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The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

18 April 2015 10 comments

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The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs

The closure of units in Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons, and the subsequent estimated loss of 262 jobs has been openly conceded as a re-distribution of inmates to the new, privately run prison at Wiri.  Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, stated on 9 April;

I am also proposing to close units at three prisons – Rimutaka, Waikeria and Tongariro/Rangipo…

… With the opening of Auckland South Corrections Facility (at Wiri), and the subsequent reduction in pressure on prison capacity, we can now look at closing these end of life facilities.

The Wiri facility will be managed by multi-national corporation, Serco, as a profit-making venture, paid by the tax-payer.

Smith has blamed the closures and redundancies on the Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons being  “50 years old, surrounded by facilities that are 100 years old“. He claims “it would be uneconomic to bring them up to scratch“.

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka is estimated to save the National government $165 million. This will be a godsend to Finance Minister Bill English, who admitted on 10 April that National’s much heralded promise of a budget surplus was looking more and more unlikely;

We’re (the Government) is continuing to manage the books carefully but lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year.

With the  planned sale of state houses to the  Salvation Army, and other social services, having collapsed, English’s expectation of reaping big cash dividends from the housing sell-of has evaporated.

As I wrote in October 2014;

Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public.  As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,

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

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

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

The reason for putting up to  $5 billion-worth of homes  on the block?

Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that  Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;

It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.”

Faced with the imminent sinking of one of National’s cornerstone election promises – a return to surplus by 2014/15 – $165 million saved by the closure of prison units will be  a relief to an increasingly frustrated Bill English.

Key and English couldn’t flog of $5 billion of state housing to social services. So now they are looking at what is effectively privatisation-by-stealth with our prison services.

And bugger the inevitable consequences…

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Justice not for sale logo

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Five issues for the National govt

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons will not be without dire consequences that impact on nearly every aspect of New Zealand society, regions, and the economy.  Even the political landscape may be altered if this ill-considered plan goes ahead.

1. Sending “clients” to a private facility

There is something decidely immoral about up-rooting hundreds of prisoners whose freedom of movement and freedom of choice has been curtailed by State sanctions, and handed over into the hands of a private corporation – Serco – where the prime motivator is making a profit for shareholders. (Overseas shareholders, to be precise.)

In no way can this dystopian scenario be considered part of the “free market”, as all forms of choice have been removed from the prison “clients”.

Serco have been handed “clients” into their “care” whether wanted or not by the prisoners. Not since the slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries have human being been treated as commodities by Western nations.

Make no mistake; private prisons turn human beings into “things”, to be used by business as investment commodities.

How long before prisoners are sold, bought, and traded by competing corporatised prisons? How long before their labour is sold to other businesses, for profit?

2. Regional economies and job losses

The loss of 262 jobs in Upper Hutt (Rimutaka),  Waikeria, and Tongariro-Rangipo will impact considerably on those regional economies already badly hit by loss of industries, closed businesses, population moving away, and continuing down-turn in the dairy industry.

It is this sort of regional neglect that resulted in Northland voters abandoning the National Party and electing NZ First leader, Winston Peters, as their electorate MP.

Waipa District mayor, Jim Mylchreest, was frustrated and angry at National’s further under-mining of what remained of regional economies;

Here they are with a major change and not even bothering to let us know plans are afoot.

I assume that they’ve done their sums and it’s more efficient for them but they’re not looking at New Zealand in terms of what are the benefits to try and keep employment in the regions.”

Mayor Mylchreest has every right to be angry – closure of a high-security wing at Waikeria Prison will  result in the loss of 148 jobs – creating considerable impact on nearby Te Awamutu (pop: 10,305), only sixteen kilometers away.

Is this how the National Party “supports” the regions?!

It seems that National has not learned a single thing from the Northland by-election.

Rimutaka may well be a safe Labour seat. But it also delivered 15,352 Party Votes for National – now at risk as Upper Hutt will be hard hit by job losses at Rimutaka Prison.

National may have mis-calculated the political fall-out from this move.

3. NZ First/Country Party

A loss of 262 jobs. Millions lost from regional economies. Small towns losing more people. Businesses closing, through lack of turn-over. Which, in a vicious circle leads to more job losses…

A recipe to increase NZ First’s re-positioning on the politicalk spectrum as a de facto “Country-Regional Party”?

It certainly sounds like it.

National may have handed Peters an early Christmas gift to campaign on. Disaffected voters seeing hundreds of jobs lost in their communities – with  subsequent closures of down-stream businesses in their town Main Streets – may wonder why on Earth they should keep voting for National? What’s in it for them?

Not much it would seem.

“Vote National – Lose Your Job” would appear to be the new slogan for National for the 2017 elections.

I have no doubt that even as I write this, and you the reader are reading my words, that Winston Peters and his NZ First strategists are already working on how to maximise these events for their own political gain.

I have no doubt whatsoever; the “Northland Experience” will be repeated throughout the country – much to Winston Peters’ delight.

4. Prisoner’s families

National’s Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has stated;

I understand that this proposal may be unsettling for affected staff but Corrections will have extensive support and assistance in place should the proposal go ahead. I also believe that the proposal reflects our commitment to providing safe and secure working conditions for staff and a safe and productive environment for prisoners.

Prisoners have a much better chance of successful rehabilitation in modern facilities where they have access to education, training and employment opportunities.

Being close to their families is an important factor in rehabilitation for some prisoners.”

However, transferring several hundred prisoners from as far afield as Rimutaka, to Auckland – a distance of some 650kms – is hardly “being close to their families”  and one can only imagine how increasing isolation from family and community will give  “prisoners […] a much better chance of successful rehabilitation”.

The distances involved are considerable, as this Corrections Department map illustrates;

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[6] Waikeria Prison [8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison [13] Rimutaka Prison

[6] Waikeria Prison
[8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison
[13] Rimutaka Prison

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Minister Lotu-Iiga needs to explain why he thinks that isolating prisoners in this manner, can possibly assist in their rehabilitation and reintergration back into their communities?

It seems that transferring prisoners out of their communities flies in the face of the Minister’s assertions.

It may also prove more expensive, as prisoner’s families make increased calls upon the Child Travel Fund;

The Child Travel Fund provides financial support to eligible children traveling to visit a parent in prison. The fund also supports parents traveling to visit a child who is under 18 years of age and in prison.

Does National even care?

They should. Increasing prisoner’s alienation from family and communities undermines every effort made by the judicial/corrections system to rehabilitate prisoners.

It should definitely be cause for concern for  the corporate managers of Wiri, for whom rehabilitation and reduced re-offending is part of their contract, according to Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith;

They can earn up to $1.5 million in incentive payments if they can reduce the rate of reoffending by up to 10 percent more than the department can do.”

According to Derek Cheng at the Herald, writing three years ago;

For Wiri, Serco will face stiff financial penalties if it does not meet rehabilitation targets – which will be set at 10 per cent lower than public prisons.

