVNZ:  ‘They’re taking the mickey’ – David Seymour lambastes colleagues’ $24k Japan rugby ‘junket’

Mediaworks/Newshub:  ACT – Reusable shopping bags can kill

NZ Herald:  Our plastic rubbish killing sea life

ACT: Economy

NewstalkZB: ACT leader – plastic bag ban will backfire

Scoop mdia:  Nutty plastic bag ban killing jobs

Fairfax media: Plastic bag makers say their product isn’t to blame for damaging the environment

NZ Herald:  Porirua plastics company fined $45k

TVNZ: David Seymour – Plastic bag ban could lead to fatalities

Top Universities: George Mason University

Top Universities: University of Auckland

Radio NZ:  Microbiologist slams ‘irresponsible’ plastic ban claims cited by Seymour

Fairfax media: David Seymour’s claims against reusable bags fact checked by leading scientists

Wikipedia: Property and Environment Research Center

Property and Environment Research Center (PERC): Home page

Property and Environment Research Center (PERC):  About Us

Desmog: Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)

Conservative Transparency: Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking

Forbes:  Yet Another Dead Whale Found With Pounds Of Plastic In Its Stomach

Previous related blogposts

Anti-Deep Sea Drilling Wellingtonians Take To The Streets (part tahi)

Key’s challenge to Deep Sea Oil Drilling Protesters

Anadarko: Key playing with fire

Drinking river water – Tourism NZ puts visitors at risk

TDB Investigation into what is happening in our water

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’/’Daily Blog’ 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.

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 November 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wants her stripped of the broadcasting portfolio as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three possible answers;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also held at Astoria Cafe, by any chance?

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

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

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

Not held at the Astoria Cafe.

But Mr Fletcher did get the job.

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

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

And they get away with it.

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*  Note

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

References

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

Scoop media: Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

ODT: Carol Hirschfeld resigns over Clare Curran meeting

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

Fairfax media: Gerry Brownlee fined for airport security breach

National Party: Curran token demotion a sign of weakness

Kiwiblog: Disclosure State

Kiwiblog: Curran demoted after a further secret meeting

TVNZ:  Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

NZ Herald:  SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

Fairfax Media:  Key met spy candidate for breakfast

Other Blogs

The Standard: Clare Curran demoted

Previous related blogposts

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

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

National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare

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

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

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

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Nothing quite reinforces ‘Privilege’ than an ‘Us and Them’ Attitude

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When , drunk, dumb,  and ultimately doomed National backbencher, Aaron Gilmore, uttered his now-infamous words,  “Don’t you know who I am?“, it revealed to the public a glimpse of the attitude of those who – in their minds – are Born To Rule (over us).

For a certain type of persons who happens to be blessed with wealth, power, business acumen, and/or other talents, they consider themselves to have “earned” the right to be superior to those around them not-quite-as-fortunate. (Or even, gods-forbid, not particularly interested in wealth, power, business acumen, etc.)

It is this arrogance – born from success in their chosen field of endeavour – which results in attitudes such as the law (or social “niceties”) not applying to them.

Case in Point #1: In Aaron Gilmore’s case, he became angry that the waiter refused to serve him any more alcohol. The waiter’s decision was based on a simple law-of-the-land; that intoxicated persons shall not be sold/served any more liquor. Failure to comply can mean hefty fines; suspension (or full cancellation) of liquor license; and having employment terminated.

But Gilmore didn’t care. He just wanted more booze to flow down his gullet. When his demands were declined, he attempted to use his position of authority (an elected member of Parliament) to get his way. When that failed, he invoked the Office of the Prime Minister. That, too, failed.

But what was it about Gilmore’s position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law did not apply to him?

Case in Point #2: When government minister, Gerry Brownlee walked through security doors at Christchurch airport, he obviously held a view that being late for his flight was just cause to ignore Civil Aviation rules;

Gerry Brownlee is standing by his version of how his airport security breach took place – after being contradicted by an airport staffer.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s released a heavily-redacted report into the July incident at Christchurch Airport.

Mr Brownlee said he knocked on a secure door and asked to be let through, because he was late for a flight.

But the airport employee told the inquiry that one of Mr Brownlee’s staff pulled the secure door open, and the trio walked past him without seeking permission.

Gerry Brownlee was later fined $2000.

