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Posts Tagged ‘Parliamentary Service’

From our “Boggles the Mind” Files…

20 September 2011 17 comments

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Q: When is a lie fair?

A: When the Broadcasting Standards Authority sez so.

Case in point,

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A One News item that claimed MP Hone Harawira spent more on parliamentary travel than the entire Maori Party has been ruled inaccurate but fair.

The story aired on April 28 stated that the MP had “racked up a $35,000 travel bill that’s almost $4000 more than the Maori Party’s total bill”.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority found that the figure compared Parliamentary Service expenditure only, and failed to mention that Maori Party MPs also received funds from Ministerial Services.

Maori Party MPs Dr Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia also spent $20,782 on domestic air travel from ministerial budgets, in addition to $31,658 spent the four Maori Party MPs on their parliamentary budget.

Quoting one figure and not mentioning the other was deemed misleading by the BSA.

“As the presenter stated that Mr Harawira’s travel expenses were more than the Maori Party’s ‘total’ travel bill, we consider that viewers would have been left with the impression that the figures reported constituted total travel expenditure for the period specified, and not just expenditure administered by one agency.”

The complainant Henry Clayton of Wellington also considered the item unfair to Harawira because it was misleading, but the Authority decided politicians should expect to face closer media scrutiny than other people.

“Although we have found that the presenter’s comment was misleading, we consider that, given Mr Harawira’s high profile status as an often controversial politician, he should expect to face robust criticism, especially with regard to the expenditure of public money,” said the decision.

The Authority said the news presenter’s comments related to Harawira in his professional capacity as an elected representative, and did not stray into “abusively personal territory” which is deemed unfair, even for political figures.

Source

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The background article which sparked the complaint to the BSA,

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“[1]  An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on Thursday 28 April 2011, reported on MP Hone Harawira’s travel expenses. The presenter stated:

Figures out today show Hone Harawira racked up a $35,000 travel bill in just the first three months of the year – more than $20,000 went on air travel, $14,000 on rental cars and taxis – and that’s almost $4000 more than the Māori Party’s total travel bill. A spokesperson says Mr Harawira travelled to Hui across the country at the time due to concerns about the Māori Party’s relationship with the National Government.” Source

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Full Story

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So let me get this right… a story that is so inaccurate as to be worthless in terms of accuracy is still “fair” – according to the Broadcasting Standards Authority-  “given Mr Harawira’s high profile status as an often controversial politician, he should expect to face robust criticism, especially with regard to the expenditure of public money “?!?!

Say what?

Have I fallen down the rabbit hole to Wonderland?

If  the media has reported the BSA’s decision accurately and fairly, then this decision is astrounding and unbelievable on several levels.

Firstly. I think it not unreasonable that the public expect their media to be accurate when presenting information to us. It’s not a big thing to expect accuracy – it is what informative News and Current Affairs shows should be predicated on.

If standards of accuracy no longer apply, or are not a matter of high priority, then the credibility of News reporting has been undermined to the point where it is worthless.

Secondly. So what if Hone Harwira is a “controversial”, “high profile”, politician?  Since when should that matter one iota when we are presented with information from the media?

If anything, it behoves the News media to be even more scrupulous in presenting factual, unbiased, and complete information to the viewer/listener/reader. We, the public may well decide whop to vote for in upcoming electuions based on what the media presents to us.

There is also a matter of basic fairness and justice involved here. I don’t care if it’s Hone Harawira, Don Brash, Phil Goff, John Key, or Uncle Tom Cobbly – I think everyone deserves the basic decency of being treated fairly by the media, irrespective of being controversial or not.

Thirdly. For the BSA to arrive at a decision that it is acceptable for a news item to be “misleading” because ” the Authority decided politicians should expect to face closer media scrutiny than other people” defies understanding. Of course politicians an rightly expect “closer media scrutiny”.

But it is not beyond the realms of rationality that the public expect the media to be fair and accurate in the way that they present their information to is, the public.

For the BSA not to comprehend this most basic idea is truly disturbing. Especially so when, just recently, the BSA decided to fine a complainant $50 for a supposedly “frivolous complaint”. Full story. This despite the fact that the complainant was factually correct in his complaint.