The Corrections Department has a target to reduce re-offending by 10 per cent. If that is achieved, Wiri would have to achieve a rate 20 below the current rates or face fines, which have yet to be set.

Though Finance Minister Bill English – quoted in Scoop at around the same time – was more cautious;

It will also face financial penalties if it fails to meet short-term rehabilitation and reintegration measures including prisoner health and employment targets, and safe, secure and humane custodial standards.”

However, speaking to Paul Henry on Radio Live, Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, was more circumspect when asked directly what penalties were involved in prisoners re-offended after release;

(@ 7:35)

Henry: “If rehabitation rates, if recidivism rates deteriorate, is there a penalty?”

Smith: “Well they just can’t earn the incentive payment if they can’t [meet the targets(muffled)].”

Henry: “So there isn’t actually a penalty?”

Smith: “[Stuttered words]...the penalties are associated with failure on security. The incentives are geared towards having to actually achieve better outcomes than the Department.”

So unlike penalties associated with prisoner escapes, where Serco actually has to pay the government, the only “penalty” associated with not meeting rehabilitation targets is foregoing $1.5 million in incentive payments?

Under Serco’s contract to manage Mt Eden Remand Prison, it is fined $150,000 each and every time a prisoner escapes, as happened in 2011 and 2012.

Under the contract to manage Wiri, it appears that the “penalty” is foregoing incentive payments.

The two “penalties” are not exactly the same and Minister English was being less than clear when he referred to Serco facing “financial penalties“.

Repeating the question – does National care? Not in the least, one may rightly guess. After all, chances are that National will no longer be in government when the ‘chickens come home to roost’ on this little social time bomb, and John Key will be writing his memoirs somewhere on an idyllic Hawaiian beach.

5. Relocating staff?

There seems to be confusion as to what will happen to the 262 staff who will lose their jobs from  Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons.

In his interview with Paul Henry on Radio Live on 10 April, Corrections CEO Ray Smith offered to do his best to find replacement jobs at other facilities for 262 redundant staff.

Suggestions that staff would be relocated to Auckland, with a “$20,000 relocation assistance-payment” appears to be farcical for two reason;

1. $20,000 payment to a Corrections staffmember living in a small town, where properties are worth considerably less than the over-heated Auckland housing market, is unhelpful. There is a worsening housing shortage in Auckland, and it seems to be verging on incompetence for this government to be adding to the housing problem by encouraging more workers and their families to move to the the city, thereby adding to congestion.

2. According to various media reports, the new Wiri facility is already fully staffed;

And unfortunately for staff who will be laid off, the opening of a large new prison in South Auckland next month is no consolation as all jobs are already filled. – TV1 News

A new prison in south Auckland will pick up the relocated inmates, but it is already fully staffed.TV3 News

So where are the jobs? Certainly not at Wiri.

Which makes this statement from Corrections Minister Lotu-Iiga unconvincing;

It should also be noted that the number of prisoner places is not reducing and will in fact increase with the opening of [Wiri]. We will have a net increase of 433 beds.”

The closure of three facilities; 262 redundancies; and contracting out to a private provider all reeks of National’s mania for cost-cutting.

As with many other cost-cutting exercises, it is New Zealanders; their families; and economically-fragile regions and small towns, that are having to pay the price. Treating prisoners as commercial commodities adds a particularly nasty aspect to this exercise.

Meanwhile, foreign-owned Serco stands to gain $30 million of tax-payer’s money, per year, from managing the new Wiri prison.

Someone is benefitting, and it is not us.

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Justice not for sale logo

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Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

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Number of prisoners in each prison - nz prisons

Source

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Justice not for sale logo
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References

Fairfax media: Up to 262 prison jobs may be cut in major Corrections restructure

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

TV1 News: Budget surplus looking increasingly unlikely this year, Bill English admits

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

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

National Party: Remaining on track to Budget surplus in 2014/15

Wikipedia: Serco

TV1 News: Town’s fury at being left in dark over prison closure

Wikipedia: Te Awamutu

Election Results 2014: Official Count Results — Rimutaka

Department of Corrections:  Sustainable Development Framework

Department of Corrections:  Travel assistance for visits

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

NZ Herald: New private prison at Wiri given green light

Auckland Scoop media: Amazing promises for new Wiri prison: less offending, better safety, superior service

RadioLive: Around 260 staff face redundancy at Waikeria, Rangipo and Rimutaka prisons (audio)

Auckland Scoop media: Private operator of Mt Eden fined $150,000 for prison escape; security improvements made

Radio NZ: Serco fined after another prisoner escape

TV3 News: Govt criticised over prison job cuts

Radio NZ: Serco expects $30m revenue from Wiri prison

Department of Corrections:  Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

Previous related blogposts

The lunatics are running the Asylum

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

 


 

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140105 Housing in prisons

 

 

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

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The Mendacities of Mr Key #9: The Sky’s the limit with taxpayer subsidies!

20 February 2015 3 comments

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key and skycity

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We all know the story by now; how Key admitted to discussing a convention-centre deal over  dinner with Skycity executives on 4 November 2009,

“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”.

The lack of transparency in the deal-making process was subsequently criticised by the Auditor-General in February 2013. Toby Manhire from The Listener listed ten quotes outlining the AG’s dissatisfaction with Key and his officials’  behaviour;

1. “We found a range of deficiencies in the advice provided and steps taken leading up to [the] decision.”

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

3. “By the time it was expected that SkyCity would put a firm proposal to the Government for support, officials should have been working to understand and advise on the procedural obligations and principles that would need to govern the next steps. We found no evidence that officials were doing so at this stage.”

4. “The meetings and discussion between the Government representatives and SkyCity were materially different in quantity and kind from those between the Government and the other parties that responded.”

5. “SkyCity was treated very differently from the other parties that responded and the evaluation process effectively moved into a different phase with one party. In our view, the steps that were taken were not consistent with good practice principles of transparency and fairness.”

6. “Overall, we regard the EOI [expressions of interest] process in stage two as having been poorly planned and executed. Insufficient attention was given to planning and management of the process as a whole, so that risks were not adequately addressed and managed.”

7. “We did not see any evidence of formal discussions or decisions on the evaluation process and criteria, or mapping out of the basic options for what might happen next, or advice to Ministers on how the process would be managed and their involvement in it. We do not regard this as adequate for a project of this potential scale, complexity, and risk.”

8. “We have concluded that the preparation for the EOI process and the EOI document, fell short of good practice in a number of respects.”

9. “In our view, the result was that one potential submitter had a clearer understanding of the actual position on a critical issue – that the Government did not want to fund any capital costs – than any other potential submitters … We accept that it is unlikely that this flaw made a material difference to the outcome. However, we have spent some time discussing it because we regard it as symptomatic of the lack of attention to procedural risks, and therefore to the fairness and credibility of the process.”

10. “We are unable to comment on the value of any contribution the Government might make as part of any eventual agreement with SkyCity, because negotiations have not yet been concluded.”