Despite being fined for his rule-breaking, a spokesman for Brownlee said that the minister  “stands by his testimony“. So not only did Brownlee consider himself (a) above the law, (b) acted on that belief, but (c) when found guilty, and fined,  showed no acceptance of his wrong-doing.

What was it about Brownlee’s position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law did not apply to him?

Case in Point #3: Multimillionaire property developer, Bob Jones, was recently thrown off an Air New Zealand flight for not following an on-board safety briefing, reported the  Civil Aviation Authority.

According to CAA spokesperson, Mike Richards;

“The passenger was basically ignoring what was going on and wearing headphones. The crew member complained to someone in command and said, ‘I don’t want passengers on the flight who aren’t following instructions of the crew’.”

So, basically, Bob Jones couldn’t be arsed following the rules and paying attention, despite being asked to? Did Jones believe that, in the event of an emergency, somehow his wealth would be sufficient to circumvent the laws of gravity, and he would descend gently to the ground?

What was it about Jones’ position that he believed he had status sufficient to believe that the law (both Parliamentary and gravitational) did not apply to him?

Is the answer to the question posed at the end of each case, simply because society allows status, based on political power and/or  wealth, to gain privileges which are not accorded to the rest of us (99% of us)?

If Air New Zealand’s “Elite Priority One” is any indication, then political power and wealth  invites special privilege that other paying customers for the airline’s service apparently do not deserve;

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Air New Zealand offers secret invite only Elite Priority One lounge

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New Zealand – the nation that once prided itself on it’s egalitarianism – now has an airline trading on our name, and offering services to the “elite” that the ordinary folk of this country were not even aware of.

That is real privilege accorded to the wealthy and powerful – when the masses aren’t even aware that Jack is no longer as good as his Master.

So when an MP expects that liquor laws can be flouted so he can get more inebriated; when a Minister expects that Civil Aviation laws apply to others, but not him; and when a millionaire thumbs his nose at critical safety information – let us be clear that they deeply believe they are entitled to hold those views.

They are, after all, better than us.

Air New Zealand says as much. They are, after all, Elite, Priority One.

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References

NZ Herald: ‘Rude’ MP tweets apology over drunken night out

Fairfax media: Sir Bob Jones escorted from Air NZ flight

NewstalkZB: Brownlee contradicted on airport security breach

Fairfax media:  Air New Zealand offers secret invite only Elite Priority One lounge

Previous related blogposts

And so it came to pass

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Glass half full.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 June 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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What if they gave an election and no one came?

14 December 2013 3 comments

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2013 local body elections

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Much has been made of the low voter turn-out at the recent local body elections, with pundits, media, bloggers, et al, trying to figure out why voters weren’t motivated enough to bother filling our their ballot.

This is my insight into the problem…

1. Brand Politics

I’ll start with the easy one first, and refer to “brand politics”.

Quite simply, unless you happen to be follow local body politics and community issues – one is left scratching their head as to what each candidate stands for.

What are their political leanings on the Left/Right spectrum? For example, how many people in Dunedin knew that Hilary Calvert – standing for the mayoralty and Council – had previously been an ACT MP?

Calvert’s political background and extremist libertarian views would have a direct bearing on any position she was elected to. For a Party that garnered only 23,889 party votes (1.07%) in the 2011 general elections, how many Dunedin voters  knew they were voting for the radical, card-carrying, member of a failed ideology when they cast their vote for her?

Where do candidates stand on the issues such as “core services” vs civic involvement by Councils?

Or on contentious issues such as water flouridation? One Dunedin candidate simply listed “water flouridation” as an issue of interest on his election leaflet – without any indication where he stood. Not very helpful.

This is where party or group branding is a useful tool for voters. Standing under a group banner with specific policies makes it easier for voters to understand who to vote for.

As Auckland mayor, Len Brown said,

But we still have this fundamental issue that nobody knows who their councillor is and what council does, and until we address that you can have any system you like – you can have compulsory voting even – but if people don’t know what the hell they are voting for, it’s pointless.”- Len Brown, 13 October 2013

Source: Minority rules in low voter turnout

At the same time, Madeleine Foreman from Generation Zero, referred to “a lack of information” as well as  “an information overload“.

Source: IBID

The situation below does not constitute meaningful “information”,

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Christchurch_local_election,_2013

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The Auckland group, City Vision, gave voters – who might not otherwise be familiar with candidates – a better idea who to vote for (or not), according to their own political beliefs.

