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National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

15 July 2016 2 comments

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reserve bank vs government

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

His solution? Build more;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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According to the Fairfax report, English said;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 July, 1.10 AM

John Key;

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

7 July

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

8 July, 7.46am

Don Brash (Former Reserve Bank governor);

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

[…]

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

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

8 July, 7.51am

Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development);

“Migration is a contributing factor to housing demand…

[…]

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

[…]

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

8 July, 7.57am

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

Current battle-status: stalemate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Key could pass special legislation to do this.

The question is why won’t he.

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

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

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Addendum1

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

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tv3-news-housing-poll

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Addendum2

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

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Real house price growth - annual % change

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Addendem3

Latest house price figures:

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

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

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

Latest Inflation Rate:

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

Notes

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

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References

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

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

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

Radio NZ: No change on immigration, says John Key

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairfax media: Key expects LVRs to go ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

NZ Herald: Auckland property: $400k deposit please

Reserve Bank: Housing risks require a broad policy response

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

Radio NZ: Government responds to RBNZ housing speech

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

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

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

TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing

NZ Herald: Auckland property – $400k deposit please

Statistics NZ: Consumers Price Index: March 2016 quarter

Additional

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

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

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

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

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

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

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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

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

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

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

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reserve bank - rbnz - national government - housing affordability

Cartoon acknowledgement: Tom Scott, Dominion Post

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

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National fiddles – while Cancer Kills

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say-no-to-cancer

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Fun Fact 1: New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages). Ministry of Health

Fun Fact 2: Bowel cancer is more common as you get older, particularly from the age of 50. Bowel cancer affects more men than women. IBID

Fun Fact 3: People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and receive treatment when it is at an early stage, have a 90% chance of long term survival. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and the cancer is more advanced, it is harder to cure. Bowel screening can detect cancer early, when it can be more successfully treated.  IBID

It is a sobering statistic that we try to ignore and put out of our minds; more than 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1,200 die from the disease. If that were a death toll from a communicable disease, the media would be carrying front page newspaper stories  and lead bulletins on 6PM news. The government would impose a State of Emergency, and strict travel conditions imposed on everyone.

But we don’t.

Bowel cancer is hidden away. Victims are not acknowledged.   People go about their every day lives. Media focuses on sensationalism or trivia (with few exceptions).  Government does nothing. The death toll continues to rise.

And it is wholly preventable.

In October 2011, the Ministry of Health began a four-year-long bowel screening pilot in the Waitemata District Health Board area. The screening was offered to  everyone aged between  50 to 74, living within  the Waitemata DHB zone, and who was eligible for publicly funded healthcare. Those lucky to be eligible were sent an invitation letter, a consent form along with detailed instructions, and the necessary free bowel-screening test kit.

By July 2013,  data from the screening pilot detected cancers  in seventyfive people within the first fifteen months of the pilot. Around 60% had been picked up at an early stage when they could be more successfully treated.

Between  1 January 2012 to 31 December 2013,  six thousand people had a colonoscopy or a CT colonography through the Bowel Screening Pilot.  By 1 April 2015, two hundred and fiftyfive people had been identified with a cancer.

Those are 255 people who might not have approached their medical clinic for a test screening kit, or followed up with a colonoscopy. Those are 255 people whose cancer was detected early, and who had necessary treatment.

The pilot screening have also picked up non-cancerous polyps (adenomas) and those  participants will still be at an  increased risk of developing more adenomas or bowel cancer. These participants will require on-going regular bowel checks  in the future.

The initial four year pilot project, initially costing $24 million, was extended to the end of 2017, with a further $12.4 million invested in the programme. But only in the Waitemata District Health Board area. Those living outside the WDHB are not eligible to participate.

That result is from just one DHB “catchement” area. There are twenty DHBs  throughout the country. If similar results were obtained from the nineteen other DHBs, that could mean approximately 5,100 people detected with cancer.

The government’s response can best be described as slow – at worst, reluctant to invest in a nationwide programme. On 6 July, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a graduated roll-out of a nationwide screening programme.

First, Minister Coleman began with the usual meaningless platitudes;

Delivering better cancer services is a top priority for the Government. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.”