Key’s response, in Parliament was an outright denial;

“Absolutely, and the reason for that, as the member will be aware, is that the Auditor-General’s report was divided into three parts. The first part of it was focused on my involvement, and I was totally and utterly cleared and vindicated in that. That was my only involvement.”

The Auditor General, Phillipa Smith, was less than impressed by Key’s attempts at mis-representing her Office’s report as a ‘vindication’;

”That fact that [the report] took 50 or 60 pages suggests that nothing was entirely clear cut. We have said that we found problems with the process that was adopted and so I think the report speaks for itself.”

Right-wing NZ Herald columnist and National sympathiser, John Armstrong, was trenchant in his condemnation of Key’s comments. On 20 February, 2013, he wrote;

Verging on banana republic kind of stuff without the bananas – that is the only conclusion to draw from the deeply disturbing report into the shonkiness surrounding the Government’s selection of SkyCity as the preferred builder and operator of a national convention centre.

The Prime Minister’s attempt to downplay Deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith’s findings in advance of their release yesterday by saying he had not lost any sleep from reading draft copies may turn out to be a costly political miscalculation.

John Key may have escaped personal blame for the serious flaws in the old Ministry of Economic Development’s handling of the convention centre project but the report is far worse than he had been leading people to believe.

He is taking refuge in the report’s assurances that no evidence could be found to suggest “inappropriate considerations”, such as connections between political and business leaders, were behind the final decision for the Government to negotiate with SkyCity as the preferred bidder.

In other words, no corruption. Or at least none that could be found.

Right-wing commentator, Matthew Hooton, was more scathing and pulled no punches;

The procurement process for the Auckland centre was a farce and as close to corruption as we ever see in New Zealand.

As reported by the Deputy Auditor-General, Mr Eagleson – whose best friend and Las Vegas gambling buddy is Mark Unsworth, SkyCity’s Wellington lobbyist – had been conducting private talks with SkyCity through 2009 and early 2010, including about what regulatory relief SkyCity wanted.

Mr Eagleson argued a procurement process was unnecessary and that the government should just go with SkyCity on the grounds no one else could realistically compete.

(Hat-tip: No Right Turn.)

Read Hooton’s full column. It is far more critical and insightful than any left-wing commentator (including myself) has been on this issue.

Even before the AG’s investigation and damning report, Key’s figures of extra jobs resulting from the proposed convention centre were in doubt.

On 3 April 2012, Key stated in Parliament;

“I might add, when we were out announcing that we were doing a deal with Len Brown in Auckland, he was quite a little lamb chops before the election, because Len Brown knew as well that it will create 1,000 jobs in its construction, 900 jobs ongoing, hundreds of thousands of visitor nights for a convention centre, and tourists who will be spending twice as much in New Zealand.”

By June, Key’s claims for “1,000 jobs in its construction, 900 jobs ongoing” were questioned by hospitality and travel specialist analyst, Horwath Ltd. Horwath director, Stephen Hamilton, was blunt;

Horwath director Stephen Hamilton said he was concerned over reports the convention centre would employ 800 staff – a fulltime-equivalent total of 500.

He said the feasibility study put the number of people who would be hired at between 318 and 479.

“That’s not the number of employees at the convention centre. That’s the number in the whole economy. Some will be at the convention centre, some will be in the hotels and some will be additional taxi drivers.”

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He also questioned the construction job figures, saying: “I’m not quite sure what the source of that 1000 was.”

The original Horwath report said 150 jobs could be created over a five-year construction period for a total of 750.

But the most well-known promise from Key was that the convention centre would not cost tax-payers a cent. In May 2013, Key justified his deal-making with SkyCity by stating;

“The construction of the new convention centre will not cost taxpayers or ratepayers a cent, with SkyCity meeting the full project costs in return for some concessions from the Government.”

Nearly two years later, inflation appears to have  turned “not a cent” into an estimated “$70m to $130m shortfall”, with SkyCity hustling National for a tax-payer bail-out.

On 10 February, Key appeared to have caved to SkyCity pressure to pay a massive taxpayer-funded subsidy to the casino operator;

“I’m keen to see the best convention centre I can for Auckland, because this is a very long-term asset, so I would hate to see some sort of eyesore constructed down town.

There are issues around the construction of it. Obviously you can spend more and get something that looks a lot better, or spend a bit less and get something that looks worse.

In a nutshell, the Government has an agreement with them [SkyCity]. It could make them meet that agreement but the escalation in prices to build the convention centre, which is bigger than was proposed and flasher than was proposed, means there is a hole.

So there are a couple of options. Option one would be to say to Sky City, ‘Build the convention centre exactly at the price that we all agreed, on the conditions of the deal that we agreed’, but it would be smaller I think than we had hoped and less attractive.

Or the second option is to see if there’s any way of filling that hole and to identify how big that hole is, and that’s the process we’re going through.”

By the following day, as a public and media furore exploded in Key’s face, and even his own Finance Minister was cool on the proposed bail-out,  he was forced to do a sudden 180-degree u-turn;

“We agreed a deal at $402 million…our strong preference is that the SkyCity convention centre is built and paid for by SkyCity.”

It seems that the public and media have become weary of Key’s continual back-tracking; broken promises; and often outright lies.

This was not the first time that Key had promised the public one thing – and then delivered something else. In October 2010, as an industrial dispute erupted between SPADA and Actor’s Equity, there were threats that Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit”  movie project would be moved off-shore (an empty threat as Jackson later revealed).

On 26 October, Key was telling the public that his government would not be paying extra incentives to Warner Bros and that there would be no “bidding war” with other countries to provide greater incentives to the U.S. movie industry;

“If we could make the deal sweeter for them that would help; that’s something we would consider… but we can’t bridge the gap that is potentially on offer from other locations around the world. We’re not prepared to do that and… I don’t think the New Zealand taxpayer would want us to do that.”

When asked about any possible taxpayer subsidies, to match other countries incentives, he added;

“It’s not in the tens of millions, put it that way. There’s a lot of noughts.”

Key was  adamant; Warner Bros would not screw another cent out of the New Zealand tax-payer. There were already generous tax breaks in place. So said Dear Leader at 11.45am, on the morning of 27 October;

“They’ve got movies to make and in the end, money talks in Hollywood. That’s just the way it works. We can’t stop other countries around the world putting up much better and more financially-lucrative deals. If it’s just simply a matter of dollars and cents, I’m just not going to write out cheques that New Zealand can’t afford.”

By 7.38pm – barely eight hours later – Key had pulled out the taxpayer chequebook,

Tax rebates will also be changed for Warner Bros, which will mean up to an extra $NZ20.4 million per movie for Warner Bros, subject to the success of the movies…

… The Government will offset $NZ13.6 million of Warner Bros’ marketing costs as part of the strategic partnership.”

As Key lamely explained,

 “It was commercial reality. We did the business.”

The subsidy that was supposedly “ not in the tens of millionsbecame a $34 million tax-payer funded gift to Warner Bros  – on top of a 15% tax-break given to the movie industry – a tax-break not available to any other industry in this country.