Voting in general elections is relatively easier because of political “branding” via Parties. We don’t need to understand what every candidate stands for, because their Party “brand” is a short-hand explanation. (Though on occassions, such  Peter Dunne’s crackpot  rag-tag fellow United Future MPs in 2005,  we still didn’t know what we were getting with our Party Vote.)

I would advocate a greater use of umbrella groups such as City Vision and Citizens & Ratepayers Association (now known as Communities and Residents). 

As we lead busier lives with more constraints and demands on our time (eg, the fracturing of the country’s electricity supply into a “market”, meaning we now have to shop around for “cheaper” prices) , umbrella groups could make the voting process easier for those wanting to participate – but not quite knowing who to vote for.

One wonders how many Dunedin voters voted for Hilary Calvert without knowing her right wing, ACT connections?

2. Postal Ballot

Postal voting is a great idea for some – but not for everyone.

The problem with postal voting is that ballot papers can be misplaced; piles of other correspondence placed on top; and otherwise forgotten.

We need to run the postal voting system alongside the voting station option.

The best rationale for returning to ballot booths is that they are a visible reminder for people to vote.

I recall the very first time I ever voted. It was the Wellington local body election and I was driving past the old Wellington Children’s Dental Clinic in Willis St.

I had forgotten that the local body elections were being held (being a young man, I was more focused on young people’s stuff), and seeing the Voting Booth signs on the footpath, I immediatly pulled over and went inside to do my civic duty. (I voted for Labour candidates, as otherwise I had little idea as to what other candidates stood for.)

Voting stations may be more expensive, but cost should not  be a determinant for democracy. As well as reminding people, they are a community-oriented means by which to cast your vote. There are others around you doing the same thing and this builds a sense of social cohesion and purpose.

It is the “watering hole” for local democracy.

There’s nothing much community-minded to tick a box on a piece of paper and posting it. Or sitting at your computer clicking on a box via e-voting.

Sometimes, doing things the “old fashioned way” should not be automatically dismissed as “obsolete”.

3. Central Government

The biggest fault and brick-bat for the low voter turn-out, I reserve for this current government. John Key’s administration has done more to marginalise local body democracy and engender growing apathy than any other causal factor.

National has undermined local democracy by using it’s central government powers to over-ride democratically community representatives and impose it’s own policies;

Auckland Super City

In April 2009, ACT MP and Minister for Local Government, Rodney Hide, refused to allow Aucklanders the chance to voice their opinion – via a referendum – whether or not to create the Auckland “super council”.

In Hide’s view,

The difficulty with a referendum is it would cost a million dollars and it would just ask `yes’ or `no’.

What I’m picking up, very clearly, is that a lot of people favour a super city but they’ve got particular views about how it should be structured and run — it’s not just a `yes’ or `no’ question, that’s why I’ve been so actively engaged with the mayors.” – Rodney Hide, 24 April 2009

Source: Hide rules out referendum on ‘super city’ proposals

So one man decided the fate of 1.4 million Aucklanders? Is that democracy? What would this chap say to Hide, I wonder…

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The people of Auckland had no voice in the matter.

Ecan

In March 2010, National  sacked every councillor from the Environment Canterbury, replacing them with unelected, appointed commissars commissioners:

  • Margaret Bazley (Chair)
  • Hon. David Caygill (Deputy Chair)
  • David Bedford
  • Donald Couch
  • Tom Lambie
  • Professor Peter Skelton

To date, Ecan still has no elected councillors and it’s governing body is appointed by John Key’s government.

The new powers of the commissioners were such that they could   implement regional plans for Canterbury but which could not  be appealed to the Environment Court. (See: Environment Canterbury commissioners named)

In April 2010, Forest & Bird uncovered an agenda by central government,

“...to abolish Environment Canterbury to fast-track large-scale irrigation.

Papers obtained by Forest & Bird under the Official Information Act show that from September last year briefings to Ministers and Cabinet papers focussed on the Hurunui and Rakaia rivers and how the Crown could help remove “blockages” to their progress.

“The Government was looking for a way to fast-track irrigation in Canterbury and undermine protection of the region’s over-allocated rivers,” Forest & Bird Canterbury Field Officer Jen Miller says.

Source: Forest & Bird uncovers Government plan to push irrigation

It appears that National had less-than-transparent reasons for dismissing Ecan’s councillors and replacing democratically elected representatives with hand-picked appointees.