Minister Coleman then explained in a little more detail;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017.”

However, note the caveats;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out….”

To inform the next steps towards a possible roll out of a national bowel screening programme, the Ministry of Health will be consulting with the health sector and other agencies on how the service could be provided across the DHBs.”

So not only will any nationwide extension of the life-saving screening programme not begin until “early” 2017 – which happens to be an election year (no connection of course)  – but at this stage it is still only  a   “possible” or “potential staged roll out”. At this point, Coleman will be only be taking “a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year”.

Unsurprisingly, health advocates and professionals are not impressed

Bowel Cancer NZ’s, Dr Sarah Derrett, did not hold back when she condemned National’s lethargic response to the sucessful screeing programme;

Currently this Government is more interested in holding a referendum for a flag as a legacy to our Prime Minister at a cost of $26.5 million than it is at saving lives… it was scandalous there had been no action on a national programme, given 1200 people a year die from bowel cancer in New Zealand.

Bowel Cancer NZ’s chairwoman, Mary Bradley, was also scathing;

We are really pleased that this is happening and that they are talking about a staged roll-out, but we would like to see potential moved to definite roll-out in 2017.

We would like to see a staged roll out now or a start next year would be fantastic. We’ve always known it [screening] is proven, so why wasn’t it done sooner. It could have happened a couple of years ago. This is great, but it’s taken a long time to get here. In the meantime, people are dying.

There is no feasible reason why Coleman is delaying a national extension of this screening programme that has already saved 255 people.  Delaying the roll out condemns hundreds of New Zealanders to a horrible illness and unnecessary death.

Coleman claims that that the delay is caused by a shortage of skilled staff;

The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.

[…]

Initiatives to strengthen the endoscopy workforce include increasing the number of gastroenterology trainees. The sector is also considering increasing the use of CT colonography where appropriate.

Yet, the pilot programme has been in operation since October 2011 – giving this government a lead time of five years to begin training required staff. Where was the planning for staffing a nationwide screening programme that was being considered after the  Waitemata DHB pilot?

Did no one at the Ministry of Health or the Health Minister’s office pause to think; “Ok, what happens after the pilot?!

The only possible explanation for this tardiness is purely financial. As Bill English attempts to balance the books and deliver a budget surplus, cuts to health services become more invasive;

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Health fund loses $18 million

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National’s reluctance to spend on much-needed, critical services is no secret. Successive National governments have cut services, whilst giving away billions in tax cuts.

But it is also not averse to spending taxpayers’ money on projects it deems “necessary”;

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NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

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Flag referendum to cost $26M

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

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Those four examples alone come to $78.5 million that could have been invested in rolling out a nationwide bowel screening programme plus pay for training of required specialist staff. Instead, the money has been spent on a luxury apartment; bribing a Saudi businessman; John Key’s vanity-project to change the flag; and acceding to a multi-national corporation’s demands for a cash subsidy.

This is worse than wasting tax-payer’s hard-earned money.

New Zealanders are dying whilst National fiddles and wastes time.

It is not the first time this has happened;

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Public hospital ills blamed on fund - Otago Daily Times - 20 august 1999

‘Public hospital ills blamed on fund’ – “Otago Daily Times” – 20 August 1999

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'Four forced off waiting list die',

‘Four forced off waiting list die’, “The Press”, 15 March 1999

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On 21 July, I wrote to Minister Coleman on the issue;

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Kia ora Dr Coleman,

I understand that you plan to “take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017”.

Considering that a Ministry of Health  pilot programme carried out by the Waitemata District Health Board since October 2011 has saved the lives of approximately two hundred and fiftyfive people who had been identified with a cancer, it seems unbelievable that New Zealanders will have to wait at least another year and a half before a screening programme is rolled out nationally.

You stated on 6 July this year that;

“The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.” (https://www.national.org.nz/news/news/media-releases/detail/2015/07/06/Consultation-on-next-steps-for-bowel-screening-programme)

Surely the training of skilled staff should have been started in 2011, when the pilot programme at Waitemata was initiated?

Waiting until the beginning of 2017 means that thousands of people around the country may be stricken by bowel cancer.