Key had caved to the movie moguls from Hollywood, and the tax-payer would foot the bill.

Three years later, the next corporation to hold a “gun” to Key’s head and extort millions in tax-dollars was Rio Tinto.

As State Owned powerco’s were being partially privatised, the multi-national corporation demanded their electricity-supply contract be “re-negotiated” and tax-payer “assistance” to keep the smelter at Tiwai Point  afloat during low aluminium prices – or else the facility would be closed. The threat was the loss of 800 jobs (some claimed indirect jobs up to 3,000) and economic activity that was claimed to be 10% of Southland’s GDP.

With the possible closure of the smelter – which uses 15% of the country’s electricity – the price of power would collapse, making shares in Meridian, Genesis, and Mighty River Power worth only a fraction of their float price.

Key bravely asserted  on 3 April 2013  that government and the New Zealand tax-payer would not  be “held hostage” to Rio Tinto’s threats of closure;

“It’s quite possible that that power could be used either by new ventures that come to New Zealand or, alternatively, it would allow some less productive assets to be closed down or it would allow New Zealand not to build as much generation as might be required.”

Five months later, on 8 August 2013, Key had surrendered to Rio Tinto’s demands and as well as a deal for increased  electricity subsidies, National handed over a cheque for $30 million to the corporation.

Key justified the tax-payer bail-out and increased subsidies by pointing to saving jobs;

“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”

However, the loss of thousands of jobs from the economy seems not to have taxed Key’s concerns when it came to thousands of State sector workers being made redundant;

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State-sector job cuts 'will make life tough'

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By February the following year, Rio Tinto  posted a US$3.7 billion profit, and issued a 15% increase in dividends to it’s shareholders. Part of the dividends pocketed by shareholders was no doubt made up of $30 million gifted  from the pockets of hard working New Zealand tax-payers.

Soon after the tax-payer funded bail-out of Rio Tinto, Green Party MP, Gareth Hughes made this remarkably prescient comment;

“Treasury told National right from the start ‘don’t give them any money’ – it just means every corporation will have its hand out for public money whenever they have any leverage over the Government.

[…]

Is that how you want your government to govern? Do you want your government playing fast and loose with public money; using your cash as a bargaining chip to cut deals over the phone with multi-nationals every time it finds itself backed into a corner?”

I can answer Gareth’s question: the next corporation with it’s hand out is SkyCity.

John Key plays fast and loose  with tax-payers’ money – not to save jobs – but to present an appearance to the public that National is “saving” jobs. It is a matter of the public’s perception he is focused on.

If that involves handing out cheques to Warner Bros, Rio Tinto, and now possibly SkyCity – he will do it.

This is the party that prides itself on being a “sound, prudent, fiscal manager” of the government’s books. Except that New Zealand governments have not engaged in this kind of  tax-payer funded largesse since Supplementary Minimum Prices were paid to farmers in the 1960s and 1970s.

That, to, was initiated by the supposedly pro-free market National Party.

Which leads on to an interesting situation regarding this government; it’s lip-service to the “free market” and supposed hands-off by the State. Committed right wing National/ACT supporters should be asking themselves three very pertinent questions:

  1. Is it ok if future Labour governments intervene and gives subsidies to various businesses as National has done?
  2. Does on-going State intervention by this National government signal the end of the neo-liberal experiment?
  3. Has National’s intervention in the “marketplace” illustrated the failure of neo-liberalism?

One thing, though, should now be clear to all; Key will say one thing, and then renege and do completely the opposite if it suits him politically.

One would think that any self-respecting journo from the media (no, not you, Mike Hosking) these days would be asking Key a very simple question;

“Mr Prime Minister, you have issued statements in the past and then flip-flopped months down the track. Why should we take anything you say at face value value, when you have back-tracked so many times previously?”

Put another way;

“Mr Prime Minister, you’ve said what you intend to do. How long before you change your mind when it becomes convenient to do so? You do have ‘form’, you realise?”

Or, even more bluntly;

“Mr Prime Minister, how long will this decision last? Days? Weeks? Six months?

I’ll leave it to esteemed members of the Fourth Estate to frame their questions in a suitable manner.

Just don’t be expecting an honest answer.

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Opening of Masu at SkyCity Grand Hotel, L to R, Nigel Morrison, Julia Smith Bronagh Key and PM John Key, October 12th 2013

Opening of Masu at SkyCity Grand Hotel, L to R, SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison, Julia Smith Bronagh Key and PM John Key, October 12th 2013

Image acknowledgement: “The A List

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Postscript 1

As I wrote on 6 February;

In terms of past events; past scandals; and past instances where the PM has been caught out – it is by no means the worst.

This time, however, matters have reached a critical flash-point. The media has awoken to a smell of a government on the defensive and where Dear Leader has pushed the envelope once too often. Journalists and media commentators are no longer as tolerant;  no longer awed; and no longer willing to be mollified by a popular prime minister.

The Shipley Factor has kicked in.

At this point, nothing that National does will counter the  same style of growing clamour of criticism it’s predecessor faced in the late ’90s.

Nothing that has happened since then has caused me to resile from my earlier expressed belief that Key’s current administration is terminal.

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Postscript 2

‘Natwatch’ from The Standard wrote on 12 February;

“The focus group results are in and John Key is backing off from the Government injecting further money into the SkyCity convention centre.”

Which probably makes more sense than anything else this shabby government has done since 2008.

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References

NZ Herald:  SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

Office of Auditor General: Skycity

NZ Listener: The SkyCity convention centre deal: 10 quotes from the Auditor-General report

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – June 4 2013

Fairfax Media: Auditor-general backs Sky City report

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Sky City report ‘deeply disturbing’

NBR: Close to corruption

Parliament: Prime Minister—Statements and Statements Made on His Behalf

NZ Herald:  Puzzle of Key’s extra casino jobs

Fairfax Media: Govt at odds over SkyCity convention centre

NZ Herald: John Key warns of SkyCity ‘eyesore’ if more money is not found

NZ Herald: John Key backtracks on taxpayer cash for SkyCity convention centre

NZ Herald: Sir Peter – Actors no threat to Hobbit

Fairfax Media: Key – No Hobbit bidding war

NZ Herald: PM – I’m not going to write cheques NZ can’t afford

NZ Herald: Hobbit to stay in NZ

NBR: Key on Hobbit deal: ‘It was commercial reality. We did the business.’

NBR: Key comes through: $34m deal sees Hobbit stay in NZ

TVNZ News: Relief in Southland over Tiwai Point deal

Radio NZ: Tiwai Point closing could have some advantages – PM

Otago Daily Times: PM defends Tiwai payout

Fairfax Media: State-sector job cuts ‘will make life tough’

RadioLive: Why John Key handed $30 million of your money to Rio Tinto

Te Ara:  Government and agriculture – Subsidies and changing markets, 1946–1983

Additional

Fairfax media: SkyCity’s ‘fair deal for all’ questioned (hat-tip Mike Smith, The Standard)

Previous related blogposts

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

And the Oscar for Union-Smashing and Manipulating Public Opinion goes to…

Peter Jackson’s “Precious”…

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

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

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

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

The Maori Party, the I’m-Not-Racist-Pakeha Party, the Gambling-My-Money-Away Party, and John Key’s Party

ACC. Skycity. NZ Superannuation. What is the connection?

