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Posts Tagged ‘The Hobbit’

John Key – we will not be held to ransom!

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11380618-Modern-Janus-with-two-masks-isolated-on-white-backgground-Stock-Vector

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When news of the kidnapping of Australians and a New Zealand citizen in Nigeria hit our headlines, our esteemed Dear Leader’s response was unequivocal;

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John Key - NZ won't pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

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Key was adamant;

“Our very strong policy is not to pay a ransom and our reason for that is we think if we paid a ransom, we’d potentially put a bounty on any New Zealander’s head who travels to a dangerous part of the world, and it potentially makes the situation worse.”

Our Leader was not for turning. Key does not cave in to pressures.

Or, so it seems…

In October 2010, the country was “rocked” with news that that  the Hobbit movies would be “taken away” from New Zealand;

Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, said in a statement that Warners representatives were coming to New Zealand next week “to make arrangements to move the production offshore” because “they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their investment.”

A week after Peter Jackson’s dire warnings of impending Mordor-like doom, Dear Leader Key intervened and rode like a Ranger to the rescue (in a BMW limousine, not a stallion);

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Key comes through $34m deal sees Hobbit stay in NZ - NBR - Peter Jackson - Warner Bros

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Even the Warner Bros movie execs had  stallions limos provided (at taxpayers’ expense, yet again) when they came-a-visitin’ to New Zealand to collect their $34 million bucks;

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no-decision-yet-in-hobbit-talks-key

 

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Along with $34 million of taxpayer’s money paid over to Warner Bros, the National government passed legislation changing the status of Jackson’s workers from employees, to “contractors”. This lessened the working-conditions of people working throughout New Zealand’s movie industry.

The employment law changes passed through Parliament within forty eight hours – a feat unheard of in New Zealand’s political process. Unions, workers, and the public had no say in the matter.

As Key said at the time,

“It was a commercial reality that without this [law] change, these movies would not be made in New Zealand.”

So the sovereignty of New Zealand’s Parliament was not ransomed by Warner Bros to gain $34 million plus a change in our labour laws?

Note: On 21 December 2010, two months after Jackson declared that there was an imminent threat to losing The Hobbit to another country, he conceded that no such “threat” existed;

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Peter Jackson Actors no threat to Hobbit - Warner Bros

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Three years later, Rio Tinto threatened to close it’s Tiwai Point aluminium smelter if it’s demands were not met;

Mining giant Rio Tinto has rejected the Government’s offer of a short-term subsidy to continue running the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Instead, it has gone back into negotiations with electricity supplier Meridian to try and get a better deal.

If no deal is made, Prime Minister John Key says the smelter, 79 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 21 percent owned by Japanese company Sumitomo, could be shut down in about five years.

In February 2014, National conceded to Rio Tinto’s demands that it’s electricity subsidies be increased. A further ‘sweetener’ of $30 million of taxpayer’s money was paid over to the smelting multi-national;

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pm-defends-30m-payout-to-rio-tinto

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As Key said at the time;

“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.”

This was echoed by Finance Minister, Bill English;

“The $30m was a ‘one-off incentive payment’ to help secure agreement on the revised contract because of the importance of the smelter to the stability of the New Zealand electricity market.”

So the jobs of eight hundred jobs in Southland were not ransomed by Rio Tinto to gain $30 million plus cheaper electricity rates?

John Key says his government will not pay ransom to extortionists?

His track record proves otherwise.

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References

Fairfax media:  John Key – NZ won’t pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

Hitfix:   ‘Hobbit’ Crisis – Peter Jackson warns film could leave New Zealand

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

Fairfax media:  Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

Previous related blogposts

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

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

Peter Jackson’s “Precious”

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

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: No one deserves a free tertiary education (except my mates and me)

The Corporate Welfare of Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

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KickingThe HobbitRGB

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on day month year.

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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.”

[…]

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.

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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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Corporate Welfare under National

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begging-corporations

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In case there are still one or two New Zealanders remaining who haven’t yet cottoned on to one very simple truism about National in office, let me spell it out; they are rank hypocites of the highest order.

And in case you, the reader, happen to be a true-blue National supporter, let me explain why.

In the last four years, National has been beavering away,

  • slashing budgets
  • sacking nearly 3,000 state sector workers
  • closing schools
  • attempting to close special-needs services such as Nelson’s Salisbury school
  • cutting state services such as DoC, Housing NZ, Police, etc
  • freezing wages for state sector workers (whilst politician’s salaries continue to rise)
  • cutting back on funding to various community services (eg; Rape Crisis ands Women’s Refuge)
  • and all manner of other cuts to  state services – mostly done quietly and with minimum public/media attention.

In return, the Nats successfuly bribed us with our own money, giving us tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010. (Tax cuts which, later, were revealed not to be as affordable as what Dear Leader Key and Little Leader English made out – see:  Key: $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts, see: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting)

One such denial of funding for public services is an on-going dispute between PHARMAC and the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders (NZORD) which is struggling  desperately to obtain funding for rare disorders such as Pompe’s Disease,

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mum-not-prepared-to-wait-and-die

Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Mum not prepared to wait and die

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NZORD and it’s members have been lobbying National for the last four years to gain funding for much-needed medication. They are in a dire situation – this is a matter of life or death for them.

This blogger has blogged previously about their plight,

Previous related blogposts

This blogger has also  written directly  to the Prime Minister and to Health Minister, Tony Ryall.

One response from Minister Ryall is presented here, for the reader’s attention,

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So there we have it, folks. If you’re a New Zealander dying from a rare disease, and PHARMAC won’t fund life-saving medication – don’t expect an assistance from this rotten government. Their response will be, and I quote,

While I share your concern [snort!!!]  for people with Pompe disease, as I advised you in my letter of 22 November 2012, in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments.”

So “in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments“?!

But funding is available for;

$1 Rugby – $200 million to subsidise the Rugby World Cup (see:  Blowouts push public Rugby World Cup spending well over $200m)

$2 Movies – $67 million paid to Warner Bros to keep “The Hobbit” in New Zealand (see:  The Hobbit: should we have paid?) and $300 million in subsidies for “The Lord of the Rings” (see:  Hobbit ‘better deal than Lord of the Rings’ – Key)

$3 Consultants – After sacking almost 3,000 state sector workers (see:  555 jobs gone from public sector) – and with more to come at DoC – National seems unphased at clocking up a mind-boggling $1 billion paid to “consultants”.  (see:  Govt depts clock up $1bn in consultant fees)

And on top of that, we are now faced with the prospect of a trans-national corporate – Rio Tinto – with their hands firmly around Meridian Energy’s neck, attempting to extract a greater subsidy from the SOE powerco. The story began in August last year,

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Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision

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We know why. Despite implausible assertions to the contrary by National Ministers, Genesis Energy, and Rio Tinto executives – the partial sale of SOE powercos (Meridian, Genesis, and Mighty River Power) have made them vulnerable to the demands of Big Businesses.

Rio Tinto  knows that the share price of each SOE will be predicated on marketplace demand for shares.

They know that if there is less demand for electricity, then the price of power may (note: may) drop; those SOE’s profits will drop; and the price of shares will drop.

That leaves shareholders out of pocket and National with egg on it’s face. And a whole bunch of  Very Pissed Off Voters/Shareholders.

Think: Warner Bros. Think: corporate blackmail to shift ‘The Hobbit’ overseas. Think: National not wanting to risk the wrath of Peter Jackson and a thoroughly manipulated Public Opinion. Think: National looking at the 2011 election. Think: panic amongst National ministers and back-room Party strategists.

National capitulated.

This is precisely what is happening with Rio Tinto, Meridian, and National.

In the space of six and a half hours yesterday (28 March 2013),  events came to a dramatic head. The following happened in one day:

9.15am:

Via a Press Release from Merdian Energy;

Thursday, 28 March 2013, 9:15 am
Press Release: Meridian Energy

New Zealand Aluminium Smelter’s electricity contract

For immediate release: Thursday, 28 March 2013

Meridian was approached by Pacific Aluminium, a business unit of global mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd, the majority shareholder of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS), in July 2012, to discuss potential changes to its existing electricity contract.

Since talks began, various options have been discussed and Meridian has offered a number of changes and concessions to the existing contract.

Chief Executive of Meridian Energy, Mark Binns, says that Meridian has advised Pacific Aluminium of its ‘bottom line’ position.

“Despite significant effort by both parties there remains a major gap between us on a number of issues, such that we believe that it is unlikely a new agreement can be reached with Pacific Aluminium,” says Mr Binns.

In the event no agreement can be reached, Meridian will seek to engage with Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Chemical Company Ltd, the shareholders of NZAS, who will ultimately decide on the future of the smelter.

Meridian signed a new contract with NZAS in 2007, after three years of negotiations. This current contract commenced on 1 January 2013 and remains unaltered and binding on the parties.” – Source

To which Rio Tinto replied,

10.15am:

In a NZ Herald story,

CEO  of Pacific Aluminium (the New Zealand subsidiary of Rio Tinto), Sandeep Biswas responded with,

“We believe a commercial agreement that is in the best interests of NZAS, Meridian, the New Zealand Government, and the people of Southland can be reached. We look forward to continuing productive negotiations with a view to achieving a positive outcome for all parties.” – Source

De-coding: “This ain’t over till the Fat Chick sings, and she’s nowhere to be seen. You guys better start hearing what we’re saying or this is going to turn to sh*t real fast; we’ll close our operations at Bluff; 3,200 people employed by us directly or  indirectly will be told ‘Don’t Come Monday’;  your Southland economy will collapse like a Cyprus bank, and National can kiss goodbye to it’s re-election in 2014. Ya got that, sunshine?”

11.15am:

That got the attention of National’s ministers Real Quick,

The Government has opened discussions with Tiwai Point aluminium smelter’s ultimate owners Rio Tinto in a bid to broker a deal after talks between the smelter and Meridian Energy reportedly broke down.

[…]

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.

“In the meantime, we understand Meridian’s existing contract with Pacific Aluminium remains in place at least until 1 January 2016 with significant financial and other obligations beyond that.” – Source

Barely two hours had passed since Meridian had lobbed a live grenade into National’s state asset sale programme, and it’s fair to say that the Ninth Floor of the Beehive was in a state of panic. It was ‘battle stations’. Red Alert. National ministers were, shall we say, slightly flustered,

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https://fmacskasy.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/headless-chickens.jpg

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12.00pm:

By noon, the markets were reacting. Though share-market analysts were attempting to down-play the so-called  ‘Phoney War’ between Meridian and Rio Tinto, Devon Funds Management analyst, Phillip Anderson, remarked that,

“…the announcement had hit Contact’s share price – the company was down 3 per cent in early trading but is now down only 1.2 per cent.” Source

If Contact’s (a fully privatised ex-SOE) share price had dropped 3% on the strength of these media stories, it is little wonder that share-market analysts were down-playing the brinkmanship being played out by Meridian and Rio Tinto. If the share-market was spooked enough, Contact’s share price would plummet, as would that of Mighty River Power – estimated to be in the $2.36 and $2.75 price-range. (see:  Mighty River share tips $2.36 to $2.75).

In which case, National would be floating shares worth only a fraction of what ministers were seeking. In effect, if Rio Tinto closed down operations, Key could kiss goodbye to the partial sale of energy SOEs. They would be worthless to investors.

3.43pm:

By 3.43pm, and six and a half hours since Meridian’s press release, National had negotiated some kind secret deal with Rio Tinto.  We don’t know the terms of the deal because though it is our money, National ministers don’t think we have a right to the information,

The Government is negotiating a new taxpayer-funded subsidy with Tiwai Point aluminium smelter’s owners and has all but acknowledged its assets sales programme is being used by them to get a better deal on power prices.

State Owned Enterprises Minster Tony Ryall this morning said the Government has opened discussions with the smelter’s ultimate owners global mining giant Rio Tinto in a bid to broker a deal over a variation to the existing electricity contract.

[…]

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.”

Mr Ryall indicated the Government had offered Rio Tinto “a modest amount of money to try and help bridge that gap in the short to medium term but there’s still a very big gap in the long term… We’re not interested in subsidising this business in the long term”. – Source

Ryall added,

“…they’re pretty tough negotiators and I’m sure they look at what else is happening in the economy when they make their various decisions…

…”they certainly haven’t got the Government over a barrel.”

Three questions stand out from Ryall’s statement,

  1. If  State subsidies for electricity supply to Rio Tinto’s smelter are “short to medium term” – then what will happen when (if?) those subsidies are lifted? Will shareholders “take a bath” as share prices collapse in value?
  2. Does Ryall think we are fools when he states that Rio Tinto did not have the government “over a barrel” ?! Is that how National views the public – as morons?
  3. How much is the “a modest amount of money” that Ryall is referring to?

Perhaps the most asinine comment from Ryall was this, as reported by TVNZ,

“The electricity market is capable of dealing with all the issues relating to the smelter,” said Ryall.

Acknowledgement: TVNZ News – Talks break down over Tiwai smelter contract

Really?! In what way is “the electricity market … capable of dealing with all the issues relating to the smelter” when the government has to step in with what could be millions of dollars worth of subsidies? Is that how “the market” works?!

This blogger has two further questions to put to Minister Ryall. Both of which have been emailed to him,

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Date: Thu, 29 March 2013, 6.43pm
From: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: Your correspondence to Hon Tony Ryall
To:  Tony Ryall  <Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz>

Kia ora,  Mr Ryall,

I am in receipt  of your emailed letter to me, dated 5 December 2012, regarding the non-funding of certain medications for sufferers of Pompe Disease. Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond to this issue in a thorough and timely way. Several of your other ministerial colleagues seem to lack that simple etiquette.

I note that, as Minister of SOEs, you have been in direct negotiations with Rio Rinto, and have offered the company subsidised electricity for the  “short to medium term”.

This will no doubt cost the taxpayer several millions (hundreds of millions?) of dollars.

If  National is able to provide such largesse to a multi-national corporation, please advise me as to the following;

1. Why is the same subsidy for cheaper electricity not offered to ALL New Zealanders? Or even those on low-fixed incomes? Why provide a multi-million dollar subsidy just to a billion-dollar corporation when New Zealanders could do with a similar cut in their power bills?

2. In your letter to me, dated 5 December 2012, you point out that,

“While I share your concern  for people with Pompe disease, as I advised you in my letter of 22 November 2012, in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments.”

If National has millions of dollars available to subsidise multi-national corporations, them obviously your statement on 5 December 2012 that “in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments” – is simply not credible.

It is obvious that your government can find money when it wants to. This applies to Rugby World Cup funding, consultants, movie-making subsidies, etc.

As such, I hope you are able to find the necessary funding for medication for people suffering rare disorders.

You are, after all, Minister for Health as well as Minister for State Owned Enterprises.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

PS: Please note that this issue will be canvassed further on the blogsite, The Daily Blog.

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Minister of Health. Minister for SOEs. Minister for corporate welfare.

Which ‘hat’ will Tony Ryall be wearing today?

And will he find the necessary funding to save the lives of sick New Zealanders?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 March 2013.

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References

NZ Herald: Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision (10 Aug 2012)

Scoop.co.nz:  New Zealand Aluminium Smelter’s electricity contract Press Release (9.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Smelter counters Meridian – power deal still possible (10.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Govt steps in to sort out stalled Tiwai power deal (11.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Tiwai stoush may affect Mighty River price  (12.00pm, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Govt offser Tiwai subsidy (3.43pm, 28 March 2013)

Related references

NZ Herald:  Mighty River share tips $2.36 to $2.75 (20 March 2013)

Related to previous blogposts

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (16 June 2011)

$500,000 a year to keep toddler alive (5 Feb 2013)

Rare disease sufferers want pricey treatments (1 March 2013)

Rare disease takes awful toll on boy (1 March 2013)

Call for an Orphan drugs access policy to overcome Pharmac’s systems failure (28 Feb 2013)

Bill English – do you remember Colin Morrison? (4 Feb 2013)

Related Opinion

NZ Herald – Fran O’Sullivan – Govt intervention doesn’t cut mustard (30 March 2013)

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= fs =

Why a Four Year Parliamentary Term is not a Good Idea

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it's time to meet the muppets of the government

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Three years or four?