The people of Canterbury had no voice in the matter.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA)

Coming into effect in late Match 2011, CERA was created by Commissar Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee as a super organisation with powers never before seen in the country. As Brownlee himself admitted in a Beehive press statement,

“…CERA would have wide powers to relax, suspend or extend laws and regulations which would be used responsibly and for clearly defined purposes related to earthquake recovery.” – Gerry Brownlee, 29 March 2011

Source:  New authority will deliver for Canterbury

Brownlee tried to reassure New Zealanders that National was not creating a monstrous government organisation that essentially gave dictatorial powers to the Minister,

These are essentially reserve powers and there will be checks and balances on the use of these powers so the public can have confidence they are being used wisely and with restraint.”

Source:  IBID

Considering National’s track record on riding rough-shod over community concerns; subverting local democracy; ignoring public opinion; and prepared to dismiss the forthcoming referendum on asset sales – Brownlee’s assurances ring hollow.

In fact, National had such faith in the democratic process – including “checks and balances” – that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill 2011 was rushed through under urgency in July 2011.

CERA’s un-elected CEO is Roger Sutton, who is appointed and answerable solely to Minister Brownlee.

The people of Canterbury had no voice in the matter.

Auckland Housing

National’s interference in Auckland’s draft Unitary Plan and housing policy is, by now, well known.  As The Aucklander reported on 14 March this year,

The Government is becoming increasingly heavy-handed over Auckland’s housing shortage, with talk of a new Crown agency to free up more land.

Environment Minister Amy Adams has suggested stripping the Auckland Council of some planning powers for three years to allow a Crown agency to play a role increasing the city’s residential land supply.

New Housing Minister Nick Smith has also released a Government report which, he says, shows a worrying trend of reduced land availability and soaring section prices.

Last week, Dr Smith vowed to break the “stranglehold” of Auckland Council’s policy of containing urban sprawl – a policy he said was “killing the dreams of Aucklanders” by driving up house prices.

Source: Govt piles on pressure for housing land

National’s heavy-handedness on this matter was in direct response to Labour’s (well-founded) accusations that the current government was not addressing a critical housing shortage in this country.

National was content to see urban sprawl for short-term political gain, with Nick Smith’s outrageous hyperbole that the Unitary Plan would result in “killing the dreams of Aucklanders“.

The Nats also refused to enshrine the Unitary Plan in law, as they apparently had their own agenda. (See: Nick Smith and Len Brown’s relationship put to test)

The government-Council dispute was apparent to all when, on 25 March, a meeting scheduled to last for two hours was cut short after only one hour. (See: Len Brown, Nick Smith meeting breaks up without agreement on Auckland house plan)

Despite the Auckland super-city being a creation of the National-ACT government, they were unwilling to allow Aucklanders the chance to solve their own problems.

One wonders if it wouldn’t  be cheaper to simply abolish the Auckland Council and appoint Nick Smith as Commissar for Auckland, and run directly from the Beehive? At least it would be more honest.

Interestingly, on 10 October this year, Nick Smith was keen to reassure voters that that was no housing crisis in this country,

I don’t accept that there is a crisis and the duplicity of parties like Labour is exposed when the affordability index was a whole lot worse in 2008 and they rejected any notion of there being a crisis then.”

Source:  No housing crisis in Auckland or Christchurch – Smith

That’s an awful lot of effort that Smith and his ministerial cronies are putting into an an issue that isn’t really a crisis at all.

Go figure.

Christchurch Housing

Earthquake recovery minister, Gerry Brownlee, has an almost  ‘schizophrenic’ attitude when it comes to the housing crisis in Christchurch.

On 20 March last year, Minister Brownlee stated that Christchurch’s critical housing shortage was  “best left to the market” to resolve,

However, the Government was careful about how it influenced the housing market, he said.

If it had jumped in earlier, it could have artificially lowered the appetite of private investors to provide a solution that could be lucrative for investors, he said.

Source: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

Not much help to Cantabrians living in garages or cars. But at least Minister Brownlee is living comfortably in a tax-payer funded ministerial home. (See: $18m state housing bill for new Government tenants)

But by 22 November of this year, Brownlee appeared to have belatedly realised that Christchurch did indeed having a growing housing problem. His language was disturbingly dictatorial,

Christchurch City Council has been given an ultimatum – sign off the city’s land use recovery plan or the government will go it alone.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has lost patience with councillors and says he’ll meet them on Friday in a final bid to solve the problem.