Skycity: National prostitutes New Zealand yet again

Witnessing the slow decay of a government past it’s Use-By date

The Mendacities of Mr Key #8: A roof over your head, and boots on the ground

Other blogs & blogposts

Imperator Fish: It’s about friends helping friends

Insight NZ: National splits in two over Sky City bailout

Liberation: NZ Politics Daily – 13 February 2015: SkyCity

Local Bodies: SkyCity’s Glorious Deal

No Right Turn: More money down the drain

No Right Turn: “Close to corruption”

Polity: Fleeced

Polity: Mo’ money

Polity: Small on “free” convention centre

Polity: I agree with DPF, Jordan Williams, and (mostly) with Matthew Hooton, too

Polity: Why all governments are bad at commercial deals

The Civilian: Disappointment as meteor misses Sky Tower

The Daily Blog: Key’s SkyCity Scam is a dirty deed done relatively expensively

The Daily Blog: Brenda McQuillan – A Problem Gamblers View of the Deal

The Dim Post: On Hooton on Sky City

The Dim Post: Win by not playing

The Standard: The SkyCity Deal

The Standard: Sky City’s playing us for suckers

The Standard: Key is in reverse gear about Sky City

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 February 2015.

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Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

26 February 2014 Leave a comment

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corporate welfare 1

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Timeline

3 October 2007: Meridian and NZAS/Rio Tinto sign agreement for the continuous supply of 572 megawatts of power to the Tiwai Point smelter for 2013 to 2030.

30 October 2011: National government announces partial asset sales, of Genesis, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand.

9 August 2012: Meridian Energy (electricity supplier to Rio Tinto) announces that Rio Tinto/Pacific Aluminium is demanding to renegotiate its electricity supply contract between the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and Meridian.

10 August 2012: Rio Tinto CEO, Tom Albanese, warns that the smelter will be closed “if they cannot be viable, we have difficult decisions to make”.

7 September 2012:  Rio Tinto/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters  announces it will  make 100 workers redundant by November 2012.

7 August 2013: Rio Tinto/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters  announces 30 maintenance workers to be made redundant at the Tiwai Point smelter.

8 August 2013: National government announces agreement to give cash subsidy of  $30 million  to Rio Tinto, and Meridian Energy to supply the smelter with cheaper (price undisclosed) electricity than agreed in 2007.

9 August 2013: Bill English confirms that he has not sought a guarantee from Rio Tinto that jobs will not be lost at the smelter.

20 August 2013: National government announces details to sell 49% of Meridian Energy.

14/15 February 2014: Rio Tinto announces a   $4.43 billion ($US3.7 billion) annual after-tax profit. Rio Tinto shareholders recieve a 15% increase in dividends.

An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

We were conned.

There is no other way to describe events between October 2007 and February this year; we were conned by a multi-national mining/metals giant that exploited National’s core-policies, for their own gain.

How else to describe the above events?

Once National announced their intention to partially-privatise Meridian Energy and float it on the New Zealand  (and Australian) stock exchanges – Rio Tinto realised that the price of Meridian shares would be determined by the income they derived from selling electricity.

As Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman stated,

”Rio Tinto took advantage of Mr Key’s obsession with asset sales by threatening to derail the sale of Meridian by closing the Tiwai smelter, so Mr Key gave them $30 million of public money.”

Rio Tinto was Meridian’s biggest customer, supplying  Tiwai Point  with approximately 15% of New Zealand’s total  electricity output. As such, Rio Tinto had Meridian  (and by proxy, the National Government) by the balls. And on 7 September 2012 and 7 August 2013, Rio Tinto squeezed.

By making  130 workers redundant, it sent National, and it’s compliant  leader, a clear message; “Don’t f**k with us, Johnny-boy. These 130 plebes are an example of what we can do to screw you over“.

Had Rio Tinto followed through on it’s threats (and make no mistake – they were threats), it would have brought down the government. That would have ended Key’s career and his reputation would have been in tatters. No Knighthood or beersies for Johnny-boy!

Key had no choice but to capitulate. Key admitted as such when he said on 14 February,

“At the end of the day I think the Government took a modest step to ensure there was a smooth potential transition there – that we didn’t have a glut of electricity we couldn’t use or that thousands and thousands of Southland jobs are out at risk.”

The resulting loss of 700 jobs at the smelter,  and a further 2,500 downstream throughout Southland, would certainly have been embarrassing for Key and damaging to National .  But this is a government that has overseen the sacking of approximately 3,000 state sector workers (up to August 2012) and 29,472 few jobs in the manufacturing sector, since 2006 (2013 Census results), so unemployment per se is not a problem that overly concerns right-wing government ministers.

What really threatened this government was Key’s reference to a “glut of electricity” – note the words. A glut of electricity would have de-railed the entire asset sales programme. Result; end of National; end of asset sales programme (and the neo-liberal agenda on the whole), and the end of Key’s career.

This shabby, self-serving, politically-expedient exercise, has cost us – the tax-payer – $30 million, plus an even cheaper electricity deal than probably anyone else in this country gets. No wonder the contract price is even more uber secret than the goings-on at the GCSB – the public would erupt in fury if they came to know what our electricity was being sold for, whilst the rest of us have mounting power prices, year after year after year.

Meanwhile, the lowest paid workers in New Zealand’s rest homes are paid just barely above the minimum wage;

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Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

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To which our well-heeled Prime Minister responded thusly,

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PM  No money for aged care workers

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To quote Dear Leader,

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash.”

Interesting. Key and his Cabinet cronies found $30 million to throw at a multi-national corporation – which only six months later posted a $4.43 billion ($US3.7 billion) annual after-tax profit.

But no money for the lowest paid, hardest-working people (predominantly women) in our community. Key responded to Russell Norman’s criticism of the $30 million welfare handout,

“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”

If only we could believe Key. But considering that thousands  lost their jobs since the Global Financial Crisis, and National has not bailed out any other company, the Prime Minister’s protestations ring hollow.

In fact, it’s fairly well obvious that the taxpayer-funded payout to Rio Tinto had nothing to do with jobs or the Southland economy – and everything to do with the state assets sales. As David Hargreaves wrote on Interest.co.nz,

“So, it will cost you, I and him and her a combined NZ$30 million of our hard-earned to keep the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter open just long enough so that the Government can flog off 49% of Meridian Energy.

That’s about the size of the deal struck between Meridian and the company controlled by global giant Rio Tinto, with additional sugar coating supplied by the Government, courtesy of us.

From the point the Government first stepped in earlier this year in an attempt to ‘help out’ it was always obvious tax payers were going to be forced to front up with some readies for the pleasure of keeping the always controversial smelter running for a while longer.