What is also as bizarre is the Authority’s determining statement,

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on One News on 28 April 2011 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[25]  Having upheld the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. In our view, the publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach, and serves to remind broadcasters to take care when making comparisons of this nature.” Source

So, to clarify; the BSA accepts that the TVNZ broadcast breached standards of fairness and accuracy.

But then, they go on to state that “in our view, the publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach“. A “sufficient remedy”?!

In effect, the BSA is agreeing that TVNZ brokes the rules and that the mere publication of the BSA’s decision on their website is a sufficient “remedy”.

That would be like a burglar being found guilty by a Court of Law of breaking into my home and nicking my property – but the mere fact that the Court found the burglar guilty and reported the fact is suffient “remedy”. The burglar is free to go – just don’t do it again, sez the judge.

I am fast losing all respect and confidence in the BSA and it’s increasingly bizarre decisions.

If someone makes a mistake, it behoves them to  correct it. In the case of the media, they have  wide-ranging,  considerable,  influence on the public. These influences can affect the way we perceive the world around us; social issues; our political institutions and representatives.  As such, errors that can impact on public perceptions, must be rectified.

It is worth noting that the TVNZ website reports do not contain any reference to the BSA ruling on this issue; nor any attempt to correct the mis-information contained within the reports.

Harawira tops MPs’ expenses list

The lie is therefore perpetuated.

The media have a responsibility in this matter that they must not be allowed to shirk, no matter how “minor” it may be seen by decision-makers, nor how inconvenient it might be to management and producers.  And which the BSA must take more seriously than they seem to be doing.

Otherwise the role of the BSA must be called into question.

A media report that is “inaccurate but fair” is most certainly not “fair”. Not by any reasonable definition.

I note that the Chair of the BSA is Peter Radich. May I pose a question on my blog;  is it possible that Mr Radich has a penchant for wearing women’s underwear – would that be “misleading but fair” reporting on my part?

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Text of Complaint to BSA:

Clayton and Television New Zealand Ltd – 2011-077

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Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

3 August 2011 44 comments

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STATE HOUSE RESIDENTS MOVED

Meanwhile, almost 400 tenants have been kicked out of state houses in the last three years.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley said 241 tenancies were ended in the last year.

Tenancies were ended because people had failed to inform Housing New Zealand about income from employment, business interests, assets, that they lived with a partner of sublet the house.

Since July 2010, 119 tenants were successfully prosecuted for fraud.

Housing New Zealand has also identified $6.6 million from the last 12 months that is owed to the Crown, largely for overpaid rent subsidies.

“The state housing system is designed to help people in their time of need. It’s unfair and unacceptable for people to abuse the system and commit fraud to get benefits they are not entitled to. People who deliberately rip-off the system deprive families in real need,” Heatley said.

The houses were now freed up for those with genuine need, he said.

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On most levels, the mis-use of State assets (ie; owned by us, the People)  is a rort that cannot and should not be tolerated.  Housing Minister, Phil Heatley is correct when he reminds us that,

“The state housing system is designed to help people in their time of need. It’s unfair and unacceptable for people to abuse the system and commit fraud to get benefits they are not entitled to. People who deliberately rip-off the system deprive families in real need.”

Although I note that Mr Heatley’s admonitions did not stop certain Ministers of the Crown from ripping of the tax-payer, when it suited them…

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And similar cases where Members of Parliament used their accomodation allowance in ways in was not intended…

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Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said his previous apartment had been very small and was not suitable for him and his wife, now he was spending more time in Wellington as a minister.

He confirmed the apartment was owned by his superannuation trust and was rented to National MP Bakshi Singh, for $400 a week.

As an MP Mr Singh can claim up to $24,000 year in accommodation costs from Parliamentary Service.

Dr Mapp also collected around $700 a week for his new larger apartment and said he could see why his rental income should be used to offset his expense claims.

“I can see why people have concerns and the review will deal with that,’ Dr Mapp said.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley also said he was renting out his old apartment and claiming a $1000 a week in accommodation expenses in a larger home to accommodate his wife and young children.

Mr Heatley would not say whether this was rented to an MP.  – Source

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It seems that rules are different for some folk.

