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Posts Tagged ‘Wayne Mapp’

Crony Watch!

18 November 2012 22 comments

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Cronywatch*…

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…Keeping an eye on dodgy government appointees, crony-by-crony!

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In this on-going Thread, I will be reporting on blatant political cronyism from this current government. Considering that the NBR ceased their version of  “Cronywatch” in late 2008, I thought it would be helpful if folks knew what John Key and his government were up to.

Cronyism is when appointments to various quangos, Boards, organisations, departments, and even unofficial positions, are made for no other apparent reason than their membership, or close affialiation to, the National government. Governments do this for various reasons; to keep on eye on things; to try to influence decision-making; to ensure that their policies are carried out according to their agenda; and perhaps even a bit of  ‘pay back‘.

This sort of thing was/is verey commonplace under authoritarian regimes where democracy and an independent civil service are alien concepts. So it is more than a little disturbing when we find such occurrences here, in little old Godzone.

So every time I find a political appointee, I’ll report it here. With each up-date added to this Thread, I’ll ‘bump‘ it back up to the top of Recent Posts.

And now for some cronies…

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Catherine Isaac

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Catherine Isaac

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Catherine Isaac,

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

Despite having zero experience in the education sector, Ms Isaac was appointed by ACT MP, John “I-Don’t-Know-I-Can’t-Recall”  Banks to chair the Charter School Working Group. Ms Isaac’s only tenuous links to educatuion is that she has served on a School Board. (In which case, I look forward to serving on a DHB and thereafter beginning  a practice in brain surgery…)

As most folk know, Charter Schools is an ACT policy. Ms Isaac was appointed by ACT MP, John “What-helicopter-flights?” Banks.  And Ms Isaac is an ACT Party member, ex-candidate, and President.

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Belinda Milnes

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has appointed a former official from her own office to the board of the Families Commission.

Belinda Milnes, a former senior policy adviser for Mrs Bennett, has been appointed to the commission for three years.

The minister has been unavailable to discuss the appointment, but in a statement says Ms Milnes understands social policy and is the best person for the job.”

Source: Radio NZ – Bennett appoints former official to commission board

Interestingly, Paula Bennett made no mention of Ms Milnes’ connection with her office when she released this media statement,

” Social Development Minister Paula Bennett today announced two new appointments to the Families Commission.

Sir Peter Gluckman and Belinda Milnes have been appointed to the Board of the Families Commission for a period of three years.

The Families Commission is currently undergoing a restructure to assume its new role providing independent monitoring, evaluation and research.

“We’ve appointed the best people for the job to oversee a major change programme within the Families Commission,” says Mrs Bennett.

The Government is reprioritising a minimum of $14.2 million of the $32.48 million funding the Families Commission receives over four years to set up a new Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (SuPERU).

“This unit will provide research and best practise advice to government and non-government organisations,” says Mrs Bennett.

This unit will independently monitor and evaluate programmes and initiatives in the social sector, a job currently done largely by Government Departments.

“I believe giving this role to an independent body will see more community organisations entering into robust evaluation and monitoring”. “

Source: Appointments to Families Commission

I wonder how much ” independent monitoring, evaluation and research” will be produced by the new “Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit ” when it is staffed by National Party appointees who have been functionaries within a Minister’s office?

At least the Minister will hear only what she wants to hear, with no pesky dissenting opinions upsetting her day…

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Richard Long

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Former National Party chief of staff Richard Long has been appointed to the board of TVNZ.

[…] He spent two years as chief of staff for National leaders Bill English and Don Brash after leaving the Dominion in 2002.”

Source: Former National Party chief of staff appointed to TVNZ board

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Katherine Rich (#2)

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Frank Macskasy Blog Frankly Speaking

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Frank  Macskasy Blog  Frankly Speaking

(L-R) National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

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The latest cronyist-appointment is (again)  former National MP and CEO  of the Food and Grocery Council,  Katherine Rich, to the newly formed  Health Promotion Agency.

The Council  represents a $15 billion food and beverage industry and exerts considerable influence on food legislation and trade practices.

The Council was a vocal opponant, and campaigned against,   mandatory inclusion of vitamin B9 (folic acid) in bread (to prevent crippling  birth defects such as spina bifida) and  anti-obesity proposals such as taxing  sugar. It supports liberal trading policies for alcohol.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

The Health Promotion Agency incorporates  the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC), the Health Sponsorship Council and other  promotion work by the Ministry of Health.

ALAC was an organisation tasked with addressing the growing incidence of alcohol abuse in this country. This increasingly destructive social  problem  has been calculated to be a $4 billion-plus crisis in our society, wasting valuable health, police, judicial, and ACC  resources, and impacting on employment and family life.

It therefore seems somewhat incongruous to appoint a person who  in deeply involved in the alcohol industry in a government body that has a role in identifying and addressing alcohol problems in our society.

