Red Alert

Archive for May, 2009

Nats drop aid target when going gets tough

Posted by on May 31st, 2009

Q: How much of a priority should it be to give overseas aid when we are in the teeth of a global recession?

A: Even more of a priority than normal…when it is predicted the same recession will drive 100 million people into extreme poverty this year.

You might think overseas aid should get cut, along with pay equity, public sector jobs, research and technology, superannuation, public transport and so much else in these straitened times. You might think that. Especially if your name is Murray McCully or Bill English. But is it right?

I say no. The poor in developing countries are far more vulnerable than we are in times of global recession because they don’t have the safety nets we do. Which is why the World Bank and IMF are urging rich countries like us to accelerate our promised increases in aid. But last Thursday’s budget has the Government slamming on the brakes, stripping $194 million out of the next three years’ of aid spending. They are still increasing the aid budget in real terms but much more slowly than the multi-year commitments made by Labour.

Why does this matter? I think it is because we have a responsibility to people in our Pacific neighborhood who are worse off than us. No matter how grim the recession is for us right now, it is nothing compared to the extreme poverty felt by people in say Papua New Guinea who have much less ability to weather the storm. In the Pacific the financial crisis could well squeeze income from remittances and tourism. On top of shrinking aid budgets that could make life very tough. The other thing is that we have made international commitments to fight extreme poverty in the poorest countries. This goes beyond the year by year ups and downs in our own national circumstances.

With these Budget cuts National has walked away from a  30 year commitment by successive New Zealand governments to the international spending target on overseas aid which is 0.7% of Gross National Income per capita.  Instead of reaching 0.35% of GNI as planned, New Zealand’s aid spending will stall at 0.31% for the next three years.  This is a setback.  New Zealand gives less as a percentage of our national income per head than almost any other developed nation. If we are going to meet our international responsibilities we must commit to staged increases year on year.

McCully professes not to pay much heed to the 0.7% target. Notes in the Budget documents confirm it is no longer a priority for this Government.

Readers may have heard Radio NZ report today that papers released under the OIA show Treasury did not think McCully had a strong case for getting rid of NZAID’s semi-autonomous status and warned of risks around the loss of transparency that would occur as a result of McCully putting the agency back into the foreign affairs ministry.  There is plenty more where that came from but I will save it for another post.


Name that Budget

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

ok, Friday night and it has been a bleak budget.   A chance for you to exercise your creative cells and play, “Name that Budget”.  My colleague Brendon Burns has christened it the Donut Budget, we also have the Budget of Broken Promises.  What is your best effort?   Give us a catchy name, and a sentence to explain, and the best one gets a Bellamys Chocolate Fish.

My effort for staters :  The Decaf Latte Budget:  It was meant to stimulate the economy and protect jobs, but instead it has all the effect of coffee in a sachet.


Turia Asks a Question only She Can Answer

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

I’ve just seen a speech from Tariana Turia where she asks why New Zealand hasn’t acted to ban tobacco displays. Is she kidding? She’s the Associate Health Minister with responsibility for Tobacco issues in the Government that just turned down a select committee recommendation to implement such a ban. Perhaps she needs to take up John Key’s habit of talking to himself in the mirror.

However I do have to say that she was bang on with her assessment of the situation and the evidence from overseas.

I hope she can get Ryall to come round on this one, or failing that, support my private members bill… should it ever get to see the light of day!


Hidden Treasure

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

Budget documents are actually quite difficult to navigate around.  My experience working in government was that as we generally knew what was coming in the Budget and what to look for it was ok.  But it is hard if you are in opposition, the media or an interest group.  The government directs you where they want you to go, and does not make a song and dance about where they don’t want you looking.

An example, yesterday there were some in the research and tertiary education community who celebrated some increased funding for the Marsden Fund and HRC and some new PM Science Scholarships.  Goodo, important stuff.  But hidden within the documents are cuts to Centres of Research Excellence, the Encouraging and Supporting Innovation Fund, Enterprise Scholarships, and the biggie,  a $55 million cut to the  funding that would have given pay increases to university staff to help retain them in New Zealand.

Closer to home here in Wellington it seems that funding for the War Memorial Park in Buckle St has been cut, with perhaps a modest allocation to tidy up the vacant site.  Not a word from the Arts Minister about that yesterday.