How many will contract the illness during the time it takes to extend the screening programme?

The Ministry of Health states;

More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages) (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/cancer-programme/bowel-cancer-programme/about-bowel-cancer)

I urge you to re-visit this problem and to begin an immediate, strategic  roll-out throughout the country, so that screening can begin to take place.

It is simply unacceptable that 1,200 New Zealanders will perish this year; next year; and the year after, when an effective screening programme is available to save their lives.

If this government can spend $78.5 million on a Saudi farm; a Manhattan apartment; an aluminium smelter; and a flag referendum – then spending at least half that amount to save lives should not be beyond us.

2017 may be an election year – but we should not have to wait until then. Not when thousands of lives are at risk.

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One of Minister Coleman’s staff replied the following day;

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The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your email may take some weeks.

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Time, evidently, is not of the essence here.

What is truly shameful is not that a National government Minister is prevaricating on this critical medical problem – but that the Minister in question is a qualified medical clinician.

He, more than any other politician, should know better.

Somewhere in this country, another person has just developed bowel cancer. And doesn’t know it.

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References

Ministry of Health: About bowel cancer

Ministry of Health: Bowel screening pilot

Comprehensive Care: Bowel Screening programme successes

Radio NZ:  Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – January 2012 to September 2014 – How many colonoscopies have been performed?

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – Round 2 – January to December 2014 – Footnotes

Ministry of Health: DHB Location boundaries (map)

National Party: Consultation on next steps for bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Health fund loses $18 million

Fairfax media: NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

TV3 News: Flag referendum to cost $26M

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

Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

National Party: Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman

Previous related blogposts

Unhealthy Health Cuts

Priorities?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

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HeraldCartoon3413

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 July 2015.

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Latest Roy Morgan poll – wholly predictable results and no reason to panic

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Fuck National and the morons who support it

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The latest Roy Morgan poll reports a surge in support for National – up 8.5% to 54% – one of the highest rises since October 2011, according to Australian-based the polling company.

Labour and the Greens have suffered a corresponding drop in support;

National: 54% (+ 8.5%)

Labour: 25.5% (-2%)

Green Party: 10.5% (- 3%)

NZ First: NZ First 6% (- 2.5%)

Maori Party: 1% (-0.5%)

ACT: 1% (n/c)

United Future: nil (n/c)

Mana Party: nil (n/c)

Conservative Party: 1% (n/c)

Undecideds were up one percentage-point to 5%.

However, the results should be seen in the context that the poll was conducted in the lead up to, and during, the 2015 Budget, delivered on 21 May.

In fact, National’s polling rises during each Budget event, only to drop back down as media  attention  and political hype subsides. The charts below show the correlation between Budget events and the days/weeks leading up to each Budget Night, where National drip-feeds positive news stories to the public, via media;

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roy morgan poll march 12 april 1 2012

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Roy Morgan poll - May 2015 - National - Labour - Greens - NZ First

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The ‘spike’ in National’s support will begin to abate, as on previous occassions.

As housing prices continue to escalate, and child poverty continues to be a major problem in our society, the public will once again focus on what – if anything – National is doing to alleviate them.

On top of which will be a growing feeling that if English fails to deliver a Budget surplus next year, then National’s talk of tax cuts becomes more and more an absurdity. This seems more than likely according to various commentators, as next year’s surplus has already been pared back from $565 million to $176 million.

National got away with promises of tax cuts in 2008, even as the Global Financial Crisis was impacting on our economy. But at that stage, the Great Recession had not yet hit with full force. Unemployment in 2008 was still only 4.3% and the Clark-led Labour government had paid down most of the country’s sovereign debt.

By contrast, unemployment is now at 5.8% and the country is around $65 billion in debt. (Net core crown debt is forecast to be $61.7 billion by 30 June, up  $1.7 billion from last year.)

Faced with the Four Horsemen of the Fiscal Apocalyspse of another Budget deficit;  higher debt; broken promise of tax cuts; and a runaway housing crisis in Auckland – National’s undeserved reputation as a “prudent manager of the economy” begins to look every bit as shabby as what Muldoon left the country.

By 2017, even a Budget event may not be sufficient to give National a boost in the polls.