In fact, one could see this as a conflict of interest. John Key’s bland assurances therefore sound rather hollow,

I’m comfortable that she’ll be able to manage any conflict….It’s important that a board has a range of different views.” – Source

Key’s views on the Food and Grocery Council’s emotion-laden campaign against folic acid was no less derisable,

The debate wasn’t around whether folic acid might or might not work. It was about people’s rights to have that put in every piece of bread. There’s quite a difference there.”

Unfortunately,  Mr Key fails to realise that foetuses deprived of this critical vitamin B9; are born with spina bifida; and spend their entire (shortened) lives in a wheelchair, have no such “rights” to choose. Foetuses rely on adults to consume appropriate foods and beverages.

Way to go, Mr Key. The manipulation of public opinion on this issue  by the Food and Grocery Council was predicated on saving money for the food industry.

But it’s taxpayers who have to pick up the medical and welfare tab for people with neural tube defects (spina bifida).

That, plus the Food and Grocery Council’s staunch advocacy for the proliferation of alcohol retailing, makes Ms Rich wholly inappropriate for this new government body.

Ms Rich has neo-liberal views on the production and retailing of alcohol,

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.

Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.

Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.

Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected “classic nanny state thinking.”

It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.”   Source

Final word to someone more concerned with social issues (rather than profits),

Professor Sellman says supermarkets normalise alcohol as an ordinary commodity and sell it by the tonne at ultra-cheap prices up to 24 hours a day.

He believes Ms Rich’s appointment is a major conflict of interest and indicates the Government wants to have the alcohol industry strongly represented in its preparations for the new agency.

“Seventy percent of the alcohol that’s sold in New Zealand comes through supermarkets and here we have a person in Katherine Rich who’s a staunch defender of the excessive commercialisation of alcohol, particularly though supermarkets, and she’s on a board that is presumably about decreasing the heavy drinking culture”. Source, Radio NZ

See:   Lobbyist appointment no conflict: Key

See:   BERL Report Costs of harmful alcohol and other drug use

See:   Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association: Folic acid and neural tube defects in New Zealand: a cautionary tale?

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Other blogs

The Standard: Katherine Rich on the Health Promotion Board: The next outrageous piece of Nat cronyism

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Roger Sowry

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Roger Sowry has been a National Party MP from 1990 to 2005 – five consecutive terms.  The first two terms were as MP for Kapiti, the latter three as a Party List MP.  He became Chief Executive of Arthritis New Zealand, and then worked at Saunders Unsworth,as a “consultant on Government matters” (ie; lobbyist).

Party positions held:

  • National MP 1990 – 2005
  • 1993, appointed Junior Party Whip
  • 1995, appointed Senior Party Whip
  • 1996, appointed Minister for Social Welfare
  • 1998, appointed Minister of Social Services, Work and Income; Minister in charge of War Pensions;  Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation; and Associate Minister of Health
  • Appointed Deputy Leader of  National Government from October 2001 to October 2003

Government appointments:

Prime Minister John Key said he would not describe Mr Sowry as a party hack and he was qualified for the job.   “We are not going to preclude people solely because they’ve been involved with the National Party. If we were to do that then the talent pool is going to be substantially reduced,” Mr Key said. – Source

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Wyatt Creech

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Judy Kirk

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Jim McLay

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Penny Webster

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Party Positions held:

Government appointments:

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Brian Neeson

Ravi Musuku

Ken Shirley

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(L-R) Brian Neeson – Ken Shirley – Ravi Musuku

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All three men were appointed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.  All three have connectionas to National, or in Ken Shirley’s case, to ACT, one of National’s coalition partners.

Brian Neeson

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

The appoint was made by the Minister –  without being interviewed, as is the usual process,

“It is the chair’s view that without interviews by an appropriately selected interview panel, the process will not provide an opportunity to properly assess the candidates suitability,” advice to Power in July last year said.

“The required skills cannot be evaluated without interview. He [Mr Hindle] has also expressed concern that the suggested appointment of member without interview would be at odds with the practice of past years“.” – Source

Which was unfortunate, as Neeson has a shocking record for anti-gay/lesbian beliefs that can only be described as homophobic.  He consistently voted against including gays/lesbians in protective Human Rights legislation and voted against legislation to outlaw employment discrimination based on gender. (See ” National’s version of ‘human rights’ ” at Tumeke, for full details.)

It is difficult to understand how someone of Mr Neeson’s beliefs can contribute to human rights issues in NZ, unless his appointment is specifically designed to curtail human rights for women and minority groups?