So, that is how Labour MPs and many interest groups will be spending their long weekend. Trawling through the documents looking for the forgotten gems.  Wish me luck.

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Early Childhood Education Priority Goes West for Nats

Posted by on May 28th, 2009

Education Minister Anne Tolley keeps telling us that increasing participation is the priority for National in early childhood education, but not one dollar was dedicated to this priority in today’s budget.
A miserable $17.4m per year has been offered up for 20 hours free ECE for Kohanga Reo (they already have access to this and aorund half of all Kohanga Reo already offer it) and for 20 hours free for Playcentres, where parents already access these services for free in most instances. Huh? What’s the point of that? Window-dressing at its worst.
But wait….there’s more.
They have scalped $275m out of the ECE budget that was dedicated to improving staff/child ratios that were to go ahead on July 1.
So, the upshot is no funding to increase participation rates in ECE and no improvement in the quality of the service offered to our children.
No brighter future for the chidren of NZ then?


Mea Culpa

Posted by on May 28th, 2009

I don’t often plead guilty, But on the budget I must. I really thought that there was a cunning secret plan that would be revealed on Budget day. I thought that the Lee and Rankin debacles resulted from a focus on getting ready to sell a radical budget. I did think that John Key would use some of the political credit from his big election win and the excuse of the economic crisis to be bold.  I was wrong.

I’m sorry.


The Home Insulation Package – Some Initial Analysis

Posted by on May 28th, 2009

Details are emerging of the home insulation package – with more to come when Gerry Brownlee and Jeanette Fitzsimons hold a joint press conference later this afternoon.  The outline of the scheme was leaked earlier this week.

The first thing to say is that it is good to see money being spent here by this Government.  We need more warm, dry, homes.  I take my hat off to David Parker, who was Minister of Energy last year when underLabour Parliament passed into law a requirement that $1 billion be spent in this area between 2008 and 2024.  I understand that Gerry Brownlee plans to repeal this requirement later this year, so let’s hope this announcement isn’t the only action we ever see from National in this area.

I also commend Phil Goff for making a warm, dry homes campaign the first one that Labour mounted in opposition – www.healthyhomeshealthykiwis.org.nz – which along with studies from organisations like the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development – helped Labour realise that this problem is much bigger than anyone realised previously – certainly the $1 billion we planned to spend over 15 years would not have been enough.  We are developing policy now to provide for innovative funding solutions for the true scale of the problem – around 1 million poorly-heated and badly-insulated homes.

The budget says that $323.3 million will be allocated to home insulation and heating over the next 4 years, starting on 1 July.  It is not entirely clear, but $100 million of this money seems to have been taken out of vote: Health.   $80 million is existing EECA money.  So the new money here is $143 million over 4 years.  It isn’t clear how this will be made available, but if it is on an annual basis, we are talking about $36 million of new money, not taken from other sources, available each year.  That will provide for grants of $1800 – the figure mentioned in the budget speech - to only 20,000 homes every year.

So, a move in the right direction.  But unfortunately, a far cry from the leak broadcast on TV3 that the Government was looking at spending $1 billion over 10 years.   And nowhere near what is needed to make enough kiwi homes warm and dry, or give the building industry the sort of boost it needs right now.


Budget day

Posted by on May 28th, 2009

Today is Budget Day. I will be flat tack working with Hon Phil Goff on Labour’s response. It should be a Jobs Budget. It won’t be.

This looks like being the budget of the Great Lie – the cancellation of the tax cuts that were the centrepiece of  National’s 2008 election campaign. You could even say that deception compromises National’s right to govern at all.

Expect this to be a conservative budget that wastes opportunities to put jobs and people first. It will compromise growth by failing to invest sufficiently in skills, innovation and productive infrastructure.

It will impose near-impossible assumptions of low or zero growth in Crown expenses in out years in order to make the long term fiscal picture look better.

The smoke and mirrors may hold off the ratings agencies for today, but in the long term will do little to address their core concerns that the NZ economy is not diverse enough, innovative enough or exporting enough to pay our way.

But the answer to that problem is a real plan for growth, skills and jobs – not the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff of government surpluses being used to offset the under-performance of the real economy.

Ironically then, the ratings agencies are closer to Labour’s view – gear up the engine and the fiscal balance will be easier to manage over time.