John Key has made suggestions to  reform certain  aspects of the Parliamentatry electoral cycle,

  • A fixed date for elections, such as our American cuzzies have
  • And extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years

The first suggestion – having a fixed date for elections – is sound. Anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed.

On that basis – anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed – extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years is one that fills me with disquiet.

I’ve heard the arguments for extending the Parliamentary term,

  1. It’s more efficient
  2. It gives government more time to achieve things
  3. Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election

None of those three arguments convinces me.

1. It’s more efficient

So is the One Party State; an autocratic ruler; or a  Parliamentary term of ten or twenty years . But would we be any better of, in terms of  public participation democracy? (Think: Putin in Russia.)

2. It gives government more time to achieve things…

That statement is never completed. It gives government more time to achieve – what? What incredibly complex, radical reforms are there that require an extra year (or more) for a government to have more time? What does Key have in mind that demands a four year term?

Remember that Select Committees work in unison, not one at a time, and Legislation can be passed in as little as 48 hours – as “The Hobbit Law” showed us (see: Helen Kelly – The Hobbit Dispute) – not that I’m advocating legislative changes conducted at warp speed.

Perhaps governments might have “more time to achieve things” if time wasn’t wasted with petty point-scoring in the Debating Chamber?

3. Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election

Perhaps a government might not have to spend the entire third year in “campaign mode” if, in the preceding two years,  they worked with the people and not against them?

A phrase comes to mind…

By their works ye shall know them.

A good government shouldn’t have to spend the entire third year in “election mode”. A bad government will never have enough time to campaign for re-election.

It’s not the length of time that should matter to a government, but what they achieve with it. If the people approve, a good government will be returned with a decent majority. A good government should have nothing to fear from the electorate.

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beehive

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Looking at the last 30 years, would I be inclined to give politicians (of all hues) an extra year?

Not bloody likely.

And I’m not referring to the scandals; the cronyism; unpopular asset sale programme; rising unemployment; cynical beneficiary bashing; growing child poverty and widening  income/wealth gap.

I’m referring to attitude.

John Key wants us to trust him with an extra year in power.

But has he given us reason to trust him?

If anything, Key’s attitude of dismissive, casual arrogance does not reassure us that he (or his successors) would use additional political power without a corresponding rise in said arrogance.

To remind the reader of what John Key really thinks of us and his critics…

1. Critics

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key stephenson

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In May 2011, journalist journalist Jon Stephenson, wrote a scathing expose of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan and questioned whether they were complicit in torture.

The article outlined two instances last year where SAS forces allegedly captured suspects and handed them to Afghanistan authorities, including the Afghan secret police, the National Directorate of Security, which has a reputation for torturing prisoners.

New Zealand has signed several international conventions outlawing the inhumane detention of prisoners, including torture.

Source: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

When challenged, Stephenson offered,

“I’m happy to put my information before an inquiry. Any fair or impartial inquiry will show that they are the ones misleading the public. Not me.”

Source: IBID

It which point Key jumped in with this derisory response,

I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible.”

Key then attempted to smear Stephenson’s character by accusing him of making a bogus phone call.

We should not forget John Key dismissal of  Nicky Hager’s book, on CIA involvement in NZ military activities in Afghanistan. Key said,

I don’t have time to read fiction.”

Key claimed  that the book contained “no smoking gun”, just supposition, which, “makes it business as normal for Nicky Hager”. (Despite the book having 1,300-plus footnotes to referencing documentation.)

National ministers also seem to have little hesitation in attacking their critics in quite nasty ways. Remember Natasha Fuller,  Jennifer Johnston,  Bradley Ambrose, and even Bomber Bradbury who fell foul of the system when he dared criticse Dear Leader?

If there are “trust issues” here – they seem well founded.

2.The Poor & Unwise “life” choices

Key’s disdain of those who do not meet his world-view was perhaps best summed up on 17 February, 2011, when he was reported as making these comments,

When Labour’s social development spokeswoman Annette King asked about Salvation Army reports of high demand for food parcels, Mr Key responded by saying it was true that the global recession meant more people were on benefits.

But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.  And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.

Source: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Well, at least we know the real thoughts of the boy from a subsidised State house, raised by a solo-mum receiving state assistance, and who had the benefit of a free, taxpayer funded University education.

3. Public Opposition

On 4 May 2012,  over five thousand people took part in a peaceful,  anti-asset sales Hikoi to Parliament,

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Aotearoa is not for sale hikoi - anti asset sales march   - wellington - 4 May 2012

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Key’s response was instructive,

How many people did they have? John Key asked reporters. “Where was it? Nope wasn’t aware of it.”

Key says the National Party has a clear mandate to proceed with privatising some state assets.

“Well over a million New Zealanders voted for National in the full knowledge we were going to undertake the mixed ownership model,” he said.

“So look, a few thousand people walking down the streets of Wellington isn’t going to change my mind.”

Source: Key unfazed as protesters descend on Parliament

Nearly a year later, on 12 March, a 392,000-plus signature petition was presented to Parliament. The petition  was  signed by ordinary New Zealanders who wanted nothing more or less than a say in their future.

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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Key’s response?

Key said of the opposition petition you could be as sure as little green apples [that] huge numbers of them are not bona fide names on the list” and would have to be struck off.

“They’ve probably taken over a year to get maybe 300,000 names, we’ve had 285,000 pre-registrations in a matter of days”.

Source: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

And according to Green Party co-leader, Russell Norman, Key further disparaged New Zealanders who signed  the petition by saying,

…that the Prime Minister has said the people who signed this are children and tourists….

Source: IBID

Charming.

Key forgot to add, “let them eat cake”.

Unbridled Power?

Never forget that we are governed by an “elected dictatorship”,

  • There is no Upper House to scrutinise legislation from governments.
  • There is no written constitution to safeguard our interests.
  • Referenda have all the ‘bite’ of a toothless octagenarian (not that I support binding referenda – especially without Constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of minorities).
  • There are no mid-term elections; right-of-recall; Presidential Veto; or any other controls over elected representatives.

Once elected, unless a Member of Parliament is found guilty of a criminal act, we have zero control over them.

The upshot?

Just because this  government  is still (apparently) popular with the aspirationists and middle classes, is not a reason  to trust Key – or any other politician for that matter.

There have been too many broken promises; secret agendas; and bitterness from raised expectations that were soon dashed.

It is a truism that trust has to be earned.

And thus far, the glimpse that we’ve had into our current Prime Minister’s persona, is not one that fills me with confidence or trust.

New Zealanders may wish to reflect carefully before giving politicians any more power. It may be ok when it’s “your man (or woman) in power”. You may feel different if it’s the Other Guy running the country.

The issue simply boils down to one simple question;

How far do you trust the buggers?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 March 2013.

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References

Wikipedia: Election Day (United States)

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims (3 May 2011)

NZ Herald: Charities’ food handouts at record after Govt cuts (18 Oct 2011)

TVNZ: Key unfazed as protesters descend on Parliament (4 May 2012)

Fairfax media: PM John Key Wants Four-Year Term For Parliament (7 Feb 2013)

Fairfax media: Government to ignore asset sales referendum (12 March 2013)

 

= fs =

National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare

People welfare, bad!

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It’s fairly obvious what National thinks of New Zealanders who find themselves on the welfare safety net. Especially when those on welfare are there because of a global financial crisis brought on by unfettered,  laissez-faire capitalism (aka naked greed)  hitting a wall, and sending economies worldwide deep into recession.

But never mind. National has an answer for such dire events.

It’s called,

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Corporate welfare, good!

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Even as National continues to persecute, demonise, and blame the unemployed, solo-mothers (but never solo-dads), invalids, widows, etc, for their lot in life (because as we all know, the unemployed, solo-mothers (but never solo-dads), invalids, widows, etc, were directly responsible for the Global Financial Crisis that began in Wall Street’s boardrooms) – John Key and his cronies continue to lavish truck-loads of tax-payers’ money on corporate welfare.

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1. ETS Subsidies for farmers

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In June 2012, Business NZ CEO, Phil O’Reilly, wrote in the NZ Herald,

There has been a lot of redesign and tinkering with the ETS.  Established in 2008, reviewed and amended in 2009, reviewed again last year and about to be amended again – it’s no wonder that businesses involved in the scheme have review fatigue.”

See:  Phil O’Reilly: Emissions trading scheme must bring investors certainty

Mr O’Reilly may well complain. But he is unfortunately too late. On the morning of  3 July, Dear Leader John Key announced that  the 2015 postponement (of elements of the ETS) had formally become an “indefinite postponement” (ie;  gone by lunchtime on that day).

Key stated,

We’re not prepared to sacrifice jobs in a weak international environment when other countries are moving very slowly.”

See:  Slow economy puts ETS plans on hold

Yet that hasn’t stopped National from levying ETS on the public. No fears there, evidently, of  impacting on the pockets of ordinary Kiwis, and in effect, susidising farmers to the tune of  $400 million per year since 2009.

In effect, this is a transfer of wealth from  ordinary taxpayers to polluters [edited]. After all, what else can it be called when the public have to pay for an ETS – but farmers, industries, coal & oil companies, etc, – the very groups that produce CO2 and methane –  are exempt?

See:  Public to pay tab for polluters

So much for Tim Groser – Minister for Climate Change Issues and International Trade – insisting,

The National-led Government remains committed to doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is worth noting that we are the only country outside Europe with a comprehensive ETS.”

National’s “committment” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions  has gone up in smoke and carbon dioxide.

As the Sustainability Council NZ reported in November 2009,

  •  Households would bear half the total costs under the amended ETS
    during its first five years (52%),
    while accounting for just a fifth of all
    emissions (19%). Together with small-medium industry, commerce and
    services, and transport operators, they would pay 90% of the costs resulting
    from the ETS during CP1 while being responsible for 30% of total emissions.
  •  Pastoral farmers would gain a $1.1 billion subsidy and pay an amount equal
    to 2% of their fair share of the Kyoto bill during CP1, while large industrial
    emitters would gain a $488 million subsidy (at a carbon price of $30/t).

See:   ETS – Bill to a Future Generation

On top of that, National appears unwilling to release actual financial data when it comes to the ETS.  Critical data has been withheld, as the Sustainability Council discovered last year,

Governments are legally required to provide an update of the nation’s financial position just before elections but those accounts do not recognise carbon obligations until they are in an international agreement, hence there is nothing concrete on the books until after 2012.

See:   Simon Terry: Carbon books reveal shocking gaps

And the Council report goes on to state,

The Sustainability Council requested a copy of those projections eleven weeks ago.
After various delays, the Treasury delivered its projections the day before the election
– late in the afternoon and with much of the key material blanked out.
What arrived is the carbon equivalent of a finance minister presenting a budget and
saying:

“Here is the estimated tax take for the next 40 years, and here is the total
spending. But we are not going to tell you how much tax is coming from any sector,
and we are certainly not going to tell you how tens of billions of dollars worth of
carbon subsidies and other payments are expected to be distributed. And no, we are
not giving you the figures for the past four years of the ETS either”.

It looks to be the closest thing in the public domain to New Zealand’s carbon books
and yet: future agricultural emissions are a state secret; future deforestation rates are a
state secret; even projected fossil fuel emissions are a state secret – all blanked out. “

See:  Show Me the Carbon Money

So what do we have here?

  1. Ongoing subsidies to polluting industries, with said subsidies paid by you and me, the taxpayer.
  2. Secrecy surrounding future  ETS  agricultural, deforestation, and fossil fuel emissions.
  3. Constant deferring of including polluters in a scheme that was designed specifically for dirty industries and farming practices.
  4. Importation of  unlimited, cheap,  foreign carbon credits.

Final point:

It seems a crying shame (as well as a fair degree of sheer madness) that we are paying subsidies to industry – whilst  not offering the same deals to  the  generation of renewable energy  and further research into renewable energy options (wind, solar, tidal, etc).

Ironically, the one subsidy that might have helped our economy and environment was scrapped in 2011, making Solid Energy’s biofuel programme uneconomic.  (See: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise)

Instead, the taxpayer continues to subsidise polluters. On 27 August 2012, National finally ditched agriculture’s involvement in the ETS, giving farmers, horticulturalists, etc, a permanent “free ride”  from paying for their polluting activities. (See: Farmers’ ETS exemption progresses )

This is the inevitable  result of electing a corporate-friendly political party into government.

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2. Subsidies to Private schools and Tertiary Providers

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Subsidies to private tertiary education providers continues to increase,

The Government is investing a further $29.503 million in the Private Training Establishment (PTE) sector over four years. This increases the funding rates for private training providers in line with the Government’s promise to treat them more equitably with public providers. The resulting funding difference is now half of what it was previously. “

See: Tertiary Education Commission – Private Training Establishments

So, if you’re a private company offering to train someone a course in “xyz” – expect a hand-out from a corporate-friendly National.

In the meantime,

  • Student allowances are removed for post-graduate study the parental threshold for accessing allowances is frozen for the next four years.  The Government says the changes will save $240 million in the first year and up to $70 million a year thereafter.  The Budget cuts all funding for adult and community education in universities, saving $5.4 million over four years.

See: Radio  NZ –  Benefits for research, science and engineering

  • It also saves $22.4 million over four years by ending funding used to help tertiary education providers include literacy and numeracy teaching in low-level tertiary education courses...”

See: Radio  NZ –  Benefits for research, science and engineering

  • Sunday Star-Times recently reported one in five young people left school without basic numeracy and literacy skills, despite the future workforce depending on advanced expertise. “

See:  Not adding up on Easy Street

  • Early childhood education subsidy cuts worth tens of millions of dollars are likely to be passed on to some parents through increased fees.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has kicked a total revamp of ECE funding into a future Budget, opting instead to stop cost increases to the Crown by cancelling the annual upward inflationary adjustment in rates.

The subsidy freeze takes effect on the next funding round, stripping about $40 million out of ECE payments to 5258 ECE centres. About 1427 of those centres are eligible for “equity funding,” however, and will get a boost through $49m extra directed to them over four years in a bid to enrol more children from the lowest socio-economic parts of the country.

But the scrapping of an annual inflationadjustment for other centres will be an effective funding cut as inflation pushes the cost of running ECE centres up. “

See:  Parents face burden of preschool squeeze

National’s most recent hand-out went to private school, Whanganui Collegiate,

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Govt ignored advice before private school's integration

See: Govt ignored advice before private school’s integration

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For a Party that advocates the “free market”, it certainly seems odd that they’re willing to throw bucketloads of our taxes at businesses such as private schools.  After all, what is a private school, if not a profit-making business?

And don’t forget Charter Schools – which is the State paying private enterprise/institutions to run schools – whilst making a profit (at taxpayer’s expense) in the process. Why don’t exporters get this kind of support?

That was certainly Gerry Brownlee’s attitude when Christchurch’s post-earthquake housing crisis became apparent,

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Christchurch rent crisis 'best left to market'

See: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

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3. Media Works subsidy

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In 2011, this extraordinary story broke,

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Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

Published: 8:28PM Friday April 08, 2011 Source: ONE News

The Prime Minister is defending his decision to loan $43 million of taxpayer money to private media companies.

John Key claims the loan scheme was designed to help the whole radio industry.

But a ONE News investigation has revealed MediaWorks was the big winner after some hard lobbying.

Key is known for being media friendly, but he’s facing criticism from Labour that he’s become too cosy with MediaWorks which owns TV3 and half of New Zealand’s radio stations.

It has been revealed the government deferred $43 million in radio licensing fees for MediaWorks after some serious lobbying.

Key and the former head of MediaWorks, Brent Impey, talked at a TV3 Telethon event.

“I just raised it as an issue but we’d been looking at it for sometime. My view was it made sense. It’s a commercial loan, it’s a secured contract,” Key said.

It’s believed the loan is being made at 11% interest.

