Red Alert

Archive for May, 2009

Taking the youth job summit to the web….

Posted by on May 23rd, 2009

A couple of weeks back the latest Household Labour Force Survey was released.  Amongst all the chat about rising unemployment, there was a set of figures that didn’t get a lot of air time.

Youth unemployment has jumped from 7% to 12% for 20-24 year olds.  You can see what this is a reflection of – young people coming out of tertiary education and trade training are struggling to find work.  Some are also losing work.

The New Zealand institute recently commented that  “the Government’s response to limit the social costs of rising unemployment should identify the most vulnerable group and refocus spending to address the needs of those groups.  The Institute recommends particular attention be applied to young people in disadvantaged communities.  Youth unemployment generally rises faster and stays at a higher rate longer in a recession.”

Youth unemployment is just the kind of issue that the upcoming budget should address if we are to prevent youth unemployment reaching the level it did in the 1990s, and if we are to stop the loss of potential that comes with young people being out of work, training or education.

Tomorrow I am hosting a youth job summit to discuss and debate youth employment issues.  Speakers include Peter Conway of the CTU, Phil O’Reilly of Business New Zealand, Benedikte Jensen of the New Zealand Institute and Jeremy Baker of the Industry Training Federation.  But it won’t all be about listening.  We’ll also be running sessions to give participants a chance to input ideas.  After the summit I’ll be sharing these ideas with everyone who has a role to play in reducing youth unemployment.

This is not intended to be a political forum, and representatives from all of the political parties in parliament have been invited to attend.   But you don’t have to give up your Sunday to be involved.   If you have any ideas, feel free to share them here. Otherwise, I’ll do a follow up post with outcomes from the summit.

Auckland: city or corporation?

Posted by on May 22nd, 2009

Great post on the Auckland Transition Agency over at No Right Turn: this afternoon Rodney Hide announced the oligarchy that is going to run Auckland from now until the local body elections in October next year. It’s a competent looking panel but that is not the point. While rich in corporate governance experience it is weak on democracy or community – with only one of the five, former Rodney mayor John Law, having any political experience in local government.

Any fears that the NACT Government see this process as a corporate merger will have been well and truly underlined.  Rodney Hide in his press release made much of the board’s role “developing the new governance structures and roles to manage the $28 billion of assets effectively” but had nothing to say about communities, neighbourhoods, or the quality of democracy.

Ministers chairing select committees

Posted by on May 22nd, 2009

I was interested in the government’s recent decision to appoint John Carter as chairperson of the special Select Committee that has been established to deal with the second part of the Auckland Super City legislation. It’s highly unusual for a government minister to chair a select committee, and almost unprecedented for a minister to chair a select committee that is considering items of business they have ministerial responsibility for (Carter is Associate Minister of Local Government).

The only other examples I could find of ministers chairing select committees are Peter Dunne (currently chairing the Emissions Trading Scheme Select Committee) and David Carter, who briefly chaired the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee (FEC) in the late 1990s whilst also holding a ministerial warrant (he was Associate Minister of Revenue at the time).

Does the new National government’s decision to establish two special select committees, chaired by ministers, to deal with potentially controversial legislation signal a shift in the conventional separation between the legislature and the executive? Should we be concerned that the executive is dominating the legislative process right down to the select committee level? My gut feeling is we probably should be.

How long should shops in malls be forced to be open?

Posted by on May 21st, 2009

Multinational Westfield has over recent years forced small business owners to extend the hours their shops are open. Following complaints from shop owners in the Hutt I’ve discussed the issue with a small sample around the country. They have shown me evidence that hours have increased in small jumps from around 60 on average to closer to 70. They tell me that even at 60 hours the ends of the trading day were unprofitable but that they now carry a lot more cost – mainly staffing costs for almost no extra sales. They often have trouble finding staff because the hours tend to be the least sociable.

In Australia shop opening hours are highly regulated by state governments. I’m not sure that that is what we want here but I can’t see a good reason for forcing shops to open on, for example, New Year’s day when hardly anyone wants to shop, strip shops are closed and almost nowhere else in the world are shops open. I do fondly remember Saturday sport where parents were able to come because shops were closed.

I’m going to run a survey of businesses in malls around the country asking them what they think but I’m interested in views on the topic from owners, employees and shoppers.

National’s spin on public services busted

Posted by on May 21st, 2009

Today’s issue of Trans-Tasman includes an interesting snippet from a BERL report comparing our government consumption spending with other OECD nations.

According to the report we are in the mainstream of expenditure at 18.8%, more than Australia (17.7%), but less than Canada (19.3%) or the UK (21.2%). But the really interesting fact is that the average for the 30 years to 2007 was 18.5%. As Trans-Tasman itself notes, so much for a huge disproportionate growth in bureaucracy under Labour.