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References

Roy Morgan Poll:  May 25 2015

NBR: Budget 2015 – NZ credit ratings unaffected by government’s 2015 budget

Additional

Fairfax media: Budget 2015 – An idiot’s guide

 

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key-surplus-2014

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 May 2015.

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Letter to the editor – hitting charities where it hurts, courtesy of the Nats

16 February 2015 1 comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking.

A cash-strapped government – having frittered billions away in two tax cuts for the rich – now seeks to penny-pinch voluntary organisations and charities to make up for the gaping deficits they have created?!

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Fee for police background checks slated by charities

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <editor@star-times.co.nz>
date: Mon, Feb 16, 2015
subject: Letter to the ed

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The Editor
Sunday Star Times

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This government is planning to implement a user-pays charge whereby charities; other voluntary organisations, and non-profit groups are required to pay for police vetting of volunteers and employed staff.

How long will it be before the $5 or $7 vetting fee becomes $10? $20? Then full recovery costs? If there is one thing we know about government charges, once they are introduced, they invariably increase as governments look to cut taxes, and raise user-pays charges for state services. Tertiary fees, fuel taxes, gst, prescription fees, court costs, are all examples of government shifting costs on to the individuals and public organisations.

One day, New Zealanders will wake up to the realisation that far from being “prudent fiscal managers”, National’s track record in managing the government books are ad hoc and worse still, penalise those who need help the most.

This is penny-pinching in the extreme, and shows how we are still paying for two ill-considered and unaffordable tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[Address and phone number supplied]

 

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References

NZ Herald: Fee for police background checks slated by charities

Radio NZ:  Education and charity sector worry about cost of police checks (Audio - 12′ 24″ )

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Random Thoughts on Random Things #3…

21 October 2013 5 comments

Why is it…

That drug testing the unemployed is seen by National Ministers as a good thing…

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Fail a drugs test and lose your benefit, job seekers warned

By Isaac Davison @Isaac_Davison

5:30 AM Monday Jul 2, 2012
Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett. Photo / Natalie Slade

Beneficiaries who refuse or fail drug tests while applying for jobs will have their welfare cut from mid-2013 under the Government’s next round of welfare reforms.

The National-led Government says there are now no consequences for drug-takers who opted out of job applications when faced with a drug test.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett told the Herald the new Welfare Reform Bill would have new requirements for drug testing, but the finer details were still being finalised.

National’s pre-election policy document said beneficiaries who did not apply for a job because a prospective employer asked them to take a drug test would have their benefit cancelled.

If they took the drug test and failed it, they would also be sanctioned.

Source: NZ Herald

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… But drug testing the Police (who regularly have access to lethal weapons), is a big No-No?

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Police minister says no to drug tests at work

Updated at 7:38 pm on 17 October 2013

Police Minister Anne Tolley says police staff should not be drug-tested in the workplace.

Her comment came after a police prosecutor on Thursday admitted charges of using and possessing methamphetamine, and using cannabis.

Anne Tolley.

Anne Tolley.  NATIONAL PARTY

Brent Thomson posted videos of himself using methamphetamine, and blogs describing his use of drugs at sex parties in April and May, online.

Police found a small amount of the drug “P” and syringes when they searched the 49-year-old’s home. He is seeking a discharge without conviction in the Waitakere District Court.

Thomson, who worked mainly in the Family Violence Court and the Auckland District Court, is also subject to an employment investigation.

Anne Tolley says the overwhelming majority of police staff are doing a fantastic job and they should not face workplace drug testing. She says police are quick to prosecute their own if there is any wrongdoing.

The Police Association agrees that staff shouldn’t be given workplace drug tests. President Greg O’Connor says the public should be re-assured by the systems that police already have.

Source: Radio NZ

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All together now; H… Y… P… O… C… R… I… S… Y.

Yep, hypocrisy.  National has it mastered to a fine art.

With a good helping of beneficiary bashing.

Because if you, as a government can’t fire up the economy to create jobs and reduce unemployment (as we had under the previous Labour-led government), then the next “best” thing is to paint the unemployed as “lazy druggies”. If enough of the middle class (those who  still have jobs or don’t regularly associate with unemployed friends and family) swallow this mindless pap, then that translates nicely into votes at election time.