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

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

See: Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

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Aside from another example of Key’s mendacity, when he originally claimed to have had no contact with Mediaworks,

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

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

See: IBID

… this affair was another example of selective subsidies being offered to some business – whilst others are left to their own devices to survive,

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The axe falls - Industry boss blames cuts on Govt

Source

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We’ve lost 41,000 jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors over the last five years. To which National’s Minister-Of-Everything, Steven Joyce’s response was,

Nobody’s arguing that being a manufacturer isn’t challenging. In fact, in my history in business, every time you’re in business it’s challenging.

“But going around and trying to talk down the New Zealand economy and talk about a crisis in manufacturing, I don’t think is particularly helpful.

See: Exporters tell inquiry of threat from high dollar

There is no doubt that economic conditions in the post GFC- world are challenging for some firms. The role of Government is to do things that help make firms more competitive and that is what our Business Growth Agenda is all about.”

See: Opposition parties determined to manufacture a crisis

Or Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy saying,

Our trading disadvantage has meant that we need to do more with less, and to work smarter.”

See: Innovation in New Zealand’s Agribusiness sector

To which exporters responded with this,

We’re told to get smarter and I find that irritating and insulting. I’m about as smart as they get in my little field. How the hell do these people get smarter? For a politician to tell somebody else to get smarter – he’s risking his life.”

See: Exporters tell inquiry of threat from high dollar

Not very helpful, Mr Joyce.  Though Opposition Parties may appreciate that you are pushing your core constituents into their waiting arms.

That’s how you alienate your voter-base.

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4. Sporting subsidies

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The Rugby World Cup

  • Prime Minister John Key today announced a $15 million grant for an upgrade of Christchurch’s AMI Stadium for the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

See: Govt announces $15m for AMI Stadium (30 April 2009)

  • Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin says he is “chuffed” the Government will contribute up to $15 million to cover shortfalls in private sector funding for the $198 million Otago Stadium project.

See: Chin ‘chuffed’ at $15m for stadium

  • The Government blew out a $10 million budget to host VIPs at the Rugby World Cup – even though just a handful of foreign leaders attended.

See: $5 million overspend on World Cup VIP budget

  • An extra $5.5 million will be spent on the Rugby World Cup to make sure there’s not a repeat of the chaos that unfolded on the evening of the tournament’s opening ceremony.
  • Including the $350m spent to upgrade stadiums and provide IRB-approved facilities around the country and millions more pumped into infrastructure and preparations, the bill for the tournament has easily surpassed the $400m mark.

See: World Cup ‘absolutely worth’ price tag

Yacht Races

The Major Events Development Fund will invest $1.5 million on each of two Volvo Ocean Race Auckland stopovers to be held in 2015 and 2018 following an announcement today by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce

See: Govt to support 2015 & 2018 Volvo Ocean Race Auckland stopovers

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Meanwhile, Health Minister Tony Ryall refuses to provide additional funding for specialised medicines for patients with rare disorders. See: Letter from Tony Ryall, 5 December 2012

The message is crystal clear; National will subsidise rugby games and yacht races. But don’t expect help if you discover you have a rare disease.

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5. Warner Bros subsidy

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After Jackson made public noises in October 2010 that ‘The Hobbit’ could be taken offshore, there was a kind of mass-hysteria that pervaded the country.

Warner Bros wide-boys jetted down to meet Dear Leader, who kindly supplied a taxpayer-funded chauffeured limousine to bring the Holloywood execs to Parliament.

Dear Leader said “no more subsidies”.

Nek minit; Warner Bros demanded, and got, an extra $15 million. (see: Govt defends Hobbit jobs claim)

All up, the New Zealand taxpayer coughed up $67 million to give to Warner Bros. (Who sez crime doesn’t pay? Gangsterism obviously turns a healthy profit now and then.)

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Government defends Hobbit subsidies

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The film obviously didn’t do too badly at the Box Office – $1 billion is not too shabby by anyone’s standards,

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The Hobbit hits $1billion mark

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Can we have our money back now, please?

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6.  Broadband subsidy

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Funny isn’t it.   Pro-business lobby groups always complain about State intrusion into the market place… Except when subsidies are being handing out.

One wonders why, if the Free Market” is more efficient than the State, that $1.5 billion in taxes has to be paid to private telcos to do what that they should already be doing.

Perhaps this is why it took the State to build this country’s infra-structure over the last hundred years. Infra-structure such as electricity generation. (See related blogpost: Greed is good?)

Which National is now preparing to part-privatise.

Private companies will soon be owning what taxpayers built up over decades, and which private enterprise was loathe to build in the first place. (If you’re wondering whether I’m referring to state power companies or broadband – there doesn’t seem to be much difference.)

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Meanwhile, back in the Real World!

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Full story

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Dear Leader says,

Some argue that people on a benefit can’t work. But that’s not correct.”

Correct.

Because as Welfare Minister Paula Bennett stated candidly on Q+A on 29 April,

There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. “

See:  TVNZ  Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview

Correct.

Which means that National’s  “reforms” to push 46,000 of  welfare is not just a meaningless exercise (the jobs simply aren’t there) – but is actually a political smokescreen to hide their own incompetance at forming constructive policies for job creation.

Unfortunately, there are too many right wing halfwits and Middle Class low-information voters who readily buy into National’s smokescreen. It’s called prejudice, and means not having to think too deeply on issues,

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Fortunately, it is the job of those on the Left to dispel these unpleasant notions for the Middle Classes. (National’s right wing groupies are a lost cause.)

Let’s start by posing the question; why is welfare for  corporations supposedly a good thing – but welfare for someone who has just lost their job, supposedly bad?

That’s what we need to keep asking the Middle Classes.

Eventually, they’ll start paying attention.

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking Blog

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 March 2013.

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Additional

Scoop: Where’s National’s ‘corporate welfare’ reform?

Fairfax media: Doubt stalls biofuels growth (14 March 2011)

The Press: Solid Energy ‘wasted millions’ on biofuels (31 Aug 2012)

Southland Times: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise (30 May 2012)

TVNZ: Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks (8 April 2011)

Radio NZ: Data reveals drop in manufacturing, building jobs (22 Feb 2013)

Previous related blogpost

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

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

Acknowledgements

Tim Jones of  Coal Action Network Aotearoa

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John Key – am I detecting a seismic shift in public attitude?

10 February 2013 22 comments

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5923658

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Is Dear Leader  losing his touch? He doesn’t seem quite so “dear” to some people any more…

  • The Novopay foul-up just gets worse and worse and worserer with each passing pay cycle. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just delegate the pay-system into the hands of Lotto? The results would’ve been about the same.

 

  • Education Minister, Hekia Parata, screws up on a semi-regular basis. Does Key hand her the ceremonial sword and with a smile tell her, “you know what to do with this”. Nah, he annoints her as National’s “most effective communicator. Has anyone ever seen 4.4 million people do a collective face-palm?! Meanwhile, Joyce is the new de facto Minister of Education and Parata is given duct-tape to put over her mouth. This, for National, is seen as a “solution”.

 

  • Unemployment keeps going up and up and up and up… And when the stats cannot get any worse, they do a massive West Auckland-style u-turn and wheelie burn-out… Unemployment is no longer up – people have given up banging their heads against a brick wall. So the stats are now a mess. What they do indicate is that people are turning off from looking for work.  It must be depressing getting knocked back time after time after time after… And if you think it’s bad now, in bright sunny summer – wait till the gloom and shortened days of Winter really kick in with mass-depression.

 

  • Manufacturing and exporters are screeching like banshees that the high Kiwi Dollar is sending them to the wall… and Steven Joyce smiles benignly and sez, “things are challenging”. Not helpful, Mr Joyce. Not one bit.

 

  • The country’s third biggest construction company goes to the wall and the Nats do… nothing. Question: at a time when we have to rebuild the second (or third) largest city in the country – how does a fricken construction company manage to go into receivership?!?! Someone explain this to me. Wouldn’t that be like a water-tanker truck in the Saharan desert unable to sell water???

 

  • We have a critical housing shortage in the country… A shortage of housing?! But, but, but… isn’t the free market supposed to prevent these shortages??? What goes on here?

 

  • We have a shortage of skilled tradespeople, IT specialists;  healthcare professionals… whilst on the other hand, we have 175,000 unemployed. Hmmmm… shortage of skilled staff… 175,000 unemployed… shortage of skilled staff… 175,000 unemployed… shortage of skilled staff… 175,000 unemployed… why don’t we-? Nah. What a silly idea. For a moment there I had this ridiculous thought in my mind about re-training 175,000 unemployed to meet our skills shortages… Bugger me, where do I get these daft notions from.

 

  • National doesn’t want to build housing for New Zealanders. They say it’s up to the Free Market to do this. Government, sez Joyce, Brownlee, Key, et al, say that it’s not the role of government to offer subsidies or state housing. Unless you’re a private school. Or farmers wanting irrigation systems. Or Rugby World Cup. Or investors in a finance company. Or insurance companies. Or a movie producer – especially a foreign one. Then there’s plenty of money. Whoopie – lolly scramble!

 

  • But just don’t get silly over housing.

 

  • Steven Joyce wants to put the bulldozers and excavators into our conversation lands and have deep-sea drilling off our coast, in deep waters… because, you know, we don’t mind if the remaining few native forests in New Zealand are destroyed for the benefit of foreign investors. Or that we run a risk similar to the horrendous disaster in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico which spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Caribbean. After all, the oil companies will look after us… *snort!*

 

  • Because National is not a hands-on government to create jobs and support local businesses. But if you’re a private school or Warner Bros, then the question becomes, “How much did you want me to make that cheque out for?”

 

  • Tony Ryall wants $30 million shaved from the Health budget (where else will we get the cash to subsidise those lovely furry Hobbit movies?!). So  grommett operations for kids may be cut. Hey who needs a pesky grommett anyway – and did I say how cool Hobbits are…? And of course those seven New Zealanders who are suffering from the terminal Pompe disease… they aren’t as cool as Hobbits.

 

There’s more.

But I think you, the reader, get’s the point. (Unless you’re a dedicated National/ACT supporter – in which case don’t you just lerrrve those cute Hobbits?)

But it seems that the bad news and continuing incompetance and just sheer lack of bright ideas from National is becoming too much for even National’s traditional cheer leaders…

Fran O’Sullivan wasn’t impressed. Not by a long shot. In fact, she seemed a bit ‘put out’ by Key’s inaction (as if it had suddenly dawned on her),

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Time for Key to call an economic summit

Full story

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For Fran O’Sullivan – who is widely noted as a bit of a Nationalphile – to be chiding her beloved Dear Leader indicates that even his adoring legion of glassy-eyed admirers are starting to feel frustration. When O’Sullivan criticises Key for “waffling” and then berates Key for “simply shrugging his shoulders” – then we know that not only is the honeymoon well and truly in the past, but the ‘marriage’ is verging on a trial separation.

O’Sullivan didn’t mince words when she bluntly stated that “faith is no excuse for a failure to act” and demanded that  “it’s time, surely, for Key to call an economic summit to address the issues New Zealand faces“.

Good call, Fran.

A few years too late, but hey, some of us are a bit slower than others.

Meanwhile…

Right wing/all-over-the-place  media “personality” and talkback host, Kerre Woodham wrote an extraordinary column on 23 December, last year. Had it been written at any other time than two days before Christmas – when 99% of the populace is bleary eyed with the so-called “Festive Season” (said through gritted teeth, I might add) – her words would have had far more clout.

In fact, I could just barely recall her column piece and retrieve it from my Bookmarks (filed under WTF?). For the reader’s edification – read and enjoy (if you’re a National/ACT supporter you may want to put down your deluxe, Jackson-autographed, mink-lined Hobbit and read this bit),

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Kerre Woodham - Nats run out of petrol

Full story

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If Kerre Woodham speaks closer for the Middle Classes, then National should be in high-gear panic mode by now. Her attitude was summed up thusly,

I thought John Key said that by cutting income tax rates we would be able to stimulate the economy. Guess that didn’t work. I thought Key said that he would be able to stem the flow of New Zealanders to Australia by building a competitive economy and offering after-tax earnings on a par with those across the ditch. Well, that hasn’t worked, either.

 There are now more people moving to Oz under National than there were under Labour. But instead of ‘fessing up and conceding nothing the Government has come up with has worked, the Prime Minister has produced a classic example of Orwellian double-speak.

Akshally, says Key, moving to Australia is a GOOD thing for New Zealanders to do. They’ll see the world, gain experience – no, just like everything else, Key is comfortable with the numbers of Kiwis farewelling this country.”

Source: IBID

That, readers, was the sound of a Middle Class person coming to the realisation that our esteemed Dear Leader; dodgy Party; and worthless policies – are a fraud.

That, readers, was the realisation by a Middle Class person that National was not about to meet their aspirations.

It is the same sound of  National’s ‘House of Cards’ crashing that we heard in the late 1990s. A crash which culminated in National’s election defeat on 27 November 1999.

When bene-baiting right-wing talk-back hosts like Woodham can make statements like,

Well, they may know how to make money for themselves but they don’t seem to have any answers when it comes to making the country richer.

If, after four years of government, the best strategy they can come up with to produce a surplus is to raise the fuel tax, they are devoid of initiative and bereft of imagination.”

Source: IBID

– then we know that the Middle Classes are starting to wake up. And they’re noticing that the Emporer is naked and it ain’t a pretty sight.

Next…

Businesspeople are running as fast as their feet can carry them – to a joint inquiry run by the Opposition Parties in Parliament – and it’s a brave/stupid/both National Government that ignores the signals,

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Exporters tell inquiry of threat from high dollar

Full story

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When a businessman – in this case managing director Gordon Sutherland –  says,

We know that – we’ve known that for a very, very long time. Of course we get efficient, of course we try and work as hard as we can to be efficient – it’s the only way we can exist. It drives me insane when people say, ‘Get efficient’. What do you think we are – idiots? We’re not.”

– then the Nats are treading on very thin ice to ignore such messages.

National is supposed to the the Party for business. So when business people begin to turn on the Nats – that’s a pretty bloody big signal that it’s the beginning of the end for this government. And considering Key has stated he will not lead National from the Opposition benches (see:  Key says he’ll quit politics if National loses election) – it’s ‘bye-bye’ Dear Leader.

Once he’s gone, the Nats will have left in their wake a poorly performing economy; high unemployment; growing income divide; higher child poverty; businesses about to collapse (Mainzeal already gone); and a raft of other tragic consequences.

The 2011-14 Key-led  administration will be remembered in the same way many New Zealanders view with derision the Bolger/Shipley-led National government from 1996-99.

Going by the next story, however, Key is already despised by a wide sector of the community.

But more to the point, that hostility is no longer held in check and is being voiced out loud,

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Mixed reception for Key at Big Gay Out

Full story

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What we are seeing now seems to be a  seismic shift in public opinion on Key and National. But more importantly,  where only a year ago people were reluctant to voice their dissatisfaction or hostility in public – now that shyness is disappearing. People are pissed off and they know who to vent at,

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200204-3x2-340x227

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In 2008, Key raised levels of expectation to new heights (see: A fresh start for New Zealand).

With promises of higher wages and other warm-fuzzy, populist nonsense, people voted for him in droves. Their expectations were raised as Key’s supreme self-confidence;  personal rags-to-riches story; and plausible rhetoric made them line up and put their trust in him.

The trouble with raised expectations, though, is that failing to deliver “the goods” results in an inevitable backlash. Not just at the ballot box, but in terms of vitriol. We tend to pull people of a pedestal mighty quick, if they stuff up.

National’s failure to meet those expectations may already be a foregone conclusion, as NZ Herald columnist, John Armstrong wrote on 22 December last year,

A slight sense of desperation was evident in National’s reaction to this week’s release of the Treasury’s latest forecasts.

National is not going to let anything stand between itself and its Holy Grail of a return to Budget surpluses within the next three years.