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Ravi Musuku

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Ken Shirley

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

Statement on Maori:

Graduation day at Te Wananga. Soon after the Labour Government came to office it started showering money on all things Maori. ” – NZ Herald

Soon after the Labour Government came to office, ushering in its flagship ‘Closing the Gaps’ programmes. It started showering money on all things Maori. ” – Ibid

Out of this Te Wananga o Aotearoa pocketed $5.8 million and said that would go a long way towards providing for its growth. ” – Ibid

But the Government went further. Closing the Gaps demanded even more taxpayer money be thrown at Maori. ” – Ibid

Despite its apparent concern, it has continued to shovel huge sums of taxpayer money to this institution – all in the name of the treaty. ” – Ibid

The Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commissioners have foreshadowed that the decision to allow the Maori Land Court to hear iwi claims to the foreshore and seabed of the Marlborough Sounds opens the way for similar claims around the country” ACT New Zealand Deputy Leader Ken Shirley said today.

I now call upon Prime Minister Helen Clark to act consistently, and to declare such claims off limits -as she recently did in the case of the claim for oil and gas reserves. In this instance, it was made quite clear that oil, gas and mineral reserves were vested in the Crown by legislation in 1937.”Press releases on Court of Appeal decision on foreshores and seabed, Recreation Access

I am again calling on the Labour Government to act decisively. It must spell out the bounds to claims – in order to prevent undue anxiety for tens of thousands of New Zealanders, and to ensure that iwi don’t waste any more time and money pursuing claims that should be off limits.” – Ibid

Hopefully Mr Shirley’s anti-Treaty and knee-jerk anti-Maori  beliefs will not be carried over to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

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.(Acknowledgement: David M. and Tumeke)

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Wayne Mapp

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Wayne Mapp (L) and John Key (R)

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Announced on 28 February 2012 by Judith Collins, the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission;  the appointment of  National’s  former Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp to the Commission.

Party positions held:

  • National MP from 1996 to 2011
  • Appointed as “Political Correctness Eradicator” in October 2005, by former National Party leader, Don Brash
  • Chair of National Caucus Policy Committee
  • Minister of Defence
  • Minister of Science and Innovation

Government appointments:

  • New Zealand  Law Commission

The Law Commission is an independent Crown entity under the Crown Entities Act 2004. It is funded by government and reviews areas of the law that need updating, reforming or developing. It makes recommendations to Parliament, and these recommendations are published in our report series.  The Law Commission helps to maintain the quality of New Zealand law to meet the current and future needs of our rapidly changing society. The Commission’s objective is to improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of New Zealand law, by informing and supporting discussion on and making recommendations to Parliament for law reform.” – Source

I suspect that the Law Commission may have just become a somewhat less “independent Crown entity “.

(Acknowledgement: David M.)

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Kerry Prendergast

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L-R: John Banks (obscured), John Key, Maurice Williamson, Kerry Prendergast

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Best known as Wellington’s mayor from 2001 – 2010, Prendergast is also a member of the National Party.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Sir Wira Gardiner

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Full Story

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Party Positions held:

Government appointments:

1. Background

2. Background

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Stephen McElrea

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Party Positions held:

Government Appointments:

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Some weeks ago, a furore erupted when NZ on Air boardmember, Stephen McElrea, complained about the broadscasting of a document on TV3, just four days before the Elections last year.

The documentary was a highly critical look at growing child poverty in this country.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by Stephen McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

Some weeks ago, a furore erupted when NZ on Air boardmember, Stephen McElrea, complained about the broadscasting of a document on TV3, just four days before the Elections last year.

The documentary was a highly critical look at growing child poverty in this country.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by Stephen McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

***Update***

It appears that Stephen McElrea was part of a working group that has committed NZ on Air funding to a “documentary” on Whanau Ora.

Whanau Ora is a government department created under the National-Maori Party Coalition arrangement after the 2008 General Election.

NZ On Air states that the “documentary” will  look  at “how successful this new initiative will be in assisting NZ’s most deprived families” and that it would be  “a behind the scenes look at the roll out of this new initiative that seeks to deliver positive social outcomes for Maori“.

It is somewhat difficult to see how a documentary could determine that Whanau Ora  can be a “successful… new initiative … in assisting NZ’s most deprived families” when it is still barely operating. There have been no assessments or measured outcomes yet (to my knowledge) that would merit a “documentary” on Whanau Ora’s “success” or otherwise.

The fact that Stephen McElrea was a participant in the decision-making process to fund this “documentary/propaganda” is clear evidence that NZ On Airs  independence has been compromised.

This is the result of  government cronyism.

Source:  Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air

Additional

Scoop.co.nz:  PM has questions to answer over NZ on Air link

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Catherine Isaac

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An announcement was made on 1 February that ACT  member;  former ACT Party List candidate, and former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac,  had been appointed to oversee the introduction of the government’s Charter  Schools programme in South Auckland and Christchurch. Ms Isaacs has no formal experience in the education field.

John Banks defended Isaac’s appointment was stating that she has sat of a School Board of Trustees for six years.

In which case, if I sat on a District Health board for a similar period of  time, would that qualify me to carry out  thoracic open-heart surgery? Well, I guess that would be one way to “train” our doctors on the cheap and get rid of that pesky, expensive Med School in Dunedin.