If that doesn’t work he’s going to use the powers parliament gave him to ratify the plan himself.

The plan allows more buildings on existing sections in urban areas and Mr Brownlee says its a vital to get house building moving.

Source: Brownlee gives Chch council an ultimatum

So much for Brownlee reassuring New Zealand that, with the creation of CERA,  that National was not giving dictatorial powers to the Minister,

These are essentially reserve powers and there will be checks and balances on the use of these powers so the public can have confidence they are being used wisely and with restraint.”

Source:  New authority will deliver for Canterbury

Brownlee’s strong arm tactics worked, and the Commissar for Christchurch got his own way,

We agreed a process that officials from both sides will work on over the weekend and early next week. They intend to endorse the land use recovery plan next Thursday and we will take it to cabinet the following Monday.”

Source: Chch council agrees to endorse plan

This is what centralised government rule, from a small clique of ministers, looks like.

Central Government issues diktat for “core services”

In case local bodies were still unclear on National’s policy of centralised planning and control, Minister Nick Smith last year released a plan euphemistically called “Better Local Government”. (See: Govt puts the squeeze on councils)

It was an agenda to control Councils’ operations and return to “core services”. Council planning and policy-making would no longer be left to local voters – but would be determined by government appointed officials such as the  Local Government Efficiency Taskforce , the Infrastructure Expert Advisory Group, and the Productivity Commission. (See: IBID)

More here: Dept of Internal Affairs – Better Local Government

Interestingly, Smith never actually defined what constituted “core services”.

A day later, Dear Leader Key backed up Smith by stating categorically,

In narrowing their purpose clause, it may exclude them from providing those services, or at least challenge their thinking about whether those services should be provided.

One has to ask the question, if central government isn’t providing those services, then really should local government step in and fill the breach? Because there might be a very good reason why central government hasn’t done it.”

Source: Councils must focus on core business – Key

So, for example, if central government decides not to house the poorest people in our communities – by reducing state housing – that evidently means that local bodies must also sit on their hands and see homelessness increase? Is that how it works under a centralised National regime?

That is what I take from Key’s comments.

What voters want is apparently irrelevant.

What central government wants trumps local communities needs.

Any one or two instances of central-government interference in local body affairs could be dismissed and quickly forgotten. But taken together, there is a growing, pernicious perception (perception?!) that important decisions are emanating from The Beehive and independent local body representation is little more than illusory.

One has to wonder how motivated people are to engage in local body politics, knowing that the decisions of their locally-elected representatives can be over-ridden by a minister from central government?

If that doesn’t foster apathy, what will?

Key and his henchmen/women need to keep their grubby paws of local body bodies. They should have enough on their plate with high unemployment; high debt; critical housing problems; struggling manufacturing sector; environmental problems; etc.

We don’t need a Keygrad and National Politburo micro-managing our communities. This is one instance where the State (or at least central government) can – and should – stay out of our lives.

If National is re-elected next year, we may not be seeing much more of this kind of local, grass-roots democracy in action…

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Local-Board-Members-Against-Contracting-Out

Photo acknowledgement: The Daily Blog

And supreme irony of ironies, it was the Nats who labelled the previous Labour-led governments as “Helengrad”. In reality, Labour was a Libertarian party in comparison to this neo-Muldoonist system of centralised planning and control.

I am reminded of Russel Norman’s words earlier this year,

Next time you see John Key smiling, remember he’s not smiling because he likes you, he’s smiling because he’s giving favours to his mates while undermining your democracy.

But we have seen all this before… Robert Muldoon would recognise this Government as one after his own heart, but with better spin doctors and a smilier disposition.

Mr Key may not look like Muldoon but he sure as hell is acting like Muldoon.” – Russel Norman, 1 June 2013

Source: Norman: Key ‘acting like Muldoon’

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 November 2013.