What was once merely a target now seems to be an obsession. The reason is straightforward. Some major economic indicators are starting to confirm anecdotal impressions of an economy close to tipping into recession,

National is therefore clinging ever tighter to the increasingly vain hope of balancing the books by its target date of the 2014-15 financial year.

Meeting the target is all part of National’s branding as the party of sound economic management. Failure on that front would be a major blow to its credibility.”

See: Gloom sets scene for tumultuous 2013

If meeting an accounting target is all that National has left – Shearer better start packing up now. He’ll be in the Prime Minister’s residence at the next election.

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References

Interest.co.nz: Stats NZ reports 23,000 jobs lost

NZ Herald: Time for Key to call an economic summit

NZ Herald: Kerre Woodham: Nats run out of petrol

Fairfax media: Mixed reception for Key at Big Gay Out

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Still someone else’s country

10 February 2013 6 comments

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someone-elses-country

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Wellington, Newtown, 9 February 2013 – As the issue of state asset sales and other New Right policies are on National’s impending  agenda, the Newtown-branch of the Mana Party considered it worthwhile taking the time to look back at recent history. The events of today are firmly rooted in the past.

The New Right had taken power in Britain with the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979, and in the United States, with the election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980. Our turn came in July 1984, with the snap election called by an inebriated Rob Muldoon. (Intoxication on power and alcohol – not a very healthy mix.)

The Labour government that was swept to power (see: New Zealand general election, 1984) was not the Labour Party that people thought they were voting for. In total secrecy, Labour had been captured by a cabal of fanatical neo-liberal reformers. It was a government firmly under the control of  what we know today, as the ACT Party.

Twenty nine years later…

Mana’s Newtown Branch decided to hold a public screening of Alister Barry’s hard-hitting, insightful, 1996 documentary, “Someone elses’s country“. The story told within that hour-and-a-half documentary is as valid today as it was three decades ago. (In fact, watch “Someone elses’s country” and then watch Bryan Bruce’s 2011 documentary, “Inside Child Poverty in New Zealand” – and the linkages of the radical transformation of our country is all but complete.)

Prior to the screening, the audience was welcomed by Mana Newtown organisor, Ariana, who gave a brief rundown of the content and it’s impact on our society,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Someone elses's country - public screening - 9 february 2013 - Mana Party

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Many in the audience were young people who either had not been born in the 1980s, or were too young to remember the calamitous events that were unfolding. To these people, the events we now understand as Rogernomics and Ruthenasia would have been like the 1951 Waterfront Lockout dispute that rocked the nation.

Following Ariana, a brief introduction to the film was made by sitting Wellington Councillor, Bryan Pepperell,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Someone elses's country - public screening - 9 february 2013 - Mana Party

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Pepperell said,

It’s getting into it’s final stages where the agenda to actually get democracy out of the way of business is actually  now reaching a high-point.There’s an awful lot of window-dressing and democracy in New Zealand context has become that,  substantially window dressing…”

He then  shared with the audience when his first disquiet over the election of the Lange Government came to him,

When David Lange actually said on national television – and I remember the day when I sat and I watched it and I thought I can’t believe what I’m hearing – ‘from now on business is going to make the major decisions’. And that was actually a fairly startling thing as far as I was concerned… unfortunately poor old David probably got quite into something that was bigger than him, and here we are today with the consequences of those early decisions.  And of course the National Party is utterly committed to helping it’s friends further the direction that we started in.”

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The introduction completed, the screening began,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Someone elses's country - public screening - 9 february 2013 - Mana Party

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For many of us who lived through the period, memories of the time came flooding back. In some instances, several people in the audience even recognisedthemselves – with much younger faces – in stills and video footage of protest actions.

It is also worth recalling that despite calls from throughout the country,  TVNZ’s Board rejected calls for widespread broadcasting claiming it it “too political”.

“Too political”?!?!

Of course it was bloody political!

It was so damn political that TVNZ’s boardmembers would have  soiled their panties at the thought of upsetting their Ministerial masters in the Beehive.

As the doco’s producer, Alister Barry , said in November 2009,

It was no accident that Someone Else’s Country wasn’t screened on TVNZ when it was completed in 1996.

It wasn’t that the Business Roundtable needed to actually tell the TV programmers not to screen it. Television executives knew perfectly well where their salaries came from and that TVNZ was being readied for sale.

Fourteen or fifteen minutes of every television hour – the very limit of viewers’ tolerance – was filled with messages carefully and expensively constructed to reach into their fears and appetites. Clutches of advertisements urged New Zealanders to “buy”, to think and feel like frustrated consumers. Airing a documentary which led viewers to think of themselves less as consumers and more as citizens capable of taking political action was not in the interests of the big corporations controlling the advertising dollar.”

See: Someone Else’s Screen

It was not until 2003 that TVNZ finally mustered the courage to air  “Someone elses’s country” – on a Sunday afternoon. Hardly peak viewing time.

Barry also had this pointed insight to make,

It had been anticipated by New Zealand’s New Right revolutionaries, that by the early 2000s our values would have changed and we would have come to think like them, accepting poverty and extreme wealth as both normal and necessary. To pursue personal advantage and to care less about our neighbours. But studies show that in fact our values haven’t changed much from those of our parents and grandparents.
 
What is happening though, is that we are forgetting how things used to be and who changed them. Even as the human and environmental costs of the neoliberal experiment increase, we are finding it harder and harder to imagine how things could be better.

I hope you will find this film a useful antidote to forgetfulness.”

See: IBID

Which is what this country so desperately needs – an antidote to the collective amnesia which so many of our countrymen and woman so often succumb to.

As this blogger noted above; imagine the disquiet and anger that would result if  “Someone elses’s country” was broadcast at prime-time, on a major tv channel – and then followed by Bryan Bruce’s, “Inside Child Poverty in New Zealand“…

Addendum 1

The neo-liberal agenda continues. National plans to partially-privatise three power companies; a mining company; and Air New Zealand (which was privatised once before on 17 April 1989).

National is implementing a privatised form of education via “Charter Schools”.

And the economy is to be further “de-regulated”  and made the rights of foreign corporations extended.

Addendum 2

In a society run along neo-liberal lines, it becomes dangerous to upsets one’s masters investors,

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Hollywood gets heavy over Hobbit

Full story

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And shame upon shame to Jackson and his mates for aiding and abetting Hollywood’s Heavies.

What are they hiding?

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Additional Info

Mana Party

Mana Party – Feed the Kids

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  •     Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  •     At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  •     Acknowledgement of source is requested.

Anti asset sale rally – this Wednesday 13 February

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frank kitts park no to asset sales 13 feb

Source

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To intervene or not to intervene, that is the question…

8 February 2013 8 comments

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To intervene, or not to intervene, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in this government’s mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous recessionary fortune,

Or to take arms against a global sea of economic troubles,

And by opposing end them? To be hands on, and interventionist…

(With apologies to The Bard…)

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Farmers get it…

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'Well-deserved' $80m for irrigation

Full story

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Rich families get it…

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Richlisters up for Govt bailout

Full story

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Kids from rich families  get it…

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$43 million should be saved from private school subsidy

Full story

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Insurance companies get it…

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Government announces $500m bailout for insurer AMI

Full story

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Even cute, furry-footed Hobbits get it…

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OECD knocks 'Rings' films' multimillion tax subsidies

Full story

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And more for the Precious

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Hobbit tax rebate swells to $67.1m in second year of production

Full story

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Hell, practically everyone can get it…

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business.govt.nz Grants & incentives

Source

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Subsidies for everything and everyone…

But not, it seems, to assist struggling construction companies until the Christchurch re-build kicks in, in earnest, and they can trade their way out of difficulties,

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Mainzeal collapse 'tip of iceberg'

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In a brutally frank analysis of the industry,  NZ Herald journalist Anne Gibson wrote this piece about other failed construction companies and the effect it was having throughout the country – see: Recession hammered building firms, say chiefs

Greg O’Sullivan, of  Takapuna-based building consultants Prendos, said,

The recession has hammered the industry to the ground.  It becomes a very acrimonious environment. Builders are having to watch every penny to survive.”

Source: IBID

And it was all so unnecessary.

No government could  not have prevented the recessionary effects of the Global Finance Crisis. But a more proactive government could have mitigated the harshest effects of the international recession with careful stimulation of the economy.

And by “stimulation” I do not refer to the wasteful, blunt-instrument-style tax cuts of 2009 and 2010. Those tax cuts added nothing to economic growth and only served to cut government revenue (see: Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b).

Thousands of jobs could have been saved. Thousands more jobs created.

A proactive government, with Ministers able to look ahead, would have immediatly implemented strategies to counter damaging recessionary effects;

  • a dynamic building programme post-2009’s “Job Summit” (and I don’t mean Key’s wretched cycleway idea – see:  Cycleway jobs fall short)
  • increased investment, incentives, and  subsidies for apprenticeships and other training/education for young people and other unemployed New Zealanders
  • reform of tax laws which see inefficient investment in speculative house-buying/selling less attractive, and re-direct investment into productive industry

National should never have allowed our economy to get where it is now.

This is a government that is derelict in it’s duty, and for Steven Joyce and his cronies to carp on about  “overseas investment” is a moronic cargo-cult mentality that simply defies understanding.

If New Zealand businesses leaders and Captains of  Commerce still believe that National is a “prudent manager of the economy” – then going by the last four years and events in the 1990s – I promise you that you will get what you richly deserve if they are re-elected in 2014 (or earlier).

This isn’t governance. This is economic decline by a thousand cuts.

Expect things to get worse.

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Other Blogs

Keys bald-faced lies

Additional

NZ Herald: Collapse ‘gut wrenching’ for roofing business (9 Feb 2013)

NZ Herald: Rise and fall of a very modern businessman (9 Feb 2013)

NZ Herald: Brian Gaynor: Mainzeal collapse needs investigation (9 Feb 2013)

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Dispatches from Planet Key…

1 December 2012 5 comments

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key-loves-you

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This week has been a busy one for Dear Leader…

Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement

Perhaps the most far-ranging trade agreement that New Zealand has been involved with, since CER with Australia took effect in 1983, the TPPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement) is currently under negotiation between eleven nations (including New Zealand).

Negotiations are  being held in absolute secrecy, with no Parliamentary or public oversight. Quite simply, New Zealanders have no idea what National is signing up to, until the deed is done and we are committed to god-knows-what.

There are suggestions that part of the TPPA may contain,

(1) The right of corporations to sue governments for “loss of profits”. This is no better illustrated than the recent attempt by tobacco companies to force the Australian government to back down over plans to introduce plain-packaging in that country. (See: Tobacco packaging: cigarette companies lose Australian court case)

Tobacco manufacturer, Philip Morris, moved it’s subsidiary shares from Australia to Hong Kong so as to exploit a 1993 trade agreement between the two jurisdictions and was thus able to sue the Australian government. (See:  Smoke signals: plans of Big Tobacco plain to see)

This barely-concealed attempt to exploit an obscure trade agreement should serve as a sign of things to come.

(2) Stricter intellectual property rights that may undermine Pharmac’s ability to buy cheaper, generic medicines, after patents have expired.

It is by this process that PHARMAC  can purchase cheaper drugs from overseas and pass those savings on to all New Zealanders.  The US pharmaceutical industry recognises the threat that PHARMAC poses to their profits – especially if the PHARMAC-model is adopted by other nations.

More of what pharmaceutical corporations are demanding can be found in this article, by  Keira Stephenson; TPPA could ‘gut’ Pharmac, say critics.

John Key recently stated,

We’re not prepared to see dairy excluded. And in terms of abolition, yeah, I mean that’s the aim. There might be a time frame under which clearly there’ll be a phase out. But in the end New Zealand can’t sign up to the TPP if it excludes our biggest export.”

See: Key says NZ won’t sign up to TPP unless dairy included

Key also said it would “not a good look” if  concessions undermined the status of  Pharmac.

See: Ibid

Unfortunately, we have good reason to be concerned. If past experience is anything to go by, John Key’s reassurances are mostly meaningless and more changeable than our weather.  Key has changed his position on matters such as,

If there is one thing we’ve come to expect from John Key – he can flip-flop on his promises and committments with all the ease of  a Nigerian scammer.

So when Dear Leader says he is committed to…

We’re not prepared to see dairy excluded. And in terms of abolition, yeah, I mean that’s the aim. There might be a time frame under which clearly there’ll be a phase out. But in the end New Zealand can’t sign up to the TPP if it excludes our biggest export “…

And,   it would “not a good look” if  concessions undermined the status of  Pharmac…

We should immediately be concerned.

The man is simply not to be trusted.

Corporate welfare

In October 2010,  Key categorically rejected spending taxpayers money on corporate welfare for the movie industry,

Mr Key reiterated that the Government was prepared to move at the margins when it came to money but it did not have an open chequebook.

He said Warner Bros were asking for “lots and we’re not offering lots”.

“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.”

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

Two years later, and our Prime Minister is dishing out taxpayers money to the movie industry like it’s growing on trees,

The Government wants to offer better incentives to get more foreign TV shows filmed in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key, in Matamata yesterday for the opening of the Green Dragon Pub at the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, said attracting television series was the next step to aiding the creative industry after movie work such as Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.

“Blockbuster movies are very, very large … but they have big peaks and troughs and during the troughs that’s really difficult for people working in that field, so we can fill those gaps with television,” Mr Key said.

Under Mr Key’s lead the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Film Commission and the Inland Revenue Department are jointly reviewing the incentives offered to overseas producers to film TV series in New Zealand.

See: Key talks up sweeteners for TV

And yet, on 16 September this year, Key specifically rejected all suggestions of subsidies to other industries – especially exporters – to help save jobs,

But there will always be job losses, Shane. There will always be parts of the economy where, for whatever reason, there’s a change in pattern. So years ago, we all did different things from what we’re doing today. The point for New Zealand is if we’re going to sell more to the world than we buy from the world, if we’re going to earn our way in the world and not spend more than we earn, then we have to have a highly focused, competitive economy. And we need to have three things: access to capital, access to markets and access to skilled labour.

[…]

If I just take you back to your point, many of the countries you are pointing to that are paying out these levels of subsidies are backed up by governments that are hugely indebted. So the whole problem in Europe, the whole reason why you’re seeing countries like Spain, like Greece and right through Southern Europe in the sort of mess they are is they have huge levels of government debt. So the answer in New Zealand is not necessarily coming up with a make-work scheme funded off taxpayers’ taxes. It comes off New Zealand having a competitive industry, making sure that we have flexible labour markets, making sure that we are investing in things that will make the economy go faster, like science and innovation.”

See: TVNZ Q+A Interview with Prime Minister John Key

When it comes to holding two diametrically opposed beliefs, simultaneously, (aka ‘doublethink‘)  John Key excels.

I cannot recall any politician in the last forty years who can flip-flop so easily on any given issue.

Statistics & John Key

When the Household Labourforce survey was made public on 8 November, the data showed a dramatic leap in unemployment from 6.8% to 7.3%. (See: Unemployment up to 7.3pc – a 13 year high) There are now at least 175,000 people without work in this country.

Dear Leader’s response?

He rejected the figures outright, in this Fairfax story,

In the end these things bounce around quite a bit… it’s at odds with what most of the economists thought would happen. Like a lot of surveys, from time to time, it can produced usual data, let’s see what happens in the next one. But it’s not going to make the Government change tack.  These are challenging international conditions … but I don’t think we should change course I think we’re on the right track. “

See: Shock rise in unemployment to 7.3pc

On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 25 November, Key was just as  reluctant to accept the HLFS results,

The Household Labour Force Survey is a survey. It’s a survey of 15,000 people. It has a quite significant margin of error and it bounces around a lot. Quite a number of the bank economists, in their review of the last number, said it’s notoriously volatile. So I can’t tell you whether it might go up a little bit or go down a little bit. What I can tell you is that’s not the relevant point. The relevant point is is the government doing everything it can to create an environment to allow businesses to create jobs?