Party Positions held:

Government Appointments:

It seems abundantly obvious that Isaac’s appointment is to ensure that ACT’s Charter School policy is implemented without usual critical oversight, and to further ensure that results are presented in a “positive light” to the public.

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Katherine Rich (#1)

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(L-R) National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

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The National-led Government is defending its appointment of the Food and Grocery Council chief executive to a board which will set up a new health promotion agency.

Katherine Rich has been appointed to the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

The move has outraged advocacy group Alcohol Action. Spokesperson Doug Sellman says Ms Rich has been one of the most vociferous defenders of the alcohol industry.

Professor Sellman says supermarkets normalise alcohol as an ordinary commodity and sell it by the tonne at ultra-cheap prices up to 24 hours a day.

He believes Ms Rich’s appointment is a major conflict of interest and indicates the Government wants to have the alcohol industry strongly represented in its preparations for the new agency.

“Seventy percent of the alcohol that’s sold in New Zealand comes through supermarkets and here we have a person in Katherine Rich who’s a staunch defender of the excessive commercialisation of alcohol, particularly though supermarkets, and she’s on a board that is presumably about decreasing the heavy drinking culture.”

The Labour Party agrees the appointment of Katherine Rich is too much a conflict of interest.” – Source, Radio NZ

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The Radio NZ report does raise an important question regarding her appointment to  the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

ALAC was an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of New Zealand’s considerable alcohol related (some say fueled) problems.

2009 BERL report estimated that “$4.437 million of diverted resources and lost welfare” could be directly attributed to alcohol abuse. That $4.4 billion  is reflected in  ACC, hospital admissions, crime, family violence, lost productivity, etc, and places a firm dollar cost on the harm that alcohol abuse is causing NZ society. These are costs we all pay for through ACC levies and taxes spent on medical intervention; policing; and the justice system.

Whilst working for the Food and Grocery Council, Ms Rich was a firm advocate of liberal laws surrounding marketting and retailing of alcohol,

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The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.

Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.

Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.

Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected “classic nanny state thinking.”

It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.”   Source

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New Zealand has a $4 billion-plus problem with alcohol abuse (BERL report) and Katherine Rich dismissed attempts to address this crisis as “classic nanny state thinking“?

It is worthwhile reflecting that since liquor laws were de-regulated in the mid 1980s (as part of the wave of Rogernomics “reforms”), that 25 years later things have gotten steadily worse.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Mervyn English

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Full Story

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Though the State Services Commissioner  did find that they were satisfied with English’s appointment, one has to question why  the position was not publicly advertised, as is common practice?

Even if the SSC is satisfied of no inappropriateness, this brings up a valid point; how can we differentiate between blatant political appointees and those made on merit, if the entire system is brought into disrepute? Public perception is growing that this government is stacking various organisation Boards with party apparatchiks – and judging by recent events, that perception is not misplaced.

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Jenny Shipley

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Party Positions held:

  • National Party MP 1987 – 2002
  • Various ministerial portfolios
  • Prime Minister 1997 – 1999

Government appointments:

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Carried on at Frankly Speaking: Crony Watch

* Carrying on, where the National Business Review left of, in November 2008. (Which, by sheer coincidence, is when National took power.)

 

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Weak Comments of the Week – 31 March

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This week, two comments by public figures vie for top placing as the Foot in Mouth, Weak Comment of the Week. Both are so unbelievably unconvincing that it speaks volumes about how these people view the public as fools…

Candidate #1: Tony Gibson, CEO of Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL)

However, Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said the back down was an attempt to reduce pressure on the supply chain, where the company was “acutely aware” that customers and businesses were hurting. ” – Source

POAL has listened to the wishes of the Court, as well the views of the Mayor and all other stakeholders”, Gibson said. ” – Ibid

Oh gosh, Tony, you think ?!

The port workers collective employment agreement  expired on 30 September 2011, and formal negotiations had been ongoing since 5 August 2011 – over half a year!

In that time, POAL announced an agenda to casualise the workforce ; contract out jobs;  workers have been forced to resort to strike action to secure their jobs and conditions; and the company  exacerbated the crisis with needless, expensive  lockouts.

Even the Employment Court found that the port workers had an “arguable case“.

In all that time, as weeks turned into months, and the intransigence of POAL Board and management worsened, importers and exporters were bleeding money,

Weekly trade worth around $27 million – and $90,000 to $100,000 a week for the port – will instead be rerouted through the ports of Tauranga and Napier from the end of the month.” – Source

Has it taken six months for Tony Gibson to recognise that ” customers and businesses were hurting “?

Nah, rubbish.

Gibson, Pearson, et al, have endured an embarressing bollicking from the Employment Court decision that their lockout was illegal; they had most likely broken the law (vis-a-viz the Employment Relations Act) in terms of bargaining in good faith; and that the Maritime Union had an “arguable case”.