Kiwis are decent folks. They elected this government and they are happy to give them a fair go. But when they realise that the 3 years of tax cuts they were promised were NEVER going to happen, and that there is NO PLAN to take us out the other end of this recession – they will begin to ask whether they’ve done the right thing after all.

UPDATE: A “Standard and Poor” Budget

First impressions

This Budget has all the vision of a possum caught in the headlights of the world recession. It does nothing for jobs. Nothing for growth. No constructive new ideas. No positive vision. No game plan. At best “Standard” In reality ‘Poor”.

It manages to turn the debt curve down from a peak of 42% only by rosy assumptions like:

 - suspending Super Fund contributions for 10 years leaving a $30 billion  hole for our kids to pay

- permanent “deferral” of tax cuts – surely revealing the greatest electoral lie in modern NZ history

- capping government expenditure growth to a 1% per annum  (nominal – a real cut that impies a virtual wage freeze across the public sector)

- rosy growth assumptions of 2.1% by 2011 and 4% by 2013

- $2 billion of cuts over 4 years to government expenditure including:

- gutting innovation, skills and training – hardly a growth strategy!

- cutting back new funding for international trade

- the much heralded insul-fluff is only really $35 milion per annum of new funding – the rest is poached from Heath and EECA

All in all this is visionless rubbish that does NOTHING to lead NZ into a “brighter future”.

One is left wondering what the National government has been doing for the last 6 months.

Given the most serious crisis since WW2, NZ deserved better than that.

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Remember the Bridge Trolls

Posted by on May 28th, 2009

This week is the 50th anniversary of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge and tomorrow I am hosting a tribute to the workers, past and present, who built and maintained the bridge over the past 50 years.

I did think that someone in the new tarmac-mad NZTA would honour the workers – perhaps upgrade the monument to the three workers who died during the building of the bridge.   But instead, they’re having a conference at Sky City, called “Bridges Linking Communities” where big wigs can talk about important stuff. 

I’ve heard from many old workers, and some of their stories will be told at the tribute tomorrow.  I’ve heard from people who walked across the bridge in 1959, from the woman, who as a child, gave flowers to the Governor General on opening day, and from the man who drove the first Birkenhead Bus across the bridge.   Relatives of deceased workers have also been in touch, wanting to mark the contribution of their fathers or grandfathers.

My brother Kit, scaffolder, poet and photographer worked on the bridge for 20 years.   He tells many stories through his sonnets about the changes that occurred under the National Government of the 1990′s.

I thought this one might ring some bells as National wields the knife in the public service.

CONSULTATION

First, the whisper of changes yet to come,
pack rats in a convocation of squeals,
or for us, the slimy ripple of eels
through sea weed and rank industrial scum.

And then, still hopelessly new to the game,
a nervous fluster of men in new suits,
who laid out our future to mocking hoots
from the floor when our new company name

was announced, a dead fish flopped on a bench,
hinting at promises bound to turn sour.
All that intended slickness, all that fuss
simply confirmed that the joke was on us,
as our boss explored the new tools of power -
nought per pay deals and who to retrench.

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The War on P

Posted by on May 27th, 2009

‘P’. It’s amazing one letter can strike so much fear into our communities. But it does and rightly so. ‘P’ (pure methamphetamine to anyone who doesn’t read the Herald) is a nasty nasty substance. It is incredibly addictive, utterly destructive to individuals, their families, their communities and fuels criminal activity among users and suppliers alike. It’s evil.

The Herald and John Key have noticed the fear ‘P’ arouses. Hence their “War-on-P” campaign culminating in Key’s announcement through the Herald on Tuesday that he is considering banning pseudoephedrine. I expect that wasn’t quite the first thing the scientific community was expecting Professor Peter Gluckman to get to work on but, hey, that’s what Key wants.

What I found bizarre about Key going after pseudoephedrine – a substance that brings relief to hundreds of thousands of responsible users – is that just a month ago Key was advocating the exact opposite position with regard to alcohol.

His exact words on Newstalk ZB were: “I think you’ve got to be very careful you don’t get in a situation where you simply whack up the price of booze and everybody gets affected because some, particularly young people, are going out on benders”.

So it’s OK to penalise pseudoephedrine users but not OK to penalise alcohol users. I don’t get it. Both are legal. Both are controlled to some extent. Both have benefits and dangers. Actually, if you think about it, pseudoephedrine helps boost productivity by helping people suffering a cold or the flu get back to work sooner. I don’t think anyone could claim alcohol makes you more productive.