The shortage of state housing is a serious matter, though. This critical problem of decent, affordable housing is not helped by the fact that the Fourth National government (1996-1999) sold around 13,000 State Houses in the 1990s.  These properties were supposedly made available to tenants – but actually went mostly to property speculators (who later sold them for tax-free capital gains).

When Labour was elected to power in November 1999, they immediatly placed a moratorium on the sale of state housing. According to HNZ, they currently ” own or manage more than 66,000 properties throughout the country, including about 1,500 homes used by community groups”

This government has re-instated the sale of state houses.  It does not take rocket science to work out that selling of state housing reduces the availability of housing stock.   Housing Minister Phil Heatley said that,

“… about 40,000 of the 69,000 state house stock will be available for sale,”  but then added,  “that the vast majority of tenants do not earn enough to be required to pay market rent means relatively few will be in a position to buy“. (Source.)

There seems to be nothing stopping tenants from buying their state house and immediatly on-selling it to a Third Party.

Is it any wonder that the shortage of state housing is not being addressed in any meaningful way? It certainly does help those on the current waiting list (as of 30 June);

  • 402 were Priority Eligible — A
  • 3,352 were Priority Eligible — B

Plus a further 5,132 in categories “C” and “D”.

Problem:  there are currently 8,886 people on the HNZ waiting-list.

Solution: build more houses.

This may seem like a ‘flippant’ answer to a desperate problem – but it is not.

The building of 10,000 new state houses may seem an outrageously expensive idea.  But it would address at least three pressing problems in our economy and society;

1. Persistantly high unemployment.

2. Low growth.

3. Inadequate housing for the poorest of our fellow New Zealanders.

At an average housing cost of $257,085 (calculated at DBH website @ $1,773/m for a 145 square metre, small house), the cost (excluding land) is $2.57 billion dollars,  including GST (approximate estimate).

By contrast, the October 2010 tax cuts gave $2.5 billion to the top 10% of income earners.

For roughly the cost of last year’s tax cuts, we could have embarked on a crash building-programme to construct ten thousand new dwellings in this country. The immediate effects would have been profound for the building industry and would have created work for;

  • architects
  • builders
  • glaziers
  • roofers
  • electricians
  • plumbers
  • drain layers
  • painters
  • plasterers
  • tilers
  • landscapers
  • bricklayers
  • concreting contractors
  • insulation installers
  • home-heating installers
  • carpet layers
  • etc, etc.

Work would flow through to associated contractors;

  • truck drivers
  • building waste disposal

Turnover would increase for timber and framing suppliers as well as other building supplies outlets.

In turn, those in the building and associated industries would enjoy massive increase in demand for their products.

And equally important, those on the unemployment queue would suddenly be in high demand, as we needed to train more tradespeople. Which would mean a flow-on effect to polytechnics as they suddenly needed to train hundreds more tradespeople.

A further flow-on effect would impact positively on service industries, as money flowed into the economy, into supermarkets; entertainment; clothing; and elsewhere into the retail sector. As Bill Kaye-Blake of  NZIER, said in April of this year;

The economy is sluggish because people are not spending.

It would be a boom-time, as two and a half billion dollars was spent on products and services.

Would it actually end up costing taxpayers $2.57 billion dollars? The answer is ‘no’.  Government would actually re-coup much of that initial outlay through;

  • gst
  • paye
  • other taxes
  • reduced spending on welfare for unemployed
  • and investment re-couped by rent paid for new rentals

Would it work?

Yes, it would.  An NZIER survey expects a strong pick-up in 2013 when the rebuilding phase hits full-flight, with 3.9% annual growth predicted from a previous forecast of 2.6%.

The government has a strong role to play in tough economic times. A “hands off” approach will achieve nothing except unnecessarily drawing out an already painful recession, and prompting more frustrated  New Zealanders to “cross the Ditch” to Australia, where their government has announced a  programme aimed at 500,000 new jobs.

There is no reason why a determined government cannot adopt a bold programme for economic growth.

Instead of borrowing to pay for tax cuts we can ill afford, we should be investing in jobs.  The rest will almost invariably take care of itself.

We have the resources. We have the money. We have the demand for new housing. What else is missing?

The will to do it.

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Updates

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Fletcher shares at 2-year low after warning

Wellington rental market tough for tenants

Major housing shortage looms

Business NZ sees no economic plan

Downturn in building sector ideal timing for state house build

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