Claiming to be suddenly concerned for the welfare of Auckland businesses and  that  ” the back down was an attempt to reduce pressure on the supply chain ” is disingenuous.

And just a little bit darkly cheeky.

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Candidate #2: Michelle Boag, ex National Party President

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This one is a ‘classic‘, and I think most folk will understand why I had a tough time trying to determine whether Gibson or Boag’s comments merited the most derision,

One of her advisers, anticipating that a confidential settlement might be reached, said it would be wise to include all the people who were aware of the dispute so that if any of them asked afterwards, Bronwyn would not be accused of breaching confidentiality. ”  – Source

The comment refers to Bronwyn Pullar’s letter to her insurance company Sovereign, seeking $14 million in compensation for a head accident she suffered ten years ago. (I make no judgement on this matter. Personal experience with other individuals has shown me that head injuries can create long-lasting mental and emotional effects.)

However, in Ms Pullar’s letter – which yet again was leaked to the media (TVNZ’s “Close Up” programme) – she listed twentyeight people  as members of her supposed “support/advisory team” including Prime Minister John Key, ex-Prime Minister  Jenny Shipley, National Party fundraiser Selwyn Cushing,  and ex-minister Wayne Mapp.

John Key has steadfastly denied any involvement in being  included in the list.

Wayne Mapp and Selwyn Cushing have admitted involvement.

Now, for Ms Boag to suddenly claim that ” it would be wise to include all the people who were aware of the dispute so that if any of them asked afterwards, Bronwyn would not be accused of breaching confidentiality ” – is simply bizarre. It makes no sense.  It is clutching at straws and offering the most feeble excuse imaginable to explain why Ms Pullar’s letter  required 28 high-powered New Zealanders to have their names included in her letter.

In short; bollicks.

Anyone with two inter-connected, firing, neurons would understand that listing 28 prominent individuals would be done for one reason only; to add weight to Ms Pullar’s claim against Sovereign Insurance. In effect, she’s saying, “Look here! I know all these High Ups! Don’t mess with me or they may do ‘XYZ’ to you! So gimme the cash and I’ll go away.”

That would tie in with allegations (unsubstantiated) that she requested two years’ worth of benefits from ACC “to move forward”.

So, no, Ms Boag. Your rational for why those 28 names were included in Ms Pullar’s letter is nonsense. More than that, it’s an insult to our intelligence.

If you’re going to bullshit us, can you at least make it convincing?

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The Art of ‘Spin’

21 October 2011 2 comments

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The Art of  ‘Spin’ – or misleading the public – is a tool that every politician knows how to use almost in their sleep. For a successful politician, they must know how to ‘spin’ an issue so it appears in the public domain in a way that is favourable to the poli.

Of course, a politician could adopt a radical practice of telling the truth (as s/he sees it) – but they either worldn’t last long, or would be pilloried in the media and public. (Hone Harawira is a prime example of a politician speaking his mind – and getting publicly vilified for it.)

When the public say they want “honest politicians”, I suspect this is not true. I suspect what the public really wants is for politicians to say what the public want to hear (John Key and David Lange are also prime examples of this), and if they’re fibbing or stetching the truth – the public don’t want to know. Especially if it’s a particular party we each support.

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Occassionally, though, politicians become ‘unstuck’, and their “spin” is unmasked for what it is: bullshit.

Case in point: what is the role of the SAS in Afghanistan? John Key assured us that  it was ‘mentoring‘,

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Full Story

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Only problem is… it wasn’t quite true. SAS soldiers were ending up dead – casualties in firefights with insurgents (or local families disputes).

Eventually, Minister of Defence Wayne Mapp had to come clean and admit what we all suspected to be the plain and simple truth;  the SAS’ “mentoring role” of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit (ACRU) was actually more of  a “substantial combat component”.

In other words, they were shooting at the enemy, and the enemy was most definitely shooting back.

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Full Story

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Ironically, Key and Mapp still attempted to put a ‘positive spin’ on their previously unsuccessful ‘spin’,

Minister of Defence Wayne Mapp has admitted the SAS’ mentoring role of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit (ACRU) has morphed into a role with a “substantial combat component”.

However, neither he nor the Prime Minister believe this means the SAS are in Afghanistan in a combat role.” Source

So as the TV3 headline sez, the SAS is in combat, but not in a combat role?!

As Manuel used to say in a certain Torquay hotel,

Que?¿

How does that work – being in combat, but not in a combat role???

Oh well, I guess National’s Ninth Floor spin doctors were having such a hard time reconciling the disparate comments from Dear Leader and Wayne Mapp, that they just decided that any old BS will do. After all, at 50%+ in public opinion polls, I guess it doesn’t really matter if the public believe their latest ‘spin’ or not.