I won’t try to argue that the physical and psychological effects of P as a substance aren’t far greater than those of alcohol. But as far as their respective impacts on our community and economy go, the two aren’t even in the same ballpark. All substance abuse in New Zealand is estimated to cost $6.3 billion each year. Over $5 billion of that is due to alcohol abuse. That leaves just $1.3 billion to all other substances – cannabis, amphetamines (including P), opiates, party pills, the lot.

The prevalence of amphetamine use in New Zealand peaked in 2001 at 5% of the population, but has since decreased to 3.4%. Crystalline methamphetamine peaked at the same time at 0.9%, but has remained relatively stable ever since.

Alcohol causes far more destruction, crime, work absenteeism and family violence than all other drugs. Yet for some reason it’s OK for politicians to go after P but we get incredibly uncomfortable when it comes to alcohol. Why?

The only reason I can think of is that there is no safe level of P use. But then there is no safe level of tobacco use either, and John Key’s in no rush to take the next logical step in tobacco control by banning powerwalls.

I like a drink as much as most people. But I’m prepared to admit that with the freedom to enjoy alcohol comes the responsibility to face up to its less palatable effects. When will the debate about drug and alcohol control start to sensibly reflect the real level of damage substance abuse does to our community and when will Key stop giving mixed messages?


Noise and boy racers

Posted by on May 27th, 2009

Just heard some Nat speeches about yesterday’s boy racer legislation, suggesting these are the answer and nothing has been done previously. Labour is supporting these changes to select committee so as to assess how effective they will be. It’s worth remembering that during Labour’s term in office there were various measures to deal with boy racers including:

  • The Illegal Street Racing bill, which gave police  the power to take boy racers off the street
  • Gave judges the right to confiscate cars on the first offence – not three strikes as now proposed
  • Police were given powers to order noisy cars off the street, require a noise test (at owner’s expense) and keep them off the road if not legal

And note what has not emerged. There were repeated pledges by National MPs  to introduce a 90 deceibel maximum for car exhauts. No sign of that, nor of the call by police earlier this year for a “cease and desist” law to stop boy racers congregating.


Motion on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Posted by on May 27th, 2009

My colleague Maryan Street has just moved the following motion in Parliament, and it has been supported by all parties.

That the New Zealand Parliament note the anniversary on 27 May 2009 of the detention under house arrest of Nobel Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, deplore her continued detention on political grounds and seek her immediate and unconditional release, together with the release of approximately 2100 additional political prisoners being detained in Burma by the military junta.

Barack Obama has made the same call. Her continued detention is a blight on democracy.  We are taking a stand here in NZ. I spoke at a Wellington rally last week  organised by the CTU against her detention, along with representatives of both the National and Green parties. We also have a Parliamentary support group on Burma that is looking at ways we can provide support to the campaign to have her released.  You can find more information about the global campaign here.


Haere Ra Jeanette

Posted by on May 27th, 2009

Before we get immersed in the Budget, the Post-Budget anlaysis and the  realisation of the impact of the Budget, I wanted to note that this coming weekend will mark the end of Jeanette Fitzsimons time as Co-Leader of the Greens.  I think all New Zealanders with a concern for their country and their planet should be sad to see her go, and grateful for her contribution.

Its hard to not make a post like this sound saccharine, but I do genuinely admire Jeanette. In the election campaign last year I was asked by a young girl which politician from another party I admired the most and why.  I had no hesitation in naming Jeanette because I have always felt that she spoke for what she truly believed and that she really  lived the ‘brand’ of Green politics.  This does not mean I agreed with everything she said or all the policies of the Greens, but I totally understood where she was coming from and why she said it.

Many of the issues that she has championed going back to her time in the Values Party are now mainstream issues.  It was very insightful in Michael Cullen’s parting remarks both inside Parliament and out that he singled out the issue on which his thinking had moved most over the years was the importance of incorporating sustainability into all our future- economically and socially.

I got to know Jeanette the best when we worked on the response to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.  This was an example of how a government can respond to a Royal Commission.  We had differing views, but we went through every recommendation and worked out how it could be implemented.  It was a very intense negotiation.  I learned a huge amount from Jeanette, and she never waivered from her principled stance.  Unfortunately the 2002 election came along and some of our work got stymied by the political stunts that go with elections.  I knew Jeanette was uncomfortable with some of how that played out, but the work we did still stood the test of time.