I have no doubt that the smelter will be closed in 2017, which is now when the owners get the first chance to pull the plug.”

The most asinine aspect to this deal (and there are many) is that Finance Minister,  Bill English, told Radio New Zealand on 9 August 2013 that “ensuring the safety of those jobs was not part of the deal and no undertakings were sought on the operation of the company”.

No guarantee for preserving jobs?!

Question: So what, precisely, did $30 million buy?

Answer: Rio Tinto not rocking the boat and upsetting National’s asset-sales programme.

This was a most odious, repugnant deal.

Every New Zealander contributed some of their hard-earned cash, which ended up in Rio Tinto’s shareholder’s pockets.

All done to achieve the sale of state assets which we own.

John Key gave away our money; which ended up in shareholder’s pockets; to sell assets we own; to other share investors.

This is the crazy side of National’s economic policy. This is  corporate welfare and crony capitalism rolled into one. Which begs the question to National’s supporters; is this what they see as “prudent fiscal management”?

How “prudent” is it to pay a subsidy to a multi-national corporation, that posted a multi-billion dollar after-tax profit,  that will most likely close the smelter regardless in some near future date (2017?)?

And why was that $30 million not invested in other job creation industries in Southland, so that a multi-national corporation could not hold this country to ransom? After Rio Tinto and Warner Bros – who is next to hold a gun to our collective head demanding a taxpayer subsidy/payout?

This was an odious, repugnant and wasteful deal.

This should not be allowed to be forgotten this election.

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John Key says I'd like to raise wages but I can't

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References

NZ Herald:  Meridian boss hails deal with smelter

Radio NZ: Details of Meridian share offer announced

Radio NZ: National announces plans for asset sale profits

TV3: Rio Tinto seeks new Bluff smelter terms

TV3: Rio Tinto eyeing smelter closures

Australia Mining: Rio Tinto’s New Zealand smelter to axe jobs

Fairfax Media: More jobs to go in smelter revamp

Interest.co.nz: Govt pays NZ$30 mln to smelter owners in a deal that will clear the way for the float of Meridian Energy

Radio NZ: No job guarantees sought in smelter deal

Otago Daily Times: Rio Tinto profit more than $4.4b

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

NZ Statistics: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights

Dominion Post: 555 jobs gone from public sector

Fairfax media: Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

Fairfax media: PM – No money for aged care workers

Interest.co.nz:  Opinion: There was a certain inevitability the long-suffering taxpayer would be ‘invited’ to cough up for the pleasure of keeping the Tiwai Point smelter open

Previous related blogposts

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

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

2013 – Ongoing jobless talley

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The Cost of Living

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 February 2014.

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Dirty Dealings with Solid Energy

26 October 2012 15 comments

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Last year, on 19 May,  Solid Energy was one of five SOEs that National announced would be partially privatised (see: Budget 2011: Govt seeks $7 billion in asset sales). Bill English announced, with a naivetee usually reserved for wildly idealistic, wide-eyed  youth,

Well targeted investment in infrastructure helps lift productivity, which over time will mean better wages and higher living standards for New Zealand families.”

To which, as the youth of today might reply,

Yeah, whatever.”

By 29 August, this year,  as   demand from China lessened, and the price of coal dropped, Solid Energy announced plans to make 363 workers redundant.

CEO, Don Elder, said,

I am very aware of the impact these decisions will have on affected staff members and our communities, but we’ve had to make these difficult decisions to cushion the impact of the market and protect as much as we can of the long-term value of the business.”

Source

On 25 September, Key stated,

Now that the coal price is collapsing, essentially Spring Creek is not viable.

It’s never been in the position where it was going to come on to the market today.  It’s been a five-year programme, and if you ask me in three, four, five years’ time, the anwer might be different.” .

Source

Along with Maori Treaty claims over water rights, and papers being filed in the High Court on 23 October (see: Mighty River sale paused during court action) which will see a delay in removing Mighty River Power from the SOE Act, the realisation that Solid Energy was also unsaleable under current economic conditions was another unwanted ‘hiccup’ for National.

On the same day, Solid Energy anounced that redundancies would increase from 363 to 460 and staffing levels would reduce from 1,800 at the beginning of the year, to 1,360.

Christchurch was to lose half of the 313 jobs at Solid Energy’s head office – another ‘hit’ against this quake ravaged city, along with planned school closures; problems with insurance companies; and Cantabrians leaving the area.

Remember that, ostensibly, redundancies were related to international coal prices and profit losses – not the deferred partial-privatisation of the SOE.

Yet, according to Solid Energy’s own Results Announcements 2012 report,  the company’s income was actually better than the preceding year,

Good operating performance overtaken by asset write downs

• Trading performance was good in a deteriorating market with strong NZD. Underlying earnings were $99.7 million (2011: $86.2 million).
• Asset write downs of $110.6 million net of tax and other adjustments have resulted in a $40.2 million loss after tax (2011: $87.2 million).

See: Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd Results Announcement 2012

In plain english (not the mumbled  Prime Ministerial  version), Solid Energy made an after-tax profit of $99.7 million – an increase from $86.2 million in 2011.

Employing a  book-keeping, accountancy “trick”, Solid Energy  reduced their own asset values by $110.6  million. (That’s like saying your house was worth  $300,000 in 2011, but only $250,000 this year. You still have your house and you’re living in it – nothing else has changed. Only the theoretical valuation has ‘reduced’. Next year that valuation could rise back to $300,000 or even more or maybe less. That’s creative accountancy for you.)

The point is that Solid Energy’s profit rose from $86.2 million to $99.7 million.

In fact, Solid Energy’s revenue in 2012 was $978.4 million – almost a billion dollars – an 18% increase from the previous year.

The proposition that Solid Energy is more profitable than either Don Elder or National make out is born out by this interesting article,  in Taranaki’s ‘Daily News‘, on 12 October this year. It appears that Australian coal mining giant, Bathurst, is experiencing a growth in share value as it discovers greater coal reserves at its Buller project on the West Coast,

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Source

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Bathurst is proceeding with “an extensive drilling programme” – indicating that the company appears unphased by current coal prices and is investing long-term in recovering this resource.

So what to make of the planned 460 redundancies?

What to make of Bathurst’s share price rising and continuing to invest in a comprehensive drilling programme?

The only conclusion that one can arrive at is that planned redundancies are a covert operation to “maximise” Solid Energy’s value and “efficiency”. The cost of redundancies – estimated at around $10 million – will be paid by the taxpayer and not the shareholders of any future part-privatised company (see:  Foreign workers lured by ‘work for life’ among sacked miners).

Reducing staff numbers – commonly referred to as “re-structuring” – is a common technique for  companies to cut costs in an attempt to return to profitability, or to make it more attractive to potential investors or buyers.