However, that leads on to a somewhat more serious and deadly matter,

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Full Story

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Judging by John Key’s and Wayne Mapp’s earlier “assurances” about “mentoring/combat” roles, I find it hard to accept anything that comes out from this government. Hell, if John Key tells me it’s October, my first inclination would be to check my calendar!

I sure as hell hope that when Defence Force Chief Lieutenant-General Jones says that there was “no complicity in torture or any other international crime by New Zealand or members of the NZDF by partnering with the CRU” – that this is the pure, unvarnished truth.

Because if it ever comes out that we’ve been lied to and NZ troops were complicit in torture – then that will be a dark stain on our country’s reputation. It also makes us liable to be charged at the International Criminal Court for being accessory to war crimes.

To John Key, I say this; if we are playing some kind of covert role in supporting torture in Afghanistan, even in an indirect manner, then be aware of one thing: eventually the truth will come out. Secrets do not stay secret for long.

And you will be known as the NZ Prime Minister who sanctioned torture.

Do not play “silly buggers” with this issue, Mr Prime Minister. Take it from me that secrets do not last.

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Additional information

Minister releases report on Afghan detainees

Listen to Radio NZ  Checkpoint interview with Wayne Mapp

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Trade Unionist to the rescue!

13 September 2011 3 comments

Well, this is a new one for the books.  From our “You Wouldn’t Believe It”  Files, we have this story…

Background: a report was published in today’s edition of the  “Sydney Morning Herald” that alleged that one of three NZ government ministers had behaved offensively during the recent Italy vs Wallabies RWC game. The report stated, in part,

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“…”He booed and abused the Wallabies all game,” Jeeves said. ”He was yelling out, ‘f—ing cheats’ and other offensive remarks, and then when the Wallabies started to get on top, he suddenly left.” Naturally the ARU representatives and their partners in the box were gobsmacked. One asked an Auckland government official: ”Who is this bloke? His behaviour is right over the top.” The local suit replied: ”Sorry. I can’t do much about it. He’s a government minister.” The contingent now refer to him as the New Zealand Minister for Bad Manners…”  Source

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Prime Minister, John Key was not happy, and made inquiries. The three ministers concerned; Wayne Mapp, Maurice Williamson; and Jonathan Coleman, were all interviewed by the media – and all appeared uncomfortable at the allegations.

Things were not looking good for any of the three National Ministers. They knew only too well that their boss, John Key, would not hesitate to sack anyone who mis-behaved in such a fashion.

Enter a Knight in Shining Armour; trade unionist Robert Reid,  General secretary of the National Distribution Union. Mr Reid was present in the VIP area, and confirmed that whilst Maurice Williamson “was boisterous [that] it certainly was not offensive behaviour”. Mr Reid went on to defend Mr Williamson as not behaving offensively and not swearing,

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A story rich in irony; a right wing, anti-Union Minister; belonging to a centre-right, National/Act government – “saved” by a trade unionist coming to his defence.

Something that Maurice Williamson might ponder next time his colleagues in National consider legislation that might impact of workers’ rights?

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Military ‘spin-doctoring’ – the media catch-up

11 September 2011 4 comments

On 2 August, the issue of the NZDF spending large sums of tax-payers money was raised by Andrea Vance in the “Dominion Post”. I wrote on this issue the following day; “It’s a Man’s World, I guess“.

It seems somewhat odd then, that Neil Reid, has written on this very same issue, in the Sunday Star Times, stating, “Documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show the department – covering Army, Air Force and Navy – spent more than $2.7 million in the past financial year on public relations and communications.

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Full Story

This story has at least three componants to it;

1. PR spend.

Last time I looked, the job of the military was to carry out such actions as determined by the Government-of-the-Day. The military is tasked with certain missions, to achieve certain objectives, as laid down by the Minister of Defence, and the Government. In effect, the politicians tell the soldier boys (and girls) to go to “Spot X” and do what soldiers do best; point guns at other people.

As such, it boggles the mind as to what on Earth the NZDF would need to spend $20 million tax-dollars of Public Relations on?!?!

Spending $20 million on tanks, guns, ammunition, radios, tents, medical equipment, planes, trucks – I think we get that. Military gear doesn’t come cheap – not since we moved away  from clubs and pointy-sticks.

But spending that kind of money on PR? That just makes no sense whatsoever.

Unless…

Unless the NZDF were doing something overseas that the Government(s)-of-the-Day were not being totally candid with us, the New Zealand public?

PR is basically ‘spin’ – putting the best possible image of an unpleasant situation. Another word that might be appropriate is propaganda. Authoritarian regimes (such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, et al) are exceedingly good at propaganda. But Western Democracies have also developed ways and means to use PR/spin/Propaganda to make the public believe something that may not be strictly-speaking, true. (Telling lies, in other words.)