See:  TVNZ Q+A Interview with Prime Minister John Key

Which makes it even stranger and more comical when – having trashed the reliability of the Household Labour Force Survey over the last month – he suddenly invokes the very same Household Labour Force Survey to back up his position (which depends on what day it is),

There’s always a range of different data series. QS [Quarterly Survey?] is one. That’s obviously another. Household Labour Force is another. All I can tell you is we’ve looked at [garbled gibberish] … The concensus view and that was the previous government’s view as well, is that HLFS was the best measure of the economy. Sometimes it produces numbers I don’t like. But if you look at their data series what they are saying is, in broad terms, over the last four years, the number of jobs in manufacturing is roughly about the same.” – John Key, 27 November 2012

Source: Radio NZ – PM rejects jobs statistics

It is fairly obvious to the ordinary bloke and blokette in the street that relying on John Key’s word will generally result in disappointment.

Back to Pharmac, the TPPA, and John Key’s “reassurances”

Last year, on 13 June, Fairfax reporter Nikki MacDonald wrote an excellent piece on how TPPA negotiations may impact on Pharmac’s drug-buying policies,

 Pharmac was established in 1993, to rein in rocketing drug costs and distance the government from drug-buying decisions. Its task is to spend its $710 million annual budget to achieve the best health gains for Kiwis.

Broadly, Pharmac works by referring drug-company funding applications to the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee, made up of senior doctors and pharmacists, to examine whether or not the drug is effective, and whether it is significantly better than anything else already on offer.

The committee then gives the drug a low, medium or high funding priority and Pharmac’s board decides whether or not its benefits justify the price tag.

Pharmac’s cost-benefit analysis, which takes into account average patient age and the number of good-quality years gained by the treatment (called quality adjusted life years, or QALYs), is similar to that in Australia’s scheme.

The major difference is that Australia funds everything meeting a given cost-effectiveness threshold.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has a fixed budget, so has to decide whether it can afford to fund a drug in any given year. Pharmac must also consider the opportunity cost of a funding decision – what do you sacrifice to spend $20 million on the latest cancer drug?

Pharmac uses various bargaining strategies so it can buy more for its drug dollar. These include:

Reference pricing: Where a newer, patented drug has similar benefits to a cheaper generic drug, Pharmac might subsidise the newer drug only to the same level as the lower-cost alternative. The drug company then either drops its drug price to the subsidy level, or the consumer pays the difference.

Sole-supply tenders: When a drug patent expires, Pharmac tenders to get the best price for a generic replacement. Drug companies can offer much cheaper deals because they’re assured of a large market share.

A 2004 price comparison found Australia paid up to 20 times more than New Zealand for some generic drugs, because it did not use tenders. (Legislation has now bridged some of that difference, by enforcing staged price drops for generic drugs.) A Canadian study found generic drugs were up to 93 per cent, and on average 58 per cent, cheaper in New Zealand.

Package deals: A costly new drug that works well but is not cost-effective can be funded by negotiating cheaper prices for other drugs made by the same pharmaceutical company. Glivec was funded using this method.

Negotiated contracts. On the numbers Pharmac has been spectacularly successful. In 1985, a basket of commonly prescribed drugs cost 37 per cent more in New Zealand than in Australia. Between 1993 and 2006 New Zealand’s drug spending grew by 11 per cent, while Australia’s soared by 212 per cent. Pharmac estimates its aggressive pricing policies save almost $1 billion a year.

See: Pharmac: The politics of playing god

Most New Zealands either have no idea what the potential impact on Pharmac may be, if US pharmaceutical companies get their way through TPPA negotiations – or are too busy watching the latest “Masterchef Botswana”, “X Factor Bolivia”, or gawking at a celebrity’s tits on some vacuous “reality” show.

It is only when Pharmac’s ability to buy cheap drugs is undermined by the full power of pharmaceutical companies, levied through the TPPA, and the costs for medicines suddenly doubles, trebles, quadruples, will New Zealanders wake up to the fact that we’ve been rorted.

And it all happened on the watch of  our  smiling, waving, Prime Minister – that ever so-nice Mr Key.

By then it will be too late.

So when Key  reassures New Zealanders that,

“…it would “not a good look” if New Zealand made concessions that undermined the status of its drug-buying agency, Pharmac.”

See: Mr Key, reiterated today NZ will not sign the Trans Pacific Partnership unless it provides for the abolition of tariffs on agriculture

See: No TPP deal unless dairy and Pharmac are in, says Key

See: TPPA could ‘gut’ Pharmac, say critics

… it is time to be worried.

Like all his other assurances, pledges, promises, and committments that have been broken or backtracked, our Prime Minister is not a man who stands by his word.

When it comes to the health of our economy, he has failed.

Let’s not allow him to do the same to our own health.

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Sources

US free-trade deal suspect (19 Dec 2010)

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (13 June 2011)

Pharmac faces trade ‘threat’ (26 Oct 2011)

Leaked TPPA document leaves NZ position on software patents unclear (22 June 2012)

Leaked document on Investor Rights to sue sovereign governments

No TPP deal unless dairy and Pharmac are in – Key (26 Nov 2012)

TPPA could ‘gut’ Pharmac, say critics (29 Nov 2012)

Navigating the choppy waters of the TPP (1 Dec 2012)

Right Wing Reaction

Anti-trade camp running debate (28 Nov 2012)

Other blogs

The Standard: TPP Negotiations Auckland next week

Tumeke: Citizen A TPP special with Professor Jane Kelsey & Lori Wallach

Gordon Campbell: Gordon Campbell on the NZ Herald’s attack on Jane Kelsey

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: TPP in crisis?

Werewolf: Into The Cave of Dreams – Trans Pacific Partnership

Werewolf: Selling the Farm – Trans Pacific Partnership

Werewolf: The Neutering Of Pharmac – Trans Pacific Partnership

Werewolf: Head First Into The Spaghetti Bowl – Trans Pacific Partnership

Public Citizen: Controversial Trade Pact Text Leaked, Shows U.S. Trade Officials Have Agreed to Terms That Undermine Obama Domestic Agenda

It’s Our Future

Groups

TPPA Action Group

Additional

NBR:  OPINION: TPP – Groser trades away tech to save agriculture

Fairfax:  CTU seeks answers over trade agreement

NBR:  Govt accused of ‘sellout’ on trade pact negotiations

NBR:  NZ must stay staunch on TPP

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Peter Jackson’s “Precious”…

28 November 2012 40 comments

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Today was the premiere of the first movie in “The Hobbit” trilogy.

I was not about to comment on todays events. For me, the shine has long since corroded from the Ring Trilogy and the “Hobbit” that came after.

Events surrounding the industrial dispute; the mass hysteria that followed; the vilification of actors who stood with Actor’s Equity; the demonisation of trade unionists; the the carefully crafted manipulation of public hysteria by some very skilled creators of illusion; the actions of National in unilaterally changing employment law – all left a sour taste in my mouth.

Whilst I loved the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; the talents of actors, technicians, director and producer, and all the other fantastically imaginative craftsmen and woman who contributed to one of the most epic movies of this century –  I can no longer share those same feelings with “The Hobbit”.

As with our fraudulent claim to be “100% Pure”, there is something about “The Hobbit” which is a sham.

Unlike the “Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” is not the product of Kiwi ingenuity. It is the product of back-room deals; media manipulation; and political-corporate connivance.

Have a look at TV3’s report today into the tumultuous  background of  “The Hobbit”, when Hollywood Hell broke loose in our country,

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[click here to direct to TV3 Video]

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Note Peter Jackson’s comment @ 1:27,

We are now being given signs that they [Hollywood producers] are looking very seriously about shifting [the Hobbit].”

Source: Ibid

That was a lie.

We know it was a lie.

We know it was a lie because Peter Jackson admitted it in an email to National’s Economic Development Minister, Gerry Brownlee, on 18 October 2010,

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Sir Peter Jackson told the Government he did not believe an international actors’ boycott would force The Hobbit overseas, emails show.

The message, sent to the office of Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee on October 18, is in stark contrast to comments the film-maker made earlier in the month.

On October 1, he said: “The Hobbit is being punished with a boycott which is endangering thousands of New Zealand jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign income, for no good reason.”

Sir Peter dismissed the idea that movie production was moving overseas because it was cheaper to make films there.

“It’s completely absurd! Eastern Europe is only being considered because a minority group of the New Zealand acting community have invoked union action that has blacklisted our film, making it impossible to shoot in New Zealand.”

But on October 18, Sir Peter said the boycott had nothing to do with the movies potentially moving overseas.

“There is no connection between the blacklist (and it’s eventual retraction) and the choice of production base for The Hobbit,” he wrote.

“What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment and the ability to conduct its business in such as way that it feels its $500 million investment is as secure as possible.”

The October 18 email also suggests Sir Peter thought the boycott had been lifted, even though he said in television interviews three days later he was unsure if it had been officially ditched.

Sir Peter declined to comment through a spokesman yesterday.

See: Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

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And Fairfax Media reported,

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The email showed Warner Bros wanted ”stability” to film the movies in New Zealand and was worried about ”grey areas” of employment law.

The Government secured the movies in October by an urgent amendment to the law which prevented independent contractors from claiming entitlements as employees, as well as an agreement to increase the tax concession for big screen productions.

The report said the email was signed ”Peter J” – apparently director Sir Peter Jackson – and was sent to the office of Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee who was involved in the negotiations with Warner Bros.
  
It said there was no connection between Actors’ Equity union action against The Hobbit movies and choice of location, which contradicted government statements at the time – which were that Warner Bros was concerned about strife caused by the blacklisting of the movies because of a row over collective pay conditions.

See: Union: Protest did not affect Hobbit decision

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It was all a giant con. And we, as a country, were the ones being conned.

Because three days later, on 21 October 2010, Jackson issued  a Press Release stating,

Next week Warners are coming down to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production offshore. It appears we cannot make films in our own country even when substantial financing is available.”

See: Warner preparing to take Hobbit offshore – Sir Peter

Peter Jackson knew full it well was unlikely that  Warner Bros would move “The Hobbit”, for several practical, hard-nosed reasons.  Which Jackson duly shared with Gerry Brownlee.

Unfortunately, neither Brownlee nor Jackson shared that information with the rest of the country, and the mounting public hysteria gave John Key and National the ‘mandate’ they needed to act decisively.

The country panicked; and National used the opportunity to play “hero” by saving the day. It was like a Hollywood  scripted movie. (Though, for the life of me, I’m not sure that the “good guys” won.)

In 48 hours, National rammed through legislation amending the law covering all workers in the movie and television entertainment industry. The Bill was introduced on 28 October. It gained Royal Assent on 29 October. The fastest piece of legislation enacted since politicians voted themselves generous superannuation entitlements, late one night, in the 1980s.

See: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – Legislative history

At the stroke of a pen – similar to a Decree issued by a lone despot in some authoritarian regime – National unilaterally changed workers from being employees to sub-contractors.

The resulting change was stark;

  • Employees can negotiate collectively for a collective agreement
  • Sub-contractors cannot
  • Employees had minimum wage; sick pay; holiday pay; appropriate employment/termination protections; etc.
  • Sub-contractors do not.

National got what it wanted; public support through a bit of Union bashing, and preliminary legislative attacks on de-unionisation of the workforce. (See: New industrial relations laws rewrite labour rules)

Warner Bros got what they wanted; more money (courtesy of the taxpayer) and de-unionisation of “The Hobbit” workforce.

Peter Jackson got what he wanted; an irritation out of his life.

In a way, I don’t blame Peter Jackson – despite his masterful manipulation of public opinion and reaffirming (if re-affirmation was ever required) that we can be a nation of sheep.

Peter Jackson is a talented, imaginative artist who can create the most visually stunning images on a screen. He is, in most likelihood, a genius.

Unfortunately, geniuses are often so focused; so obssessed; and so fixated on their work, that they will disregard all others around them. A genius is all-consumed with his work, to the detriment of others.

In this case, Peter Jackson identifies utterly with his projects; immersing himself in childhood fantasies that he now has the power to bring to life – albeit a two-dimensional “life” on the big screen.

In doing so, he swats aside any irritation that might distract him from his work.

Actors Equity was such a distraction, and Jackson used his masterful skills at perception-manipulation  to rid himself of that irritation. He had the power – so he used it.

He’s not evil or tyrannical or nasty.

He’s simply a boy who never quite grew up and realised that he could fulfill all his childhood fantasies.

Unfortunately, in doing so, and like many other obessively-dedicated geniuses before him – he has hurt many people in the process.

Will I go to see “The Hobbit”? I really don’t know.

But if I do, it won’t be the same as “Lord of the Rings”.

The illusion will be broken –  the suspension of disbelief (film makers and writers  will understand what I’m referring to).

Because all the while, there will be the spirit of a little boy who never quite grew up; holding on to his childhood fantasies; and murmuring ‘my precious‘, as he never lets go.

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Additional

Fairfax: Union: NZ actors suffer after dispute

Gordon Campbell: On The Hobbit finale

Fairfax: To save regular earth, kill Hobbit subsidies

Fairfax: Hobbit ‘better deal than Lord of the Rings’ – Key

Previous Related blogposts

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

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John Key’s “pinch of salt” style of telling the truth

27 November 2012 14 comments

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Full story

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Continued from: When spin doctors go bad

The truth? You can’t handle the truth!

When Jack Nicholson bellowed that famous line in the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men“, few would have thought that it would apply twenty years later; down under here in Godzone; but that this time the tables would be turned against an apologist for the Establishment.

Mark Unsworth – a right-wing lobbyist for a professional “government relations consultancy” company, Saunders Unsworth, seems to find difficulty “handling the truth”. Especially when that truth comes from respected and reknowned environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy…

On 16 November, the New York Times carried a story on the upcoming release of “The Hobbit“. The article made reference to Tourism New Zealand’s publicity campaign centering around a supposedly   “100% pureNew Zealand” theme.

As we should all know by now, New Zealand is not  “100% pure”. In fact we probably haven’t been “100% pure” for several decades now.

Dr Joy stated as much and was duly quoted by New York Times,

There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality.”

Green MP, Eugenie Sage, backed up Dr Joy’s brutal truth, and was quoted in the same article (from a statement she made in Parliament last month),

We promote our country as 100 percent pure and 100 percent Middle Earth. But to swim in our rivers, which is the birthright of Kiwi kids — you cannot do it in the majority of the rivers that the Ministry for the Environment monitored.”

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

And you know what? They are telling the truth. The clear, unvarnished, simple truth.

Dear Leader John Key and Trade/Climate Change Minister Tim Groser Minister,  have now waded into the ‘mix’.

Yesterday (26 Nov), Groser rebuked Environment scientist, Dr Mike Joy, by saying,

It’s been used as a stick to beat New Zealand by environmental activists.”

See: Minister lashes out at environmentalists over 100% Pure

Today, Dear Leader added, just to make sure we understood what our politicians were “hinting” at,

It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’ – I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it . . . it’s the same thing with 100% Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”

Dr Joy replied,

I’m not going to lie about this stuff.”

He’s right. Why should he lie?

Politicians know that the “100% Pure” is a marketing scam to bring tourists (and more importantly their cash) to New Zealand and can only succeed if the true nature of our degraded environment is kept secret.

After all, successful  politicians like Dear Leader John Key are so used to manipulating facts and employing half-truths  to serve their political purposes (usually getting elected), that they forget that the rest of the population are not politicians.

So, having created their own “dynamic” standard of ethics, Key,  Groser, and  minions like Unsworth, are  taken aback when the general populace raise an eyebrow in disbelief when we are expected to take part in conning overseas tourists? Our response is, “They want us to what-?”

How many times has Key been caught out telling half-truths, or not being upfront with the public?How many election promises has he broken; side-stepped; back-tracked; or watered-down until his pledges were useless?

The trouble now seems to be that Key and Groser are now expecting the public to buy in to their truth-bending ways.

Not just “buy in” – but to be  tacitly  complicit with the scam.

John Key wants 4.4 million people to be like him.

A nation of  ‘politicians’.

Surprisingly most of the  the general populace won’t have a bar of it.

Key says that no one expects New Zealand to be “100% Pure”.