It is interesting to note that National’s secret agenda  of “re-structuring” Solid Energy, to make the SOE viable for privatisation, is a technique quite familiar to our Prime Minister, John Key,

During Key’s brief spell for Merrill Lynch in Sydney in 2001, he helped fire 500 staff as part of savage worldwide retrenchment by the bank. In the past, Key has appeared proud of his ability to sack without feelings. He told Metro magazine: “They always called me the smiling assassin.”

These days he insists these were not cheerful sackings.

“In the end I had to carry out wider responsibilities, but I think I’m fundamentally a nice guy, but have to follow instructions,” he says. “

Source

As  Don Elder said,

I am very aware of the impact these decisions will have on affected staff members and our communities, but we’ve had to make these difficult decisions to cushion the impact of the market and protect as much as we can of the long-term value of the business.”

460 workers face the sack.

No doubt John Key is simply  “having to follow instructions“?

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Related previous blogpost

The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies? (5 September 2012)

Sources

Sunday Star Times: Who is John Key? (3 February 2008)

NZ Herald: Spring Creek mine work suspended (29 August 2012)

Dominion Post: Miners march on Parliament (25 September 2012)

Radio NZ: Hundreds of jobs going at Solid Energy (25 September 2012)

Daily News: Bathurst lifts Buller coal totals (12 October 2012)

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Another case of “We told you so!”?

17 July 2012 6 comments

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When National campaigned in 2008, John Key made several promises – most of which he has either broken or failed to address.

One of those promises was to “cap the state sector”,

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The above election pledge, signed by Dear Leader John Key, states quite clearly and concisely,

Ensure government spending is focused on frontline services such as health and education by capping the number of bureacrats…

Checking an on-line dictionary, the definition of capping (in this case) is,

26. to put a maximum limit on (prices, wages, spending, etc.). “

See:  Dictionary.Com

“To put a maximum limit on… ”

Sez nothing about reducing, cutting, chopping, decreasing, or any other  word gleaned from my friendly Thesaurus.

But as with nearly every  other promise from Key, National was quick to break this one as well. Instead of capping, National began cutting,

Job losses to hit military next week

NZ can’t afford AgResearch redundancies

Second TEC restructuring to cut 70 jobs

Public service watchdog faces job cuts

Thirty-five jobs may go at Niwa

NZ Post shutting stores, axing jobs

More than 140 MAF staff to lose jobs

DOC Confirms 96 Jobs To Go

State-Sector Job Cuts ‘Will Make Life Tough

Housing New Zealand staff face further cuts

Ministry plan puts 50 jobs on the line

Air NZ may cut scores of jobs

Public sector will face bucketloads of job cuts

Public Sector Sackings May Lead To Australia Migration

Jobs to go at Justice Ministry

Defence Staff Eye Leaving As Morale Falls

Corrections Department to dump 130 staff

25 redundancies from government’s Plant and Food company

KiwiRail to cut up to 220 jobs

Much like National’s  long list of broken, or unaddressed promises, the ‘Roll Call of Redundancies‘ goes on. And on. And on…

By March of  this year, the Dominion Post reported that over 2,500 state sector workers had been sacked..

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2500 jobs cut, but only $20m saved

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Andrea Vance, Last updated 09:18 03/03/2012

A squeeze on state service backroom functions has saved just $20 million in two years, Treasury boss Gabriel Makhlouf has revealed.

The Government has shed more than 2500 jobs in the past three years and ordered chief executives to shave their IT and human resources bills as part of a drastic overhaul of the public service.

But despite ambitious plans to save $1billion over three years, a `benchmarking’ report to be published next week will show 31 agencies and departments have managed to reduce spending by just $20m.

Full Story

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All for a measely $20 million?!

John Key sells his integrity cheaply. (I’m sure he could get more for it on the open market. Just what are politicians selling themselves for, these days? Ours is barely used.)

John Key promised capping the “bureacracy”. Instead, National sacked 2,500.

See:  2500 jobs cut, but only $20m saved

This year,  National is planning even more redundancies, in its obsession with it’s failed neo-liberal ideology of  “small government” and privatisation of services.

See:  2400 more public sector jobs could go

In the meantime,  cuts to the state sector are rapidly becoming a cautionary tale – one that is a repeat of National’s cuts in the late 1990s.

See: Related blogpost – Learning from History

Two years into his new cosy relationship with National, and with all the perks and high salary  in his ministerial role, Peter Dunne begins the process of capping cutting the state sector,

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Dunne defends Greymouth IRD job cuts

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announcement

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NZ Herald, 9:08 AM Friday Dec 17, 2010

Revenue Minister Peter Dunne has defended the timing of yesterday’s announcement that eight jobs are to be cut at the Inland Revenue Department in Greymouth.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the timing could not be worse, coming before Christmas and quick on the heels of the redundancies of 114 Pike River Mine employees following the explosions which killed 29 men…

…  Mr Dunne said the proposals had been discussed with staff in Greymouth in the wake of the Pike River tragedy, however staff told him they wanted to be given certainty on their jobs “as soon as possible”.

“We didn’t want them to go into Christmas with that uncertainty over their heads,” he told Radio New Zealand.

Full story

How very generous, kind-hearted, and humane of Mr Dunne, that “we didn’t want them to go into Christmas with that uncertainty over their heads.”

Certainly not. Instead he “puts the steel-capped boot” into the West Coast community eight days before Christmas.

Charming.

Only the National Party and it’s sycophantic fellow-travellers and grubby little  ‘groupies’ could be so cold-hearted.

Then it follows with mass sackings like this,

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IRD confirms job cuts

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Newstalk ZB/NZ Herald, 12:38 PM Wednesday Sep 7, 2011

Inland Revenue has confirmed it’s cutting 156 jobs from its regional offices.  The affected branches are Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Nelson and Invercargill.

Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking   fmacskasy.wordpress.com

Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Tremain said the original proposal was for 191 job losses, but after consultation with staff the number has been reduced to 156.

She said IRD will keep its offices, but where and how it does some work would change.

The process is expected to take 18 months, and will start early next year.

Source

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In the above story, PSA National Secretary, Richard Wagstaff warns us,

Staff say they are already struggling to meet customer demand and the job losses will mean fewer people on the phones, fewer people talking to customers face-to-face and less processing work being done.”

Then a few more, like this,

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IRD cuts 51 provincial jobs

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TV3, Thu, 31 May 2012 7:39p.m.

The IRD has cut jobs (file)

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) has made 51 staff in regional offices redundant.

The 16 job losses at Invercargill, seven at Nelson, 12 at Rotorua, nine from Napier and seven at New Plymouth are part of the government’s public sector budget cuts, the Public Service Association says…

… An IRD spokesman said on Thursday the cuts would help it deliver a more flexible and sustainable approach with work that could be done over the phone taken up by offices in the main centres.

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Then, MP for Ohariu; Revenue Minister;  and careerist-politician, Peter Dunne makes a public statement to reassure the public,

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IRD job cuts won’t impact taxpayers – Dunne

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TV3, Fri, 01 Jun 2012 7:48a.m.

Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking   fmacskasy.wordpress.com

The Government says the Inland Revenue Department will maintain frontline services… despite shedding 60 jobs at regional offices.