Which leads us to the Big Question: what requires a big enough lie to be told that warrants $16 million dollars of tax-payers’ money to be spent on Public Relations from Saatchi & Saatchi, plus another $4.2 million in media advertising?

Personnel recruitment?

That is difficult to believe when, currently, this government is laying off around 400 military personnel and removing  another 600 out of uniform, to re-employ them more cheaply as civilians.

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Full Story

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There seems to be an obvious and serious “disconnect” from what the NZDF is telling the public, and where the money is being spent, and what for.

$20 million of tax-payers money is not “small change”. Where is it going, and why?

And why aren’t the media delving more deeply into this issue, instead of two, very brief, superficial newspaper stories?

Perhaps the following provides us with a possible answer…

2. “Media product vetting”

The Sunday Star Times article, by Neil Reid, states that,

“…Locke also provided the Star-Times with a contract TVNZ signed before sending a journalist to join the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, which states the role of defence officials included “media product vetting”.

It follows claims by Hager that the Defence Force had been selective in what it had allowed to be reported in New Zealand on the role of the joint-services team in Afghanistan…”

Commander Phil Bradshaw’s response that the NZDF is vetting images of  “LAVs [light armoured vehicles] [and]  the Humvees” beggars belief.

Is Cmdr Bradshaw seriously telling us that “media product vetting” (ie; censorship) relates to pictures of light armoured vehicles and humvees?!?! In which case, someone needs to advise Cmdr Bradshaw that there as been a serious security breach: a “Google” search using the parameters “NZ Defence Force lav” yielded 79,400 results for images alone.

Let’s hope Al Qaida has no access to “Google”, or we’re stuffed.

No, folks, there is more to the NZDF’s “media product vetting” (censorship) than  pics of a few dusty Army vehicles.

Nicky Hager has pointed the way on this issue, and the media – to it’s eternal shame – has not followed up on this story.

3. Media Complicity?

Not only is there a question mark hanging over how $20 million was spent – but it seems that the mainstream media (MSM) have been decidely blase about asking any serious questions. To date, we’ve seen two newspaper articles by Neil Reid and Andrea Vance – but precious little else in the MSM.

As well as Nicky Hager’s investigative book,  “Other People’s Wars“, Jon Stephenson wrote an article for “Metro” magazine on Afghan prisoners’ treatment after being captured by New Zealand’s SAS. This excellent piece of investigative journalism  resulted in…

“…Prime Minister John Key’s extraordinary ad hominem attack on independent  journalist Jon Stephenson, of ‘Metro’ magazine.

Recently, Stephenson wrote an article in Metro alleging that New Zealand was not meeting its Geneva Convention obligations in its handling of prisoners captured in the course of SAS operations in Afghanistan. You might think that as the only NZ journalist who has regularly been reporting from Afghanistan, Stephenson speaks with some authority.” Source

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“Stephenson speaks with some authority”, writes Gordon Campbell.

But not according to the Prime Minister, who dismissed Stephenson’s article with  almost sneering derision.

In contrast, two senior journalists, Vernon Small and Guyon Espiner, both stated that they were aware of a CIA “presence” at the Kiwi base in Bamiyan.

“In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent…”  – Vernon Small,  Source

Neither felt it necessary to report this fact to the New Zealand public? In fact, both Small and Espiner remained silent until Nicky Hager’s book blew the whistle on the real situation.

For journalists to withhold information that reveals a truth about our government and/or military,  shows how far the media has sunk in the last twentyfive years. It raises questions not just about competancy and professionalism, but how far the MSM has become a “cog” in the Establishment.

Perhaps the most obscene thing about this matter is that our beloved Prime Minister, the ever-smiling; happily waving  John Key; saw fit to dismiss both Nickey Hager and Jon Stephenson’s investigations into the war in Afghanistan  with  single, derisory, comments,

“Nothing surprises me when it comes to Nicky Hager. So whether they’re true or not is a completely different issue, but he makes a lot of spurious claims and never generally backs it up.” Source

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

Two pieces of investigative journalism; well-researched; impeccably documented; and both able to withstand critical scrutiny – dismissed by the Prime Minister without any serious  explanation whatsoever.

Compare the response of the MSM and public to that of a certain stranded penguin and to the proposed “Wellywood” sign in the capital city, and one begins to suspect that, collectively, our priorities are definitely arse-about-face. Perhaps if the SAS had handed “Happy Feet” over to the American CIA, for “extraordinary rendition” to some misbegotten Third World state, for “interrogation”, we might have had an uproar from the good folk of New Zealand?

Well, thankfully “Happy Feet” is safe and sound somewhere in the Southern Ocean.

It’s a shame that  the same cannot be said of  our media in this country.

Read also:

Public Address: Other People’s Wars

Little kept from media eyes at base

NZ Politics Daily – 2 September

PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

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From “Nanny State” to “Daddy State”…

I don’t think there’s much question that  serious social problems in this country  are not being addressed in any meaningful way by this current government…

So is the Prime Minister, John Key, really  aware of what is actually going on in New Zealand right now?  Well, judge for yourself…

So what is National doing about soaring youth unemployment?