I wonder what he expects when he buys a bottle of  “pure water” to drink?

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Sources

‘100% Pure’ is like McDonald’s ad, says Key

Minister lashes out at environmentalists over 100% Pure

Other blogs

The New Zealand story: 100% pooer!

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When spin doctors go bad

24 November 2012 14 comments

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When Jack Nicholson bellowed that famous line in the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men“, few would have thought that it would apply twenty years later; down under here in Godzone; but that this time the tables would be turned against an apologist for the Establishment.

Mark Unsworth – a right-wing lobbyist for a professional “government relations consultancy” company, Saunders Unsworth, seems to find difficulty “handling the truth”. Especially when that truth comes from respected and reknowned environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy…

On 16 November, the New York Times carried a story on the upcoming release of “The Hobbit“. The article made reference to Tourism New Zealand’s publicity campaign centering around a supposedly   “100% pureNew Zealand” theme.

As we should all know by now, New Zealand is not  “100% pure”. In fact we probably haven’t been “100% pure” for several decades now.

Dr Joy stated as much and was duly quoted by New York Times,

There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality.”

Green MP, Eugenie Sage, backed up Dr Joy’s brutal truth, and was quoted in the same article (from a statement she made in Parliament last month),

We promote our country as 100 percent pure and 100 percent Middle Earth. But to swim in our rivers, which is the birthright of Kiwi kids — you cannot do it in the majority of the rivers that the Ministry for the Environment monitored.”

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

And you know what? They are telling the truth. The clear, unvarnished, simple truth.

As early as  July 2010, NIWA reported,

There is now considerable evidence that the combined effect of light exposure, bank damage by livestock, and poor water quality has substantially degraded the ecological health of pastoral streams. Nutrient enrichment, when combined with sediments and other stressors, can cause irreversible shifts in aquatic ecosystems, particularly in downstream lakes and estuaries.

[…]

The fact that some heavily polluted rivers – mostly in dairying areas – have turned the corner in recent years gives us cause for optimism for the future, says Dr Davies-Colley. For instance, the NRWQN shows water quality has improved in some Taranaki rivers and the Manawatu. A programme of widespread riparian fencing and planting in Taranaki probably explains most of the improvement there, he says.

But although science identified the effectiveness of these measures 15 years ago, implementation has been lacking, according to Mr Deans. “There’s a bit of fiddling while Rome burns, I’m afraid. Unless we take action, we’re going to see continuing water degradation and be in a worse position in five or ten years’ time.”

See: How clean are our rivers?

When we read articles in our own media such as this,

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Full story

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… then we know we have a serious problem.

The Herald article above revealed in no uncertain terms, that we were turning  our rivers  into open toilets,

The results showed water quality was poor or very poor at 52 per cent of monitored river sites.

A further 28 per cent were graded “fair” – with a risk of illness for those swimming there.

Only 20 per cent of monitored river recreation sites were graded good or very good.

Health effects from swallowing water tainted with faecal micro-organisms or other bacteria can be unpleasant. They include diarrhoea or vomiting, and infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat.

See: Ibid

The New York Times article simply mirrors what we already know; our dirty little secret. A “secret” that is becoming more widely known with modern communications and tourists spreading the word,

But New Zealand’s reputation as a pristine place might not be exactly warranted. Since European colonization 150 years ago, as much as 90 percent of the country’s original wetlands have been drained to make way for towns, farms and roads. The wetlands are considered to be of international importance for supporting numerous species of birds, fish and plants.

For creatures like the black stilt, which lives in such places, it may be too late. There are only about 100 left, making it possibly the rarest wading bird in the world. It is just one species out of the 2,800 that the country’s Department of Conservation considers endangered.

In 2008, New Zealand ranked first among 146 countries in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index , which ranks countries on the quality of their environmental policies. The report compares international data on criteria like habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and protected marine areas.

In 2012, however, the country slipped to 14th. New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, half of which are caused by the agriculture industry, are the fifth-highest per capita among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the association of free-market democracies. Most other countries in the O.E.C.D. have managed to reduce per capita emissions, but New Zealand’s have increased 23 percent since 1990 — from about 66 million tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 83 million tons in 2009, according the country’s Environment Ministry .

Pure Advantage, a nonprofit group promoting green business, estimates that the country will overtake the United States in per capita emissions in less than eight years, putting it almost into the world’s top 10. But total emissions in New Zealand, which has a population of 4.4 million, are far lower than those of the United States, with 312 million people.

This month, New Zealand refused to commit to a second round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international agreement on reduction of greenhouse gases. Instead, it will align with several of the world’s largest emitters, including the United States, China and India, in negotiating an alternative agreement. That could be approved by 2015 and in effect by 2020.

This is a day of shame for New Zealand. Our reputation as a good international citizen has taken a massive hit, Moana Mackey, a member of Parliament who is the climate change spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said in a statement.

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

Indeed, this very issue came up in a BBC  interview last year when Dear Leader was challenged by Steven Sackur about our supposedly “clean and green” and “100% pure” image,

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See @ 10:50

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Key dismissed Dr Joy’s research as “Mike Joy’s view“.

Since when is a river too filthy to swim in considered a “viewpoint“?

For Mark Unsworth to then send this offensively-worded email, criticising Dr Joy’s research,

From: Mark Unsworth [mark@sul.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 12:15 a.m.
To: Joy, Mike
Subject: Ego Trip

Dear Dr Joy
Is your ego so great that you feel the need to sabotage all the efforts made by those promoting tourism in NZ because of your passionate views on the environment ?
You have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly .
Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism.

You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy University lounge ,but to others this affects income and jobs.
Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York .And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery-its more accurate
Cheers
Mark Unsworth”

See: Facebook Page

…   is not just the hallmark of a narrow-minded person – but the height of futility.

Abusing a scientist doesn’t clean up the Manawatu River and make it suitable for swimming in.

Using gross insults such as “you guys are the foot and mouth disease of the tourism industry‘ will not change the tonnes of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, etc, that we daily spew into the air.

And what does it mean to say “you have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly” ?

Is Mr Unsworth suggesting that anyone paid by the taxpayer should keep the truth to him/herself? Isn’t that what authoritarian regimes try to do; squash dissenting opinions and hide facts from everyone?

And since when is detecting, recording, and reporting levels of pollution “holding strong views“?

If the pollution of waterways like the Manawatu simply a “strong view“, I challenge Mr Unsworth to drink a glass of  ‘water’ from that river. (Note: have a medic with a stomach-pump standing by.)

Mr Unsworth; when it comes to choosing whether to believe an environmental scientist whose purpose it is to seek the truth about human impacts on our land and waterways  –  or to believe a spin doctor like you, who is paid to tell us whatever your employers want us to hear – who do you think we’ll believe?

Can you guess?

It beggers belief that someone with Mr Unsworth supposed education (?) cannot grasp a simple, inescapable fact; the truth about our degraded environment and poisoned rivers cannot be hidden.  People are not fools, and eventually the truth will out.

The NY Times has called us on our claim to be “100% Pure”. The bullshit has, literally, hit the fan.

So what are we going to do about it?

Sulk and malign the messengers of the truth?

Or get our act together and clean up the mess that we, ourselves, have made in our own country?

Time to roll up our sleeves, Mr Unsworth…

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Sources

NZ Herald Editorial: Green growth potential not to be wasted

NIWA: How clean are our rivers?

Pure Advantage: PURE ADVANTAGE LAUNCHES NEW ZEALAND INTO THE GLOBAL GREEN RACE

New York Times: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

NZ Herald: Lobbyist stands by ‘ego trip’ email

Other blogs

The New Zealand story: 100% pooer!

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Key: When I say ‘no’, I mean ‘no’. Maybe.

4 October 2012 7 comments

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Two years ago, what should have been a relatively minor industrial negotiation between Actor’s Equity and and SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association) turned into a major incident, both local and international.

The dispute swelled into a mass-panic as New Zealanders’ believed that they were about to lose their precious – the ‘Hobbit‘ movies. There was talk of production moving to Australia (which is evenly more heavily unionised than NZ) or Eastern Europe, or Outer Mongolia or wherever.

Tension escalated. Death threats were made. Union officials were harassed and threatened. Hysteria reached moral-panic proportions not seen since the 1981 Springbok Tour Days.

Then, on 27 October 2010, the Wide Boys from Hollywood rode into town. Their boy, John Key, was on hand to greet them and taxpayer funded limousines were made available to chauffeur the Warner Bro’s to Premier House,

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Warner Brothers executives arrive to meet with Prime Minister John Key and other ministers at Premier House. Photo / NZPA

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See: Govt paid $6000 limo tab for Warner Bros in Hobbit talks

It was High Stakes time (or so we were led to believe). It was actually more like Herding Sheep time.

And we were the sheep.

Key was sternly 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.” – Source

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 US$7.5m per movie for Warner Bros, subject to the success of the movies…

… The Government will offset US$10 million of Warner Bros’ marketing costs as part of the strategic partnership. ” – Source

As Key lamely explained,

It was commercial reality. We did the business.” – Source

Two years later, Key is once again off to meet with Warner Bros as well as other Hollywood execs,

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Source

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Every time Key consorts with Corporate Wide Boys, we end up paying, one way or another. So how much will it cost us this time, Dear Leader? What are you preparing to give away now?

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Addendum

The Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson released a statement and his wife and film partner Fran Walsh overnight saying the film’s producer, Hollywood studio Warner Bros, was concerned at the ongoing dispute and preparing to move production away from New Zealand.” – 21 October 2010

See: Brownlee hits out over ‘dreadful’ Hobbit dispute

An email from Sir Peter Jackson shows union action had nothing to do with Warner Bros.’ decision on whether or not The Hobbit would be filmed in New Zealand, says Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly.” – 21 January 2011

See: Union: Protest did not affect Hobbit decision

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Sources

NZ Herald: PM – I’m not going to write cheques NZ can’t afford (11.45AM, 27 Oct 2010)

NZ Herald: Hobbit to stay in NZ (7.38PM, 27 Oct 2010)

NBR: Key on Hobbit deal: ‘It was commercial reality. We did the business.’  (31 Oct 2010)

Fairfax: PM’s ‘special’ movie studio meeting   (19 July 2011)

Radio NZ: No extra incentives for US movie companies, says PM (2 Oct 2012)

Additional

Labour vows to repeal Hobbit law

Update

TV3: Copyright lobbyist on Key’s Hollywood agenda (4 Oct 2012)

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Three Questions to Key, Williamson, Coleman, et al…

22 April 2012 7 comments

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National released this media statement on Scoop.co.nz yesterday, when they announced their intention to proceed with the sale of the Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin,

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Ministers approve Crafar farms bid

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Friday, 20 April 2012, 11:22 am
Press Release: New Zealand Government

Hon Maurice Williamson
Minister for Land Information

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
Associate Minister of Finance

20 April 2012
Media Statement

Ministers approve Crafar farms bid

Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson and Associate Finance Minister Jonathan Coleman have approved the new recommendation of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) to grant consent to Milk New Zealand Holding Limited to acquire the 16 Crafar farms

“New Zealand has a transparent set of laws and regulations around overseas investment,” Mr Williamson says.

“Those rules recognise the benefits that appropriate overseas investment can bring, while providing a range of safeguards to protect New Zealanders’ interests. They are applied evenly to all applications, regardless of where they are from.

“We have sought to apply the law in accordance with the provisions of the Overseas Investment Act and the guidance of the High Court.

“We have carefully considered the OIO’s new recommendation. The OIO sought advice from Crown Law and independent legal advice from David Goddard QC. The Ministers also sought advice and clarification from Mr Goddard.

“We are satisfied that on even the most conservative approach this application meets the criteria set out in the Act and is consistent with the High Court’s judgment.”

Dr Coleman said the consent came with stringent conditions.

“These 27 conditions have been imposed to ensure Milk New Zealand’s investment delivers substantial and identifiable benefits to New Zealand,” Dr Coleman says.

The conditions require Milk New Zealand to invest $16 million into the farms and to protect and enhance heritage sites

“The combined effect of the benefits being delivered to New Zealand as a result of this transaction is substantial.”

A copy of the OIO’s new recommendation is at: http://www.linz.govt.nz/sites/default/files/docs/overseas-investment/oio-recommendation-crafar-farms-20120420.pdf

A copy of the OIO’s decision summary is at: http://www.linz.govt.nz/sites/default/files/docs/overseas-investment/decision-summary-201110035.pdf

ENDS

Source

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Jonathan Coleman says that, ” The combined effect of the benefits being delivered to New Zealand as a result of this transaction is substantial. 

Maurice Williamson sez, ” Those rules recognise the benefits that appropriate overseas investment can bring…

And Our Dear Leader, John Key, smiles, waves, and said,

Ministers could have overturned that decision, but there were no reasons to do so. The OIO correctly interpreted the legislation, and had they turned it down simply on the basis of being Chinese, it would not only be unlawful but unacceptable and would have been overturned in the courts.” – Source

The questions I have for John Key, Maurice Williamson, Jonathan Coleman, et al in  National are;

  1. What possible benefit is there to  New Zealand when the Crafar farms owe a massive $216 million to predominantly Dutch and Australian  banks; the sale to Shanghai Pengxin is for $210 million; and the purchasers intend to invest only an addition $14 million in the 16 farms – $875,000 per farm? The proceeds for the sale of the Crafar farms will not stay in New Zealand – they will flow back to Australia.
  2. How can the sale of a revenue-earning asset (eg, farms) to overseas investors be ‘beneficial’ to New Zealand when the profits from those assets will flow overseas, to offshore bank accounts. Profits will  not be spent nor further re-invested in this country.
  3. Considering that New Zealand is a world leader in dairy production, what does Shanghai Pengxin – a company specialising in property development (the sixth largest in China; Appendix 5, para 42) and not dairying – have to offer us that the alternative New Zealand consortium, led by Michael Fay, and other local dairy farmers could not? Is this, effectively a vote of No Confidence in local farmers?

Several politicians have made several comments that the new Chinese owners will bring ‘new skills and innovation’ to our dairying industry.

This blogger finds that rather hard to believe. All of a sudden, New Zealanders are incapable of developing their own farms?

But perhaps the issues we should be most concerned out is a loss of revenue from those farms, as profits are repatriated overseas.

Michael Fay estimates we could lose $15 million per annum once the farms are producing milk for export,

Sir Michael says at the forecast payout of $6.35 a share, the new owners would earn $30 million a year, half of which will go to state-owned enterprise Landcorp for farming the land.

“This transaction with Shanghai Pengxin is a very, very bad investment for New Zealand. It doesn’t stack up on any economic basis,” said Sir Michael.

“It’s hard to see that half of it going overseas constitutes an economic benefit to this country. It’s a cost, it’s hard to define it as an investment”. ” – Source

And Bernard Hickey wrote about our loss of income as we sold more and more assets into overseas ownership, steadily worsening our current account deficit,

For decades we have spent more than we earned as a nation and funded the difference by borrowing foreign money through our banks, or directly in the form of companies borrowing offshore or the government borrowing from foreign funds and banks. If we couldn’t borrow the money, we would sell assets, be it companies, land or state assets.

We’ve been kidding ourselves for decades that, like the L’Oreal ad, we were worth it. We have run chronically high current account deficits for most of the last 30 years. We believed, and have been encouraged by our leaders, bankers, and asset buyers, that New Zealand could afford it and we deserved it.

But in our bones we knew we couldn’t, and it’s great to see Justice Miller at the High Court now tell us in this decision it has to stop, even if the government can’t or won’t do it. His ruling that any foreign buyer has to prove a bigger benefit to the nation than a local buyer sets a very high threshold.

It effectively says that any buyer has to invest an awful lot more, create a lot more jobs and pledge to reinvest dividends here, otherwise there is an inevitable drain on the nation.