Never underestimate the power of demonising a minority – especially if there are votes in it.

Just ask any old historian familiar with Germany in the 1920s and 30s…

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Jewish_shops_in_Nazi_Germany

 

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Previous related blogposts

Labour: the Economic Record 2000 – 2008

2013 – Ongoing jobless talley

 

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

9 March 2013 7 comments

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national blighted hoarding 12 it's all labour's fault

Acknowledgement

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

Opposition Party members of the Commerce Select Committee are demanding that  ex-CEO, Don Elder appear before the Select Committee to answer questions what went wrong at Solid Energy.

With unanswered questions about Solid Energy’s financial crisis; a murky history leading up to current events; big bonuses paid out as the company’s accounts were sinking into the red; and revelations that Don Elder is still recieving his  $1.3 million annual salary  – whilst working from home “serving out his notice” – pressure is mounting on National.

Solid Energy went from a multi-billion dollar company to being heavily indebited to $389 million.

How did this happen?

Did ministerial shareholders Bill English and Tony Ryall not notice?

Were they not receiving reports from Solid Energy’s Board of Directors?

Were no rumours or conversations floating around?

How does one keep a secret like that in a small country like New Zealand? (In which case  should Solid Energy take over our country’s security, from the GCSB and SIS?)

Why were we paying Don Elder for ($1.3 million p.a., plus bonuses no doubt) if not to be held to account?

On 8 March, Key was reported as saying,

“If he wants to go [to the Select Committee hearings] and they want him to go he is not going to get any opposition from my office.”

Source

And SOE Minister chipped in with this,

“It’s a matter for the Commerce Select Committee, Solid Energy and Dr Elder whether or not Dr Elder attends, but I don’t have a problem either way.”

IBID

Good. Because the public – who own Solid Energy – deserve answers. Thus far all we’ve had is the usual finger-pointing by National, with childishly pathetic  attempts to blame Labour for Solid Energy’s woes. As if Labour was still in government and the 2008 and 2011 general elections never happened.

This statement from Key, on 26 February 2013, simply doesn’t wash,

“They  [Labour] can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had.

The argument that somehow we would have gone in, in 2009 when the company was performing well, its results were good, the valuation of the company was going up, and just gone and sacked the board on day one is a bit fanciful.

Maybe we should have re-tested those [Labour-approved] initiatives but actually we gave [Labour] the benefit of the doubt that they might get one thing right.”

Source

“2003”?

That was ten years ago!  What has National been doing in the meantime?

As far back as September 2011, the Nats were abundantly aware that Solid Energy was embarking on expansion plans,

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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Here’s the photographic evidence, from National’s own ‘Flickr’ account, same date, 9 September 2011 – that’s Finance Minister Bill English, “turning the first sod of earth” for Solid Energy’s  Mataura Briquette Plant  in Southland. That plant was part of their expansion plans,

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

Source

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Only three months earlier, in June 2011, Key himself was supporting Solid Energy’s explansion plans,

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national business review - nbr - Key supports Solid Energy's lignite plans

Source

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Note Key’s comment in the above article in the National Business Review (hardly a leftist rag),

At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.”

So for Dear Leader to blame Labour is not only disingenuous – it is cowardly.

It shows the entire country that the man who is supposedly or Prime Minister hasn’t got the balls to take it on the chin and admit that he and his Party f****d up. Big time.

Even the editorial from the Dominion Post said, with unconcealed exasperation on 2 March 2013,

There are always excuses when a company starts to fail. John Key’s explanation for the trouble at Solid Energy, however – he blamed the Labour government – was pitiful.

It was Trevor Mallard’s fault, apparently, for encouraging SOEs to spread their wings and fly. That was in 2007 or 2008.

This won’t do, and not just because Mr Key’s Government has been in power for more than four years. His argument also contradicts itself. A Labour government was seemingly omnipotent and could have its way with the state-owned coal company. But National had no such power.

The Government certainly said no when Solid Energy asked for a billion dollars to turn itself into a super-company along the lines of Petrobras, the Brazilian giant. Mr Key says it had grave doubts about the company’s expansion plans. His political opponents point out that he and Bill English had publicly backed Solid Energy’s big plans for lignite conversion and briquetting.