At their recent Conference, held in Wellington, they came up with this…

(Article abbreviated)

They’re going to clamp down on booze and cigarettes?!?!

That’s it?

Oh good lord! And people thought that Labour was “Nanny Statist”?!?!

I wonder who will be next to feel the iron fist of National’s Polit-buro state control? The retired? Civil Servants? Anyone using state hospitals???

Congratulations, my fellow New Zealanders: we have gone past Nanny State to Big Brother.

It might be worthwhile considering that,

  • Not all unemployed youth smoke
  • Not all unemployed youth drink
  • Even if they do,  Key says that they will still receive “a limited amount of money for young people to spend at their discretion“.  Like… on booze and ciggies?!
  • Even if they won’t have enough “discretionary pocket money” – what is to stop them stealing it? Or selling their Food Card for cash, and then buying ciggies and booze?

In the meantime, how many jobs will this piece of neo-Nanny Statism create?

The answer, I submit, is:

Even the NZ Herald was quick to acknowledge this simple fact in their August 16 editorial,

Yet there is also nothing in the Prime Minister’s announcement that creates jobs for young people. There, the Government still has work to do.”

Meanwhile, as National blames the young unemployed of this country for the world recession, and proposes to penalise them by tinkering with their only means of survival – the problem continues unabated,

The last time youth unemployment was this high was in 1992…

1992?

Wasn’t that the previous National government led by Jim Bolger, with Ruth Richardson as Minister of Finance? And didn’t she implement a slash and burn economic policy in her “Mother of All Budgets” that resulted in unemployment reaching over 10%?!?!

Why, yes. It was.

Are we starting to see a pattern develop here, folks?

It is abundantly clear that National has no clue how to address this problem. Attacking welfare benefits which keep people from starving to death, or more likely, breaking into our homes to find food, is not an answer. It is a cheap shot geared toward winning votes from uneducated voters who hold the illusion that living on a benefit is a cosy arrangement (it is not).

There are no policies being announced to create jobs, or to train young people into a trade or profession.

National should be throwing open the doors of our polytechs to train young people into tradespeople that the community desperately needs. With the re-building of Christchurch shortly to commence – where are the necessary tradespeople going to come from? (Most have buggered of to Australia.)

If this is the best that National can come up with, then, my fellow New Zealanders, we are in deep ka-ka.

Meanwhile…

Dr Mapp said the research science and technology was the way to create jobs, economic growth and a higher living standard for the country.

“To that end, it is vital that high-tech, exporting companies maintain their competitive edge in global markets.”

The grants range from $300,000 to $5.9m and run for three years.

They are valued at 20 per cent of the research and development spend in each business and provide a maximum $2.4m a year for three years.

Dr Mapp said they provide the businesses involved with more financial security over that period.

Businesses to get grants in the latest round were involved in  software development, biotechnology, manufacturing and electronics.

Wellington companies which received grants:

Core Technology: $629,400

Open Cloud: $2,394,920

Xero: $4,040,000

Xero was founded by Rod Drury in 2006,  who made $65 million in the same year after selling his email archiving system AfterMail. Xero purchased Australian online payroll company,  Paycycle, in July of this year for A$1.5 million.

Which begs the question as to why the government has given away $4 million of tax-payers money when the owner is ‘flush’ with $65 million and has enough capital to buy off-shore  companies elsewhere.

Is this a prudent use of tax-payers’ money,  especially when,

* government is cutting back on social services?

* government has cut back on youth training programmes?

* government is borrowing $380 million a week, and telling the rest of us to “tighten our belts”?

At a time when government is berrating unemployed 16 and 17 year olds for being on the dole and  “smoking ciggies”, instead of  providing meaningful training and/or employment, it seems that National is still “picking winners” in the field of commerce.

$4 million could go a long way in providing training, and a future, for many 16 year olds.

By contrast, how much do young people, living away from home, recieve from WINZ? It must be a grand sum, to earn the Prime Minister’s stern attention. The answer is:

It’s a shame they’re not “picking winners”  with our unemployed youth.

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

3 August 2011 44 comments

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STATE HOUSE RESIDENTS MOVED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It seems that rules are different for some folk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution: build more houses.

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

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

1. Persistantly high unemployment.

2. Low growth.

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

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

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

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

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

Work would flow through to associated contractors;

  • truck drivers
  • building waste disposal

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

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

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

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

The economy is sluggish because people are not spending.

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

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

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

Would it work?

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

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

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

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

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

The will to do it.

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Updates

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Fletcher shares at 2-year low after warning

Wellington rental market tough for tenants

Major housing shortage looms

Business NZ sees no economic plan

Downturn in building sector ideal timing for state house build

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