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References

TV3: Ex-ACT MP Calvert eyes Dunedin council

The Press: Minority rules in low voter turnout

Fairfax media: Christchurch Rent Crisis ‘Best Left To Market’

Elections NZ: Local Body Elections

Wikipedia: New Zealand local elections, 2013

NZ Herald: Election results Around the country

Dept of Internal Affairs: Local Authority Election Statistics 2010

Previous related blogposts

How To Guide: Voting in Auckland

Guest Author: Dunedin election – my guide to who’s left and who’s not

Other blogposts

The Daily Blog: “What If Our Government Tried To Guide Democracy, Rather Than Dictate To It?” And Other Rhetorical Remarks

The Daily Blog: Why You Need to Vote in the Local Body Elections

The Daily Blog: Housing: Auckland Needs Real Practical Solutions – Not Grandstanding By Desperate Ministers

Waitakere News:  Is the Government set to undermine Auckland’s Metropolitan Urban Limit?

Frogblog: National’s approach to local government is all over the place

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Letter to the Editor: the Christchurch by-election

2 December 2013 1 comment

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from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:     Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date:     Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 8:41 AM
subject: Letter to the ed

The Editor
Sunday Star Times

National’s supposed earthquake recovery minister, Gerry Brownlee was on Morning Report on 2 December, complaining that the small turnout was more about apathy than a “sea change” in public opinion wanting to see a change in government.

He said, ” I acknowledge they won a seat that they’ve always held. That was expected.But to sort of say on such a small turnout that it represents anything other than [an] indication of voter apathy is questionable.”

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2578314

Is that right, Mr Brownlee?

Does that mean that the same can be said of the 2011 election results, which was the lowest voter turn-out since 1887, where over 800,000 New Zealanders did not vote?

Or is it a “good result” – despite a small voter turnout – only if the Nats come out of it looking good?

– Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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Pita Sharples, Spooks, Maggie Barry, and Bully-boy Brownlee

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Pita Sharples – gone

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Pita Sharples quits Maori Party leadership

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Pita Sharples quits Maori Party leadership

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Pita Sharples has effectively taken responsibility for the Maori Party’s poor showing (third place) at the  recent Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election.  That result was an indictment on the Maori Party’s decision to support an increasingly shakey government that is losing support in more accurate polling.

The internal leadership struggles between himself and Te Ururoa Flavell has also taken it’s toll on the 71 year old,

“It’s clear that the leadership issue…has taken a toll on the Maori Party and our people deserve a united Maori Party.”

Acknowledgement: Domninion Post – Sharples quits Maori Party leadership

It’s also something that is focusing closer scrutiny upon an increasingly unstable government. The toll thus far;

  • Hekia Parata – lost part of her port-folio. In essence, a partial sacking.
  • Aaron Gilmore – forced to resign from Parliament.
  • John Banks – facing charges in Court. If found guilty, he will hve to resign.
  • Peter Dunne – Party de-registered; lost his ministerial portfolios; and becoming increasingly oppositional to National’s policies.
  • Pita Sharples – standing down as Maori-Party co-leader

An early election this year (or early next year) is becoming more likely with each passing crisis.

Not a good time for National.

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The spooks have a new Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security…

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On 1 July, John Key announced that Paul Neazor would be replaced in his role as  Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (for the SIS and GCSB) by former-Judge  Andrew McGechan.

Key says that McGechan’s role will be on an  “interim” basis, instead of the usual three years, as the  GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill is currently being considered  by a Parliament Select Committee.

However, with Peter Dunne wavering on this issue; with mounting public opposition; and god-only-knows which way Winston Peters will jump; the passing of the GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill is by no means guaranteed.

In which case, National has two options remaining,

1.

The office of the Inspector-General must be expanded; properly staffed;  and appropriately funded. At present, the  Inspector-General’s role is a part-time position, with no permanent staffing. Our Inspector General is faced with oversight of two intelligence agencies with a combined staff of around 520. In effect he is out-numbered, out-resourced, and consequently, out-manouvered.

By contrast, our Aussie cuzzy’s  version of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has approximately 20 people working full time for the Inspectorate (see IGIS Annual Report 2011-12  Part three: Management and accountability )

This, I believe is the real problem surrounding our security-intelligence agencies – not the legislation needing “tightening up”.  The legislation is tight enough as it is.

It just needs to be obeyed.

2.

The Labour Party’s call for a full public commission of inquiry on this matter cannot be ignored any longer.  If Key wants cross-party support and public buy-in to secuirity/intelligence issues, then it must be open to all political parties and the public to contribute to the debate.

As matters stand now, if National forces through  unpopular, undemocratic,  and ultimately counter-productive laws – an incoming government will be bound to amend or repeal it entirely. This is grossly wasteful use of the Parliamentary process and taxpayer’s money.