Meteria and Sue B are both talented, intelligent advocates, and whoever is elected co-leader will no doubt lead the Greens well. But it is a hard act to follow.  The shoes they are filling are big and green, principled, friendly and genuine.  Jeanette, I am sure we will still hear from you in your remaining time as an MP, but in the meantime, I want to say thank you  for being a leader.


Regulation in NZ

Posted by on May 26th, 2009

Cactus Kate is generally not my cup of tea. This is however worth a read.


Lee investigation amateur whitewash

Posted by on May 26th, 2009

NZ on Air claim to have investigated Melissa Lee. There are a few unanswered questions:-

  1. Did they interview the staff member who made the allegations especially in relation to Lee’s standover approach during the editing of the election special?
  2. Did they establish how many staff members were required to work on the National Party video?
  3. Did they interview those staff members?
  4. Did they establish whether the staff members worked during paid hours or outside of that time as volunteers?
  5. Did they establish who owned the copyright to the stock footage used in the video?
  6. Why was it not made clear that Lee’s company relied completely on taxpayer funding – the company had no other funding source?

Budget leaks

Posted by on May 26th, 2009

Beginning to slip out.

  1. Playcentres not to get the funding promised in Nats election policy for at least another year.
  2. Modern apprenticeships abolished.
  3. Polytechnic funding for trades courses slashed.
  4. Sparc budget slashed.

Happy to add to list.


Time for a new anti-nuclear campaign

Posted by on May 26th, 2009

Yesterday former conservative Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser gave a radical message to John Key.  He made the case for New Zealand to  step up and back President Obama’s nuclear disarmament ambitions by pushing for a new global treaty to abolish nuclear weapons.

Fraser believes countries like Australia and New Zealand should form a ginger group to push for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would move beyond the various anti-proliferation and disarmament initiatives that have made little progress over the past two decades. 

Key told Radio NZ he would consider Fraser’s suggestion, in particular “…whether we may take a bolder and…larger step forward.”  In my view Fraser is right on the money. The election of Obama has created the best opportunity in a lifetime to get nuclear abolition onto the agenda.  However Key, the prime minister whose foreign minister is systematically dismantling our independent foreign policy, would be an unlikely champion for this particular crusade.


Hikoi people power

Posted by on May 26th, 2009

Kia ora to Ngati Whatua, Ihiaotearoa, and all the organisers of yesterday’s hikoi for showing leadership. The hikoi was a good natured, vibrant show of people power. Ostensibly a demonstration against the Government’s rejection of the Royal Commission’s recommendations for Maori representation on the new Auckland Council, the Maori organisers generously welcomed all those concerned about the Government’s anti-democratic super city model.  In doing so, they united a rainbow coalition of iwi, the Mayors, countless community groups and concerned citizens, along with the Maori Party, the Greens and Labour. Even conservative pundit Bill Ralston despairs of the Government provoking such a coalition.

Key and Hide downplayed the hikoi, with Key wishing Maori would  just make a submission to the select committee. Hopefully they will do that too, but he misses the point. Yesterday’s demonstration of people power was a healthy indicator of political engagement in our democracy by Maori and non-Maori alike. It was Aucklanders concerned about their communities, and wanting a say in their future. The exact opposite of Key and Hide’s corporate takeover of Auckland democracy.


Spinning out

Posted by on May 25th, 2009

Hey readers, I’m feeling quite energised after a weekend reflecting on what it means to be in the Labour Party. Reflecting, I hasten to add, with a bunch of others, not just on my lonesome. Reflecting on the motivations for being Labour and being active in Labour. Now bear with me in my train of thought because it is going somewhere. One of the great things about this blog is that you can reflect online and get some instant feedback (I can feel it already).

As some of you might know, before becoming a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new MP in the Class 08, I was a practitioner in the communications (PR) industry. Now that industry faces a conundrum. It’s necessary, it’s growing and it’s full of creative, thinking people doing good work. But it has a PR problem (ironic but true) of being all about “spin”.

In reality, the vast majority of people who work in the public relations (or communications, as I prefer to call it) industry are hard working, thoughtful, creative people (as I’ve already said). People with integrity. For me, who takes these things seriously, ethics and principles should always guide your profession. And just so you know, I’m a passionate advocate for the communications industry. It’s an industry underpinned by a code of ethics and professional standards, just like so many other industries. Why then does it get such a hard time? And what’s that got to do with being Labour?