In the last decade we have reached the limit of how much we could borrow and sell. For any chronic overspender, there is a point where they can’t borrow any more because they can’t afford the interest payments and they don’t have anything left to sell. Just before that moment comes, they accelerate their asset sales and borrowing to pay the interest on the previously borrowed money and to pay the dividends on the previously sold assets…

… The government itself has been the heaviest borrower through the bond markets. It doesn’t matter who we have borrowed it off, but again China is the biggest creditor through its sovereign wealth fund. Our state owned enterprises have also been borrowing heavily overseas and the government is about to start selling the jewels in the crown, at least some of which will go offshore.

The irony is that this frenzy of last minute borrowing and asset selling accelerates the process of making our economy unsustainable, because it pushes up our economy currency and hampers our ability to export our way out of this mess.

Just in case you question the logic, here’s the chart showing how New Zealand’s Gross National Income per capita, which is what we get to keep after we have paid the interest and the dividends, has been falling since 2003.”

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Source

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Quite simply, the more we borrow from overseas; the more income-generating assets we sell to overseas investors – the more money we end up losing on every deal. The profits that used to stay in NZ to be re-invested, are now flowing out to other countries; other peoples’ bank accounts. Leaving us poorer and poorer year after year.

Selling farms after selling most of our profitable State Owned Enterprises will make things worse.

It’s also hard to see how any potential New Zealand purchaser can compete with the incredible wealth and access to funds, that nations such as China possess. Indeed, the Overseas Investment commission made this very point in Appendix 5, para 19/a when it stated,

“… 19. The purchase price for the farms is NZD $[redacted] m, plus payment for the stock, estimated to be NZD $[redacted] m. The Applicant is willing to pay this price because:

a) it has access to relatively low cost capital;”

We are in dire straights when an offshore investor can outbid a New Zealander because they have access to cheap funds to which we do not.

This is not a level playing field. The deck is now stacked firmly against us.

The deal with Shanghai Pengxin calls for further investments,

  • The Applicant must invest the higher of NZD $14m or the value agreed between the Applicant and Landcorp in
    clause 4.4 of the draft Property Management Agreement (see attachment “1”) on investment for development
    purposes on the Investment.” (ref Appendix 1, para 6)
  • The Applicant must establish an on-farm training facility for dairy farm workers in accordance with clause 5(c) of the draft Property Management Agreement (see attachment “1”). The Applicant must contribute a minimum of NZD $[redacted] m towards the capital cost of establishing this facility. (ref Appendix 1, para 7) We don’t know the value of this “training facility – the OIO has blanked out that information.)
  • The Applicant must give two scholarships of not less than NZD $5,000 each year to students of the on-farm training facility. The first two scholarships are to be awarded by 31 December 2013.” (ref Appendix 1, para 8)

Aside from some walking tracks and other contractual obligations (which we recently discovered are not followed up by anyone from the Overseas Investment Commission – so we cannot be certain that the OIO’s Conditions of Consent are followed through by Shanghai Pengxin, nor any other foreign investor) – what does New Zealand gain, financially, from this deal?

Let’s re-cap:

  1. Sale price of $210 million – goes to foreign-owned banks in Australia and Netherlands. Benefit to NZ: nil
  2. Profits from export of milk from the 16 Crafar Farms – mostly remitted to China. Benefit to NZ: nil/negative ($15 million p.a. loss in overseas income)
  3. Additional investment required in farms – $14 million*. Benefit to NZ: nil. $14 million gain – wiped out after one year of profits ($15 million) remitted back to Shanghai Pengxin, in China
  4. Scholarships for two students, @ $5,000 per-person. Benefit to NZ: $10,000 p.a.

And that, folks, seems to be it: $10,000 per year.

In return, the new foreign owner gets,

  • $15 million p.a. in profits
  • 15 million Fonterra shares
  • dairy products exported to China (along with profits made)

Now, unless this blogger’s arithmetic is seriously out-of-kilter, it’s hard to see how Jonathan Coleman’s comment holds true that,

The combined effect of the benefits being delivered to New Zealand as a result of this transaction is substantial. 

What, precisely, are those ‘benefits’?!?  Because none are apparent to this blogger.

Some further matters that warrant comment:

Point 1.

Mr Key says that,

Ministers could have overturned that decision, but there were no reasons to do so. The OIO correctly interpreted the legislation, and had they turned it down simply on the basis of being Chinese, it would not only be unlawful but unacceptable and would have been overturned in the courts.” – Source

Let’s deal with that straight away.

It’s bullshit.

In 2002, when American millionaire, John Griffin purchased historically-significant Young Nick’s Head on the East Coast,  there was considerable anger and opposition from many locals, and throughout New Zealand.  Such was opposition that a hikoi to Parliament ended up with 200 people protesting on the grounds,

Around noon on Monday 5 August a group of about 200 protestors arrived at parliament grounds, Wellington. Many of them had been on the hikoi (march) from Young Nick’s Head, Gisborne, which left 11 days earlier. Most of the hikoi participants were from the Ngai Tamanuhiri iwi, who were dispossessed of the land around Young Nick’s Head in the 19th century.

The protest group asked to see finance minister Michael Cullen, who is to decide on Friday 9 August whether to allow the sale of Young Nick’s Head to the US millionaire John Griffen. Mr Cullen was not available, nor the prime minister Helen Clark. The Speaker of the House, Jonathan Hunt, told the protestors they could not stay on the grounds overnight, and were not to erect any tent or other structure. (The precedent was the tent embassy in parliament grounds after the Hikoi of Hope in 1999, which maintained a presence for four months before being broken up with arrests).   ” – Source

When Shania Twain purchased 25,000 hectares off South Island high-country near Wanaka, in 2004, there was considerable anger and resentment,

”  The contentious issue of foreign ownership of New Zealand land is flaring again following a government decision to allow Canadian singer Shania Twain to buy nearly 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of picturesque mountain farmland.

Foreign ownership of New Zealand land stirs high passions among the nation’s usually phlegmatic citizens.

Farmers in this primarily agricultural country argue wealthy offshore investors are pushing land prices far beyond their potential worth as productive property, while other New Zealanders argue their birthright is being sold to the highest bidder…

… Anti-foreign ownership groups estimate that between 6 and 7 percent of commercially viable New Zealand land is now owned by offshore interests.” – Source

New Zealanders have always opposed land sales. Ever since Pakeha colonisers came to this country and said to Maori, “Have we got a deal for you!!”, there has always been a scepticism toward the sale of land to foreigners. That feeling exists regardless of nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, etc.

In fact, John Campbell took Key to task on this very issue when the Prime Minister tried to play the “racism card” on his show, on 20 April,

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John Campbell Prime Minister interview Crafar Farms Sky City Casino

Source

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KEY:  “… let’s say you just want to say ‘no’ because they’re Chinese-”

CAMPBELL:  ” I don’t think anyone- Wait a second. I think that’s underhanded and disingenuous. I don’t think anyone is saying ‘no’ [because they’re Chinese]. I think people are talking about 8,000 hectares of prime dairy country and it’s foreign ownership not Chinese ownership.”

Despite Campbell making that point succinctly, Key carried on with the same theme – as no doubt he had been instructed by his media advisors, to stick to a couple of core-points.

It suits John Key – as it did with Maurice Williamson – to attempt to paint opposition to the Crafar Farm sales to Shanghai Pengxin as “racism” or “xenophobia”.

No one likes to be called racist (except for for right wing extremists – but they’re deranged anyway), and to have that accusation thrown at the public is National’s shameful attempt to portray opposition to the Crafar sale as ‘irrational’.

Somewhere up on the Ninth Floor of the Beehive; in the Prime Minister’s department; John Key’s media advisors are busily spinning this line to deflect criticism from their Boss.

These paid merchants of mendacity are clever buggers; university educated – and taxpayer funded. We pay to have them teach politicians how to spin bullshit to us.

Not a nice thought, is it?

Whether Key’s spin doctors and media advisors  will be successful re-defining the debate is another matter entirely. They have their work cut out for them, going by polling by Fairfax and NZ Herald,

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Good luck in trying to dismiss two-thirds or three quarters of the public on this issue, Mr Key. As they say in business; the customer is always right.

Point 2.

Ministers could have overturned that decision, but there were no reasons to do so. The OIO correctly interpreted the legislation, and had they turned it down simply on the basis of being Chinese, it would not only be unlawful but unacceptable and would have been overturned in the courts.” – John Key, 27 January 2012

This is the second line that Key’s spin-doctors have advised him and other Ministers to push: that the law allows these sales to proceed and MPs hands are tied.

Except… when it suits John Key, he is more than willing to trade off the law for other considerations,

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Source

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In return for a new $350 million convention centre, John Key simply has to change the gambling laws.

Just as John Key changed employment laws in October 2010, to suit Warner Bros, in the making of “The Hobbit” movies,

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Source

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Funny ole world, in’it?

John Key sticks to the “letter of the law” like a fly to dog poo.  But when it suits him and his cronies, he can be… flexible.

What you are witnessing, my fellow New Zealanders, is what is colloquially known as “Crony Capitalism“.

Is this really how we want our country to be governed?

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* Note: the original OIO condition of a once-only $14 million investment has been increased with the latest OIO review, to $16 million. This blogger replies with a “whoopty-bloody-doo“; it makes little difference in the long term.

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References

The OIO Decision:  Decision required under the Overseas Investment Act 2005: Milk New Zealand
Holding Limited

Additional

No checks on foreign buyers of Kiwi land

NZ to lose ‘millions a year’ from Crafar sale

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Time to bend over again, fellow Kiwis (part # Rua)

20 April 2012 2 comments

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2010

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"If we ended up in a position where New Zealanders are tenants in their own country, I can't see how that would be in New Zealand's best interests." - John Key, 27 July 2010

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2012

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"No where is that better illustrated than in the Crafar farm deal where the tenant will be a Government state-owned enterprise, Landcorp." - John Key, 2 February 2012

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As this blogger predicted and wrote five days ago, National has caved to the  Wide Boys from Beijing who rode in to town on 15 April,

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China's no4 flies in as clock ticks on Crafar farm selloff
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The loss of the Crafar farms – and other farms sold to foreign investors – is not just about loss of direct ownership. It is about losing the profits that all those farms will generate, to overseas investors.

The flight of profits to offshore investors began in the late 1980s when Doulas, Prebble, Bassett, et al hocked of our former state owned enterprises. As with farms, we didn’t just lose ownership – we lost the income streams they generated. (Which worsened our balance of payments deficit and in turn made borrowing from overseas much more expensive.)

National did precisely the same thing on 27 October 2010, when Warner Bros sent their ‘boys’ in to ‘persuade’ John Key to ‘see things their way’.  Two months later,  it was revealed that Warner Brothers had threatened our government that  ‘The Hobbit’ movies  would be taken offshore if  changes to New Zealand’s employment laws were not made according to their demands.

This time, it was our Chinese cuzzies visiting  New Zealand – this time threatening our trade with their country, “if we don’t see things their way”.

National capitulated on both occassions, yielding to threats made first by a corporation, and then by a foreign power.

In the case of Sky City and the proposed Auckland Convention Centre, the tactics are more akin to bribery; building a convention centre in return for changing the gambling laws so the casino can install up to 500 more gaming machines (pokies). Problem gambling is expected to rise commensurately.

If the reader is starting to pick up a common theme here, you’re not alone.

New Zealand has a government willing to prostitute the country; our assets; our laws – in return for financial gain. This is perhaps the shabbiest, most degrading government we have ever elected. If New Zealanders are not angry and repulsed  by what we’ve all be witnessing – then we’ve all lost our collective senses.

The question I ask every New Zealander is; who will be next to come to Wellington; knock on John Key’s door; and announce, “I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse!”

What will be sold next?

What laws will we have to change to satisfy some corporatation or foreign power?

Is this what it feels like to be a Latin American “banana republic”?

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2014

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An incoming centre-left government  must address these issues of sovereignty. We cannot allow every foreign Tom, Dick, and Harriet to take ownership of our most precious resources and to dictate what laws we must amend to satisfy their profit-line.

This must stop.

An incoming government must, immediatly,

  • ban the sale of all land to non-New Zealanders
  • non-farming land may be leased to overseas businesses,  but not sold
  • farmland must not be sold nor leased to non-New Zealanders
  • conduct a stocktake of land ownership at the next Census
  • land already in foreign ownership may not be on-sold to anyone except New Zealanders
  • introduce a capital gains tax
  • introduce a Financial Transactions tax  in conjunction with Australia and our APEC partners
  • introduce a sinking-lid policy on gaming machines with a view to banning them altogether by 2017
  • implement job-creation programmes (eg; free vocational training for able-bodied unemployed; building 10,000 new state-houses, etc)
  • introducing a land/wealth-tax to capture those 1% who pay little tax, because they can hide their wealth by structuring their affairs to escape paying their fair share
  • reinstate Kiwisaver’s previous provisions (scrapped by National) and make it compulsory

Part of the problem we face as a nation and economy is that New Zealanders have always been poor savers. Instead we prefer to borrow billions from offshore lenders and invest it in non-productive assets such as rental housing and investment farms. This speculative investment does not create wealth – we simply  shuffle money around like some mad reality-game of “Monopoly”,

” There has been a big reduction in household debt,  from 154 per cent of gross domestic product, and one of the highest levels in the world three years ago, to 144 per cent now. ” – Source

In the process of this reckless self-indulgence (promoted by certain irresponsible right wingers who delude themselves that is “wealth creation”), we are heavily in debt,

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Treasury

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Further to that, it makes us reliant on overseas capital.

In fact, it makes us totally  vulnerable to those  who hold the capital. We are at the mercies of those who hold the money-bags.

And they know it.

What makes matters even worse (yes, it gets worse) is that a National, once elected, exacerbates the problem with it’s blind adherence to free-market policies. National believes that only the free market can create jobs – with a little ‘nudge’, occassionally, by amending laws; reducing taxes; and implementing de facto subsidies. And anything else business wants.

In expecting only business to create jobs, National ties its own hands and becomes reliant on the markets for employment solutions. Unfortunately, those solutions are not always forthcoming.

Which means that National has to look at other, dubious, unconventional means to promote job creation. Such as the Sky City-Convention centre deal which might deliver more jobs – but will almost certainly create more problem gambling.

Who pays for more problem gambling? Answer; look in the mirror, Mr/Ms Taxpayer.

The sale of the Crafar farms; the dirty deals with Sky City and Warner Bros; our vulnerability to pressure from overseas investors are all symptoms of an economic malaise which the likes of Bernard Hickey, Gareth Morgan, Rod Oram,  and others have constantly warned us about.

Like the person who ignores the several “Warning” letters from debt-collctors – that is only postponing the Day of Reckoning.  New Zealanders are ignoring our own Day of Reckoning – and yet the warning signs of our gradual loss of economic sovereignty is fairly plain to see.

Whether we do something about it; abandon the lunacy of neo-liberalism;  implement planned policies that encourage saving; promote job creation; etc – then everything we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks, months, and years will be only a prelude to more unpleasant things to come.

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2050

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A young student at Levin University is scrolling through the results of his on-line search for ‘farms-history-new zealand-colonisation’ and finds the information he is looking for. He turns to his study-mate, and says,

Hey, it’s true what my grand dad told me. Farms used to be owned by New Zealand families back in his day!”

His study mate looks up from his ‘ii-Pad’ and peers at his friend’s pad,

Yeah? I wonder how they could afford it? No one can afford to buy land  unless you’re really rich or a big Corpora-State.”

Dunno“, replies the first student, “It looks like land prices weren’t that expensive , and then they started to rise when Earth’s population reached 6 billion.”

Wow! They really owned farmland? They’re so lucky. I wish we could buy our own farm!”

Well, at least we get to work on them. Once I finish my Degree in McDonalds Beefculture, I’m applying for a job at the ’14th Manawatu Herd-Complex’. Are you still going for the Shanghai Agricorp in King Country?”

Nah. I’m thinking I might change and apply for the Nestle Agriplex in Otago or Southland. They don’t pay as well, but they teach you German as part of the contract. The Shanghai Agricorp want me to learn Cantonese at my own cost.”

His study mate dims the screen on his ii-Pad and asks his friend,

Are you studying this weekend or doing some workpractice at McD’s?”