This blogger hopes that the  GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill is set aside.  Aside from National ministers and a few misguided rightwing bloggers, there is very little support for this proposed legislation.

Additional

Parliament: External oversight of intelligence agencies: a comparison

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Egg; Face; Maggie Barry

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Ex-radio host-come-National politician – known for her acerbic and often nasty tongue in Parliament’s debating chamber – has copious amounts of egg on her face.

Ever the loyal, obedient National Party foot-soldier for towing the OPL (Official Party Line), she loudly parroted her party’s opposition to the Auckland rail link. She expressed her “well wishes” to  Len Brown after he won the 2010 Mayoralty race with this graceless message,

The morning after National’s resounding victory she sent a strong message to Auckland mayor Len Brown, saying there would be a CBD rail link before a second harbour crossing “over our dead bodies”.

Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Maggie Barry’s line in sand

Charming.

But political Karma being what it is,  National’s change of heart on this issue had made her look foolish. Her senior fellow politicians have now endorsed Len Brown and Auckland Council’s plans for the Auckland rail link,

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Auckland Mayor celebrates Government's agreement to support rail loop

Acknowledgement: Interest.co.nz – Auckland Mayor celebrates Government’s agreement to support rail loop

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Ms Barry, not quite bringing herself able to tow the new OPL, endorsed only certain  aspects of Auckland Council’s transport plans,

North Shore National MP Maggie Barry said there was a “flurry of excitement” about the suggestion the North Shore could get another link to the city.

“It is essential and long overdue, and it would make a phenomenal difference to the North Shore.”

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Key to give Auckland a crossing

I suspect there’s enough egg on Ms Barry’s face to cook up a decent size omelette.

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Bully-boy Brownlee

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Not content with creating the Auckland super city without first putting it to Auckland ratepayers through a referendum

Not content with pushing more laws through Parliament under “Urgency” than probably any other government in New Zealand’s history…

Not content with dis-establishing Environment Canterbury in March 2010; replacing it with un-elected Commissioners; whose decisions cannot be appealed to the Environment Court…

Not content with usurping the authority of the Christchurch City Council with the creation of CERA…

Not content with being given sweeping political power in the Christchurch re-build, via the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act which  effectively gives unbridled power to National Ministers  for five years…

Not content with expanding the surveillance powers of the GCSB, where no one will be safe from being spied upon by the State…

Not content with moving to take control of Christchurch

Gerry Brownlee is now putting none-too-subtle pressure on Auckland City to sell its assets to help pay for the Auckland rail loop,

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City's shares eyed for rail

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – City’s shares eyed for rail

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Acting more reminiscent of a feudal Baron ruling over his fiefdom, Brownlee is treating Mayor Len Brown as a vassal, forcing Auckland City to obey National’s diktats.

I wonder what Aucklanders think of this kind of high-handed Ministerial control being exerted over their city – all the way from Wellington?

It must be demeaning for Aucklanders to realise that their elected local representatives are being treated like puppets, and that real power is being exerted from the Beehive?

So much for the quaint notion of democracy.

So much for Aucklanders being in charge of their own destiny.

So much for the  “partnership” that our mendacious Prime Minister promised, three years ago,

The Government will work in partnership with the new Auckland council to improve the city’s transport systems, Prime Minister John Key says.

He said today the Government shared Mayor Len Brown’s vision of getting Auckland moving and it was a government priority as well.

“The Government will work in partnership with the new Auckland City Council on what comes next, and contribute its fair share to the continuing goal of improving transport,” Mr Key said at his post-cabinet press conference.

Acknowledgement : NZ Herald – Govt will work with council on Auckland’s transport

Having a Minister of the Crown attempting to bully Auckland to sell it’s assets in not a “partnership”.  And just because National has engaged in an act of wilful economic sabotage by it’s agenda of partial asset-sales – is no reason to expect others to follow that lunatic policy.

Gerry Brownlee should take note. He is playing with political fire, and a million votes in Auckland may come raining down on his (and other National MPs’) head.

If I know Kiwis as well as I think I do, they will not take kindly to being bossed around. (The Americans found this out, to their cost, when the Lange-led Labour government passed our nuclear-free legislation.)

How much does Brownlee really want to piss that many voters off?

Tread carefully, bully-boy.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 July 2013.

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