It’s all about communication. Good communication. But, and this is an important BUT to all you readers and commentators, communication only works when it’s authentic. And transparent.

“Spin” is the art of the cover-up, rhetoric not matching the reality, the creative presentation of the facts. It implies disingenuous, deceptive, and/or highly manipulative tactics in influencing people. It may work in the short term, but mostly doesn’t in the long term because the people eventually tend to see through it. And it’s a big lesson to  all practitioners. Don’t think you can fool the people. It might work for a while, but it won’t for ever.

Soooo…. after a bit of beating around the bush, I’ll get to the point, which is, I believe, that Labour, for all its faults, is about telling it how it is and how it feels. You know what you’re getting with Labour. I don’t believe that about the other side of politics. In fact, I think there’s a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality with this National Government and you’ve seen numerous posts about that so far on Red Alert.  The problem for the communications industry is that they’ve been caught up in it.

On the one hand, they’re being lampooned (by National) for having too many communications people working in the public service creating “spin”, resulting in calls for job cuts (by National) across the public service and creating much consternation in the industry. On the other hand, the National Government is employing a significant number of “comms” people in highly paid positions, outside the control of the public service to create “spin” for its own ends. And the industry doesn’t like it. And neither do I because I believe in the integrity of public relations and the quality of work being done by communications professionals in the public service. I also believe in the importance of authenticity and transparency in communications. I think Labour gets that and takes it seriously. That’s one of the reasons I’m in the Labour Party. I just don’t get any sense of that from this government. Do you? And I’m starting to think that they’re spinning out.


Cock-up or Machiavelli @ Work

Posted by on May 24th, 2009

I’ve been reflecting on the last couple of weeks in politics – Melissa Lee, Christine Rankin especially and wondering if it is possible for a government in New Zealand to use up so much political capital accidently or whether there is a possibility of some sort of weird plan.

We have the budget coming up this week. It is an enormous opportunity for the government. For the first time since 1984, when our diplomats had been using post credit cards to draw down foreign denominated loans,there are no rules.  Key and English have a blank canvas and enough political credit given the scale of their win and the economic crisis to do almost anything.

What we don’t know is whether they have the guts to invest some of their massive political capital in the sort of change that could ensure not only they win the next election but also become the natural party of government for the next couple of decades.

But they have to be bold. They have to have real vision. They won’t do it with a few places for tourists to ride bikes and other changes at the margin. Every now and again I see glimpses of that from Key – but this is the test. There won’t be another budget with such an opportunity.

I write this safe in the knowledge that the budget is in bed. Nothing I write can change it.

And more importantly that is the case for the government as well. And what I can’t work out is whether their massive and extraordinarily highly paid political pr team has for the last three weeks been focusing on a massive effort to sell a radical budget, whether Lee and Rankin are crude old fashioned deliberate diversions or whether the old “if in doubt its a cock-up” theory prevails.

John Key chose Melissa Lee. I could never understand why. Her maiden speech was intellectually incoherant – it was an enormous untaken opportunity. It was a sign of lack of political savvy. She was a shiny star but with no substance. A real contrast with just about all of the Labour maiden speeches and several of her National colleagues.

Mt Albert was the wrong electorate to use her Korean ethnicity as an electoral plus. It was a selection certain to cause local upset.

And she has performed in a way that was predictable. I don’t need to catelogue her mistakes but not many people who have watched her in parliament are surprised.

So why did John Key chose her?

Similarly with Christine Rankin. The Cabinet was divided. McCully has made it clear to Trans tasman he was away. John Key ended up backing Bennett against all her more experienced colleagues. It was a decision that didn’t make sense.  National owed Rankin nothing. No one voted National because she appeared at their rallies. In fact the reverse could be true. Her support was as valuable as that given by Cardinal Tamaki to English and the Brethren to Brash.

Joyce appears to be running the government pr machine these days. He is good. We saw that through they way he built the Nats from their 2002 train wreck.

So what is he up to?  Maybe the budget is massive. Maybe they took more risks than they intended and the last couple of weeks have been a bit of insurance so Lee and Bennett can take the blame if the budget doesn’t work?

Whatever the future of the government and of John Key could well be at stake.