Nah. I’m going to see my family. It’s my ninth birthday, and we’ve hired a blanketspace at my favourite park...”

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That was a bit of fiction. So far.

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References

Rich list shows rich getting richer

NZ dollar soars on speculation of Chinese investment

Numbers reveal National disgrace

Bryan Gould: Free-market ideology wrong

Debt being paid off, but savings not growing

Bernard Hickey:  the High Court ruling against the Crafar Farms sale may be just the intervention NZ Inc needs to confont its addiction to foreign debt and asset sales

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= fs =

Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint…

2 March 2012 7 comments

… what could be the link, you wonder?

Those of us with reasonably long-term memories can recall the industrial dispute between Actor’s Equity and Peter Jackson, which became public on 27 September 2010.

The s**t quickly hit the fan, with allegations; counter-allegations; hysterical threats; and quite a bit of egoism.

There was even a panic that “The Hobbit” would be taken out of New Zealand and made in Eastern Europe, or Kazahkstan, or Outer Mongolia. None of it was true, as an email dated 18 October 2010, between Jackson and Economic Minister, Gerry Brownlee clearly stated.

But it certainly ramped up the public hysteria; the moral panic against the “hairy arm of unionism”; and seemingly threatened our very national identity.

In response, the government did something quite extraordinary; they passed legislation to change the status of all employees  “so that workers involved with film production work will be independent contractors rather than employees“.

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It was done unilaterally and it was done within twenty hours. Assent by the Governor General was given the following day,

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Legislative history

28 October 2010 Introduction (Bill 229–1), first reading, second reading, committee of the whole House, third reading
29 October 2010 Royal assent


Reference

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It usually takes a natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, or a Declaration of War, (or the passing of MP’s superannuation regulations in the deads of night) to effect legislation at such breathtaking speed.

Legislation usually takes months to pass, from First Reading; to Select Committee;  to the last Reading; passing; and enactment.

The last time Parliament passed legislation at near light-speed was in the late 1980s, when they passed a law regarding their superannuation entitlements. That was done late at night; when the media were absent; most of us were asleep; and took a matter of hours.

(When the media  discovered this, and duly reported it, public odium was heaped upon politicians – even more than usual.)

So it was unusual and quite bizarre that National passed what was called the “Hobbit Law” in one day flat.

Something must’ve spooked the horses. Perhaps our politicians were dazzled by the bright lights of Hollywood glamour?

Korean and Indonesian fishing boats, by comparison, are not quite so dazzling and glamourous. In fact, they stink of fish; the crew look wretched; and the fishing boats themselves are dangerous rust-buckets that will sink with little provocation.

Yet, in the last couple of weeks, the fishing industry and our use of FCV (Foreign Charter Vessels), with the cheap, exploited labour of their Korean, Indonesian, and other nationals’ crews, has hit the international headlines. All of a sudden, the New Zealand fishing industry was in the global media spotlight – and for all the wrong reasons.

The world had discovered that we were using cheap, exploited labour to do our dirty work. The New Zealand fishing industry was practically engaging in slave labour,

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

[abridged]

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.”

Full Story

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On the 25th of this month,

The Government has received a report from the ministerial inquiry into the use and operation of Foreign Charter Vessels. Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said they would consider its recommendations before announcing any decisions. The inquiry was charged with looking at labour, immigration, maritime safety and fisheries laws around the use and operation of fishing boats. Former labour minister Paul Swain chaired the panel, launched after a series of damning revelations about slave labour conditions and abuse. ” (Source)

Five days later, the report from the Ministerial Inquiry was released  to the public,

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Source

Radio NZ: Listen to more from Checkpoint

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There we have it;

  • New Zealand had been using slave labour to fish it’s territorial waters, and exploiting the crews of FCVs for our profit,
  • Fishing companies like Sanford deny that any problem of abuse and exploitation is occurring,
  • and most astonishingly, our government is dragging it’s feet on this horrendous situation and implementing only  six of fifteen recommendations from the Ministerial Inquiry’s report.

In an interview on Radio NZ’s “Checkpoint“, on 1 March, the Minister for Primary Industries, David Carter, had this to say in response to being questioned on this issue,

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RNZ: “So fifteen recommendations – you’re acting on the first six? Why not take them all onboard?”

Carter: “Because some of the others require two things; legislative change and we need to investigate how we can progress that through the House. And equally importantly, some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry.

That is why we have released the Report today. We want the industry to comment on the other recommendations so that we can do some more work on them and take something back for a Cabinet process [interuption] in a couple of months.”

RNZ: “In the future do you see that these recommendations  will be taken on?”

Carter: “I think a good number of those recommendations will be taken on.”

RNZ: “How many?”

Carter: “Well at this stage we’ve, ah, ah, we’ve certainly kicked of the first six because they’ve been able to be done without legislation. As I say, the others now need further investigation to find out what their impact will be  before we agree to do them. But one thing the government is absolutely determined to do is raise the standards so there is no chance for abusive labour practices occurring on foreign charter vessels whilst they’re in New Zealand waters.”

RNZ: ” Will you take on the recommendations that have – that may cause problems economically? Make it unviable?”

Carter: “What we want to do is… the first thing I’d like to make is that foreign charter vessels operate and improve the efficiency of the New Zealand fishing industry. We therefore want to know what would be the economic impacts of these further changes.

Radio NZ: Minister talks about crackdown on foreign fishing vessels

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What comes out of David Carter’s comments is that,

  1. The governments wants to consult with fishing companies before implementing any further recommendations. These would be (some of) the same fishing companies that contracted and used Foreign Charter Vessels to catch fish for them, to sell for big profits to overseas markets.
  2. The govermnment “want[s] to know what would be the economic impacts of thse further changes – before implementing any further recommendations. Obviously, “economic impact” is more important than the maltreatment, abuse, and exploitation of other human beings?
  3. According to Carter, the government will have to “investigate” the recommendations further as “ some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry“?

Two months?!

And yet this is the same government that passed legislation through the House in one day, to satisfy the demands of Warner Bros corporate executives!

Where were the concerns of government on that issue? Where was the investigation into what “economic impact” that would, or could be, in fast-tracking law through Parliament at a speed rarely seen in this country?

Where was the desire for thegovernment to seek comment from the  film industry, before considering  legislation”?

What we are seeing here is the amorality of a government that values the glitter and glamour of a Hollywood “epic” movie above  the fact that modern-day slavery is taking place in our territorial waters, and New Zealand companies are profiting from the misery and violence   inflicted on other human beings.

The NZ Seafood Industry Council laid it all out last October (but we were too pre-occupied with lost penguins and hillside signs, to take note of this news item,

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‘We need more cheap foreign fishermen’

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New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand’s deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.

Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug free environment.

“It is not seen as an attractive work place for many people.”

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.”

It named Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra and Icebreaker.

Air New Zealand uses Chinese crew on its China service who are paid less than New Zealanders doing the same jobs.

Without referring to the Rena grounding it said most ships operating on the New Zealand coast are crewed by people from the same low wage countries used by FCVs.

It said New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. 

There were not enough New Zealanders to fill vacancies created if FCVs were ordered out.

The inquiry opened public submissions in Wellington today. It will hold hearings in Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch.

It was set up following a University of Auckland study into FCVs and media reports citing cases of labour abuse and exploitation.

Last year an aged FCV, Oyang 70, sank off the Otago coast, killing six.

The government in setting up the inquiry said they were concerned at the damage to reputation New Zealand was suffering over FCVs and allegations it  was a form of human trafficking.

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand’s reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

“The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation.”

FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies.

“A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV.”

Through FCVs, the fishing industry was transferring over $65 million annually to citizens of developing countries.

By comparison, it said, the New Zealand Government gave just $31 million to Oxfam and Volunteer Service Aboard to work in such countries.

SeaFIC admitted that their submission was not supported by all its members and amounted only to a majority view of fishing quota owners who use FCVs.

Source

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Words fail me.

Actually, no. I do have words.

On this issue, the people and government of New Zealand  has let itself down badly. For the pursuit of money, we have turned a blind eye to naked, brutal, exploitation. We have lost sight of  simple, common decency and how to treat foreign workers.

As far as I’m concerned, if the U.S. government, or Europe, decided to boycott our seafood exports – then we richly deserve it.

This is what happens when a society is governed by the dictates of the “free market”.

Where do we go from here, as a society? Do we continue down the road of valuing profit before human dignity? Or do we reassess our priorities and decide that we need to regain some of the basic  values of fairness that we seem to have forgotten in the last 27 years?

It’s our call.

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Previous Blogpost

Roosting Chickens

Is this where New Zealand is heading?

Additional Reading

Radio NZ: Parliament debates Hobbit law change

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill

Legislative History: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 No 120, Public Act

Slavery and Food Security: The Fishing Fleet

 

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Roosting chickens

25 September 2011 6 comments

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I think we all remember the ‘Hobbit‘ fiasco, last year. The cast of this little tragi-farce included Actor’s Equity; Peter Jackson; Warner Bros; and John Key and his guvmint.

It also included a gentleman by the name of Greg Ellis, who played a ‘bit part’, as leading a “break-a-way” group of actors (numbers unknown) and formed the so-called “New Zealand Actors’ Guild – Te Taurahere i Te Hunga Toi Whakaari“, in October 2010.

Mr Ellis formed the NZAG to oppose Actor’s Equity, who at the time were attempting to negotiate with SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association – Waka Papaho). The NZAG came out firmly in support of Peter Jackson’s views that actors and production workers were “independent contractors”, and not employees. Though, in an expression of  “generosity”, Mr Ellis’  “temporary” (operating since October,  2010) website did ask,

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“One of the big issues that has been at the heart of recent disputes has been the status of actors as employees on productions…

… Tell us about the up and down sides of being an independent contractor and let us know – do you want to remain self employed?”

Self-employed or employee?, October 26th, 2010

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As we have no way of knowing who is a member of NZAG – or for that matter how many members they have – it is difficult to determine what sort of response there was to that question, if any.  Considering that NZAG’s existence is predicated on keeping actors as independent contractors, and not as employees (as Actor’s Equity was wanting) – what would NZAG/Greg Ellis do if their membership opted for status as employees?

Though there must have been some form of response, as Mr Ellis later comments,

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“One of the things that irks us most is the CTU’s failure to acknowledge that almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors. “

The CTU trolls through the past again”, April 14th, 2011

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One wonders how Mr Ellis arrived at the conclusion that “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”?

How many members does this so-called “Guild” actually have? It can’t be that many, as they have registered themselves – not as a Union, but as a charity,

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“Just sent off an online application to become a registered charity.  That means that people can make donations to us and have them classed as charitable donations by the IRD.”

“Applying to become a charity”, January 30th, 2011

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I’m not even sure if this is legal?! It certainly begs the question as to how an organisation dedicated to the advancement of it’s own members can be classed as a charity?

It certainly puts paid to one of the posters on the NZAG’s blogsite, who believes that the NZAG is some kind of “union”,

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James says:
October 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

“Truth to the membership and real principles based on the strength of coming together are the base of every union.”

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But moving along.

The NZAG criticised Actor’s Equity for daring to want negotions with SPADA.  NZAG said,

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“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. The actors in the roles of stand-ins and doubles are also on generous contracts for extended periods of time and there will be the opportunity for a large number of performers to benefit from extra roles, giving many actors valuable experience and an ongoing income in uncertain times…

… So New Zealand actors will be rubbing shoulders with overseas counterparts but Kiwis are present in this Hollywood film in large numbers and this is to be celebrated.”

NZ Actors’ Guild seeks to celebrate the positive impacts on the lives of Kiwi actors, March 14th, 2011

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According to NZAG/Greg Ellis, Actor’s Equity were firmly cast as the “bad guys” in this affair. Actor’s Equity had no right to demand negotiations to improve the conditions of actors and other staff. After all, as NZAG claimed, “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”.

The government, led by our unfeasibly popular Prime Minister, John “The Baptist” Key, acted accordingly. They fulfilled their cameo-role as The Guvmint , and amended legislation that ensured that actors and other movie staff were independent contractors – not employees. At the stroke of a legislative pen, the rights of an entire class of New Zealand workers was taken away.

The Employment Relations Act 2000 was amended via the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill,  introduced to Parliament on 28 October, last year,  under Urgency*,  as part of a deal between Warner Bros and Government ministers to keep ‘The Hobbit‘ film production in New Zealand. (Though, as was later discovered in an email from Peter Jackson, there was little likelihood of  the production actually moving overseas.)

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The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act made film industry workers independent contractors by default, avoiding the definition in current employment legislation of what constitutes an “employee”.

Just imagine, you are an employee on Friday, with four weeks annual leave; sick pay; the right to join a Union if you so wish; and job security.

Then you arrive at work on Monday and, by Government decree, you are now classed as an independent contractor. No more annual leave; no more sick pay; no more job security. And because you’re an independent contractor, the law forbids you the choice of belonging to a Union.

Yes, my fellow New Zealanders, that is precisely what happened.

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When the media enquired further, Gerry Brownlee’s office stated that,  “the Government was comfortable with its action and would not be commenting further“. Source.  Yeah, I’ll bet they didn’t want to comment further!

However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for,

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Source

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“New Zealand Actors’ Guild secretary Greg Ellis said the changes could see local talent overlooked. “New Zealand may become merely a filming location and the creativity and innovation currently present in our creative sector could be lost.”

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Oh, good lord, the IRONY! Greg Ellis complaining about a law change that will impact on local actors’ working rights – when he himself led the charge for a breakaway “Actors  Guild” from Actor’s Equity – in support of Peter Jackson and Warner Bros!?!? And then the government amended employment laws to suit Warner Bros?!?!

The casualisation and erosion of actor’s rights in New Zealand started with National caving in to threats from certain quarters, in October last year, and Mr Ellis certainly played his part (albeit minor, perhaps) in undermining Actor’s Equity.

In fact, let me remind Mr Ellis about his comments last year;

“Actors’ Equity claims 600 members were reported to be unhappy about the casting of New Zealand roles in The Hobbit, but Actors’ Guild chairman Greg Ellis was pleased as punch.

“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. ” Source

Mr Ellis’s colleague in the breakaway “Guild/Union/Charity”, also seemed to be quite pleased back in March of this year, when we crowed,

“”I have a great contract and awesome working conditions and a performance fee that is almost double my ‘day job’ wage,” says guild member Gareth Ruck.

“I look at the hundreds of fellow actors and crew members I’m working with and think how bad it could have been if Equity had its way.”” Source

I wonder if Mr Ruck will still be as happy if this government pushes through with it’s Bill? And just how much better would it have been had Actor’s Equity “had its way”?

And I think Mr Ellis was being somewhat optimistic when he naively expressed this sentiment,

“I think that an actor’s destiny needs to be controlled by New Zealand actors who are aware of our industry. There’s no point having people outside the country deciding our destiny, especially not people like Helen Kelly who don’t understand how our industry works or the relations inside it.”Source

There is nothing quite so dangerous as a person with good intentions, but wholly misguided in his actions, and in attempting to help others  has played into the hands of interests that he does not fully understand. In fighting Actor’s Equity, Mr Ellis and his NZAG have been well and truly  ‘played‘  by government, Warner Bros, and Peter Jackson (who would tolerate no intrusion into his private movie-making empire).

Look out the window, Mr Ellis, Mr Ruck, et al – your chickens have come home to roost.

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* “Urgency” in Parliamentary terms  means that thre Government’s Bill does not go to a Select Committee for public discussion; the public has no say on the contents of the Bill; and Parliament has no oversight. It is “rammed” through, simply bcause the Government can do it – it has the numbers. It also means that the Bill can  contain horrendous mistakes (as has happened in the past), and the public is powerless if they disagree with the Bill, or any aspect of it.

This current government has passsed more laws through “Urgency” than any other in recent history.

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Further reading

NZ Actors’ Guild Seeks To Celebrate The Positive Impacts On The Lives Of Kiwi Actors

The Hobbit law – what does it mean for workers?

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

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