The Public Service Association (PSA) says staff are already struggling to meet demand and the redundancies will make that task even tougher.

“Job losses will mean fewer people on the phones, fewer people talking to customers face-to-face and less processing work being done,” says PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff.

But Revenue Minister Peter Dunne maintains the public shouldn’t notice any change.

“Most of the services that are being refocused are services that were better performed in larger areas. We are certainly not closing any offices and I don’t think tax payers will notice any impact.”

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Note Mr Dunne’s comment, ” We are certainly not closing any offices and I don’t think tax payers will notice any impact ” .

Oh, really?

Really?!?!

Remember Mr Wagstaff’s dire warnings above, made in September last year,

Staff say they are already struggling to meet customer demand and the job losses will mean fewer people on the phones, fewer people talking to customers face-to-face and less processing work being done.”

The inevitable consequence to state sector cuts are now coming home to roost,

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More than 70,000 calls to IRD unanswered –

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union

Fairfax Media,  Stacey Kirk, Last updated 05:00 13/07/2012

Government cuts and poor planning have left more than 70,000 calls to IRD unanswered over its busiest tax return time, the Public Service Association (PSA) says.

IRD figures showed about 70,000 calls weren’t answered between June 25 and July 5 – the two weeks leading up to the deadline for filing tax returns.

During that period 164,000 calls were planned for, but more than 202,000 were received. Of those only about 131,000 were actually answered as the department struggled to cope with increased demand.

The PSA said there had also been a significant increase in the number complaints about the phone service.

National secretary Richard Wagstaff said it was frustrating for both the public and staff but was a “clear consequence” of budget cuts and bad decision-making.

“IRD has been undergoing a large restructuring programme which has already seen its workforce slashed by nearly half in several regional sites.  It has been creating what it calls ‘virtual jobs’ in metropolitan centres while reducing jobs and services in the provinces.

Full story

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I wonder how many of those 70,000 unanswered calls were National Party voters and supporters of cuts to the State Sector? I live in hope that every single one of those 70,000 were foolish, naive,  people who thought that National was “cutting the fat” from the state sector.

I hope they  reflect on how wrong they were, as they wait for hours and hours waiting to talk to someone in a government department.

Failing that, I guess they can always call Peter Dunne?

An incoming Labour-led government will be charged with having to re-build the State sector – much as Helen Clark did in the early 2000s.

But more than that, jobs have to be protected. We simply cannot allow an ideologically-driven bunch of right wing lunatics to gut the state sector every time New Zealanders get a rush of blood to their heads and elect National into power. Not one  New Zealander would want to live under a system where his/his job was reliant on the whim of a politician – not one.

So why should state sector workers have to endure their lives turned upside down, simply because National is elected to power every six or nine years?

Such a situation is grossly unfair and untenable. We end up losing talented people and the best and brightest will not want to work under such a cloud of uncertainty and insecurity.

A Labour-led government must fix this and do so as a matter of priority.

This blogger suggests putting all state sector workers on a Union-Employer negotiated, sector-wide, contract-style system, with the PSA as an interested Third Party, and with legally-protected  job security for at least five years,  dated from each general election.

Breaking the contract would entail hefty penalty fees by any government contemplating mass-redundancies.

No doubt every right winger in this country would be frothing at the mouth at such a suggestion of an entrenched system of job-protection. Personally, I don’t care. Right wing fanatics don’t care about others losing their jobs – so why should we care about them?

What I do care about is a fair and just system that protects people’s jobs; their livelihoods; families; and their dignity.

That’s what really matters.

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Related blogposts

Jobs, jobs, everywhere – but not a one for me? (Part Toru)

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John Key: another day, another broken pledge…

28 February 2012 1 comment

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National’s hatchet-job on our state service continues – and appears to be getting worse.

Fresh from news that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade  about to sack 305 people; and 295 uniformed personnel are to be fired from the Defence Force,  we learn that Key’s government is about to fire at least 70 staff from Housing NZ,

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Full Story

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This is on top of Housing NZ recently announcing that it will no longer assist low-income families with social needs,

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Full Story

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Worse still, on top of the redundancies, is the planned closure of offices; and replacing front-line staff with an 0800 number Call Centre.

The sackings are a direct breach of Key’s promise to New Zealanders that the cutting of the  state sector would not impact on front-line staff – and indeed he has stated that front-line numbers would be strengthened,

It’s time to focus public spending on front-line services that make a real difference in people’s lives, rather than paper-shuffling and report-writing that does not

We are not going to reduce the number of front-line staff. Let me make this absolutely clear – under National the numbers of doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police and other front-line staff will grow

In addition, we are not going to radically reorganise the structure of the state sector. Our focus will be on delivering services. Just as Labour has done, we will take opportunities to make changes to some agencies as part of the usual business of government. However, there will be no wholesale reorganisation or restructuring across the state sector… ” – John Key, 12 March 2008

John Key has broken every aspect of his own committments that he made to the nation, nearly four years ago, and which he has been repeating ad nauseum ever since.

Not only is his government sacking front line staff – but they are radically reorganising the state sector. Key’s most bizarre recent proposal was contracting out government services to Google. I kid you not: Rise of the Terminator Keybot!

A proposal to replace 1,000 full time soldiers in the Defence Force with “reservists”, who are “on call”, is a depletion of front-line personnel. This leaves NZ ill-equipped and ill-prepared to meet our international committments for U.N. peacekeeping duties, or local disaster relief operations.

Soldiers are front-line personnel. In fact, the term “front line” is a military term.

For those of us with fairly decent memories, we may recall the 1990s; when a Bolger and Shipley-led National governments cut the state sector until health, housing, social services, etc, were failing to meet the needs of ordinary New Zealanders.

At one stage Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was mooting moving or demolishing the Beehive Building so that an extension to the main Parliamentary Building could be undertaken. The cost to taxpayers was estimated to be in the region of $94 million (1997 dollars).

All whilst rentals for State houses were set at market prices; ex-psychiatric patients were living in public toilets; and on 3 April 1998, Southland dairy farmer Colin Morrison (42) died on a waiting list, awaiting a triple heart bypass surgery. His condition was listed as “life threatening” – but was still on a waiting list when he died.

And all during the 1990s, the wealth/income gap between the top 10%  and the rest of New Zealand widened further and further.

Sound familiar?

By 27 November, 1999, New Zealanders had had a gutsful and threw out the National government.

History is repeating.  The question is, how bad will it get this time?  Perhaps as bad as families living in caravans?

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Additional

‘Broken promise’ claim as frontline Defence jobs slashed

Review suggests more part-time soldiers

Families in caravans, cars as Housing NZ gets tough

Housing NZ proposal poses dangers for staff

HNZ: Housing New Zealand proposes changing how it delivers its services

2500 jobs cut, but only $20m saved

On Colin Morrison 1998)

Widow says little improvement seem

GP hits out at health reforms

Died waiting for by-pass

Word today on heart list

Anger on heart op delay

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