Source

This blogger welcomes Don Elder fronting up to the Commerce Select Committee.  However, that is simply not sufficient. In the interests of full justice, the following should occur,

  • John Key should front up and answer questions as well,
  • Bill English should front up and answer questions,
  • Tony Ryall should front up and answer questions,
  • All documentation should be made available to the Committee,
  • The Chairperson of the Select Committee – National MP Jonathan Young, should stand aside and  be replaced by a non-partisan senior judge or Queen’s Counsel,
  • If necessary, if the Committee is unable to answer questions, a full Royal Commission in Inquiry should be held.

National prides itself on being the party of ‘personal responsibility‘. It is no such thing. It is the party of personal advantage and not much more.

Thus far all we’ve had are evasiveness  and pathetic attempts to blame others. We’re also seeing more of the same from our Prime Minister;  bullshit.

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Previous related blogposts

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

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

Taking responsibility, National-style

References

NZ National Party: Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura (9 Sept 2011)

Scoop.co.nz: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant (9 Sept 2011)

NBR: Key supports Solid Energy’s lignite plans (3 June 2011)

TV3: Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy (26 Feb 2013)

Dominion Post: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger (2 March 2013)

TVNZ: Pressure grows on Don Elder to front over Solid Energy (8 March 2013)

Fairfax media: Minister, PM fine for Elder to appear for grilling (8 March 2013)

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

28 February 2013 12 comments

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

A bit of  very recent history,

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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Eighteen months later, on 19 February, the SOE Shareholders Bill English and Tony Ryall,  made this shock announcement to the public (see:  Statement on Solid Energy).

The media were quick to report the crisis,

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Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Source

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National’s response?

Default to Deflection #1 (see previous blogpost: National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2 )

As described in my previous blogpost (see:  Taking responsibility, National-style), National does not do Taking Responsibility very well. Their automatic instinct is to blame someone else – anyone – for problems of their making,

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National and John Key blames...

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And true-to-form, National and Dear Leader are once again playing the Blame Game over Solid Energy’s woes,

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Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

Source

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Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy

Source

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“They can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had,” sez Key?!

Really? 2003 ???

Why stop at 2003?

Personally, if I was John Key, I’d be asking serious questions on Labour’s role in the sinking of the Titanic. The Cuban Missile Crisis. And don’t forget the 2007/08 Global Financial Meltdown – that has Labour’s fingerprints all over it, surely???

Getting serious again…

National is supposedly Very Big on responsibility issues. Their website is constantly referring to responsibility,

The National Party is built on age-tested principles that reflect what is best about New Zealand. We are a party of enterprise; a party of personal freedom and individual responsibility; a party of family; an inclusive party; a party of ambition.” – John Key, 27 May 2007

We also need to remember the enduring principles on which the National Party is based – individual responsibility, support for families and communities, and a belief that the State can’t and shouldn’t do everything.” – John Key, 30 January 2007

It seems that their constant refusals to accept responsibility is also one of those things that “the State can’t and shouldn’t do”, according to Dear Leader.

A few questions spring to mind,

  1. How far back will Key go to blame others for his failures?
  2. How many terms in office will National have to win, before blaming Labour or Uncle Tom Cobbly is no longer tenable?
  3. If John Key and his cronies are unable to ‘man-up’ and take a hit for any one of their balls-ups, and constantly feel the need to sheet responsibility back to Labour – then why is National in government? Why not just resign and put Labour back in office? After all, what would be the difference?

We wouldn’t accept finger-pointing and blame-gaming from our children (or, at least I hope we wouldn’t). So why is the public and media letting Key get away with it?

I look forward to National’s next major cock-up.

Who will they blame next? Australia?

Meanwhile,  back to 9 September 2011…

Doesn’t Bill seem a happy chappy in this photo-op?

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura  - 9 sept 2011

Source

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Bill English, poses with ex-Solid Energy CEO, Don Elder, as the ‘first sod is turned’ at a new  Briquette Plant in Mataura, Southland.

The same plant that was “Labour’s fault”.

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