The truth is that in Labour’s time in office we  re-built services that were undermined by National in the 90s. The percentage of people working in the public sector as a part of the total workforce has actually declined since the 1990s. National’s claims are nothing but spin to justify the widespread cuts to the public service. In the end we all suffer with these policies as it takes years to re-build the services New Zealanders need and deserve.

Sex, Science and Money

Posted by on May 21st, 2009

Sometimes science is not the sexiest subject in the world. Certainly for those of us subjected to reciting  the periodic table and lectures about turning off  bunsen burners it did not come to life.  But in New Zealand we have some terrific scientists who have the ability to bring to life their subject area. One of those is Peter Gluckman.

As such there is a lot to applaud in the government’s announcement that he will be acting in a part time capacity as a Science Advisor for the PM. Gluckman is a world leading scientist who at the Liggins Institute has pioneered studies of child development and its link to health in later life. Having him as a voice in the ear of the PM is great.

But the reality is all the advice in the world will mean next to nothing if resources are not available. Gluckman himself says he will not be involved in discussions about funding. There is a need for urgent discussions. As my colleague Moana Mackey has noted, the government is gutting science funding. They have ditched the $700 million Fast Forward fund in favour of a very modest $30 million agricultural science fund. They also ditched the R and D  Tax Credit which was set to help increase our pitiful private sector spend on research and development.

And just last week Bill English let slip that tertiary education was a likely loser in the Budget. The linkage between universities and science and innovation in New Zealand needs to be enhanced, not cut back.  In the midst of  a recession it is the very time we need to invest in education and science so that we are able to jump start the economy and create jobs. The government bangs on about improving productivity. One of the keys to that is increasing R+D and innovation. It seems the government thinks the only way to productivity is to cut staff.

Gluckman says as part of his role he “wants to make science sexy and attractive”. Without funding  from government and support to private research and development it is looking to be as unattractive as an ACT caucus pyjama party.

Hide sidelined as Carter gets pushed to the front?

Posted by on May 21st, 2009

Is Rodney Hide becoming an embarrassment to the Government over his handling of the super city?

Rodney got kneecapped at Cabinet over his nominations for the transition agency with senior National Party sources telling the Herald there were concerns about conflicts of interest over Mr Hide’s proposed appointees. Now we have Associate Minister John Carter being wheeled in to chair the Auckland select committee, which is very unusual. You don’t normally have an associate minister who has been actively involved in the policy development deployed to chair a committee charged with scrutiny of the bills. Carter is also fronting the Nats’ raft of taxpayer-funded public meetings – see the caption competition below.

Then this morning Hone Carter tells Radio NZ he’d been asked to chair the select committee  ‘because I am the face now at the, ah, grassroots level of what the Government’s doing and so it is important that I get fully informed.’

Hide has never been a popular figure. His arrogant approach to the super city clearly has the Government worried. It’s only a few weeks since his bull in a china shop impersonation prompted John Key to shuttle around hosing down Auckland mayors with his “I’m listening” mantra.

Check out this week’s incendiary editorial in The Aucklander – APN’s community paper, slamming the Government’s approach to the super city. And the Suburban Newspapers’ ongoing campaign. With the Hikoi shaping up as a fine demonstration of public anger next week, how long will it be until the Nats’ Auckland MPs take a delegation to the leader’s office?

Caption competition

Posted by on May 21st, 2009


This pic was taken last night in Waitakere at a public meeting on the super city hosted by Paula Bennett MP.

Who can think up the best caption? Tonight I will post a caption that reveals what they were in fact laughing about.

(Photo: John Chapman)

Let the Penguin in John

Posted by on May 20th, 2009

I find it hard to come to David Farrar’s defence but Bill English’s decision to exclude him from the budget lock-up is just wrong. Even more so Bernard Hickey. While both write much that I don’t agree with to ban someone because they write a blog is just plainly unjustifiable. Treasury refered the question of whether to let Farrar in to us in 2007 and the decision was yes.

He wrote blogs in 2007 and 2008.

Beehive rumour has it that John Key is pissed with Farrar for breaking the news of the John Allen appointment weeks before the final decision was taken by Cabinet.

Maybe he needs to discuss the matter with his Minister of Foreign Affairs who regularly uses Farrar to fly kites.

Hone Rehabilitated

Posted by on May 20th, 2009

John Carter is emerging as the new Mr Fixit for the National Party. Fresh from saving Gerry Brownlee’s bacon he has now been assigned to mind Melissa Lee. An even bigger task.

As someone whose career has had some ups and downs myself it is great to see.

John was nearly dropped as a candidate in 1996 after his Hone phone call with John Banks in 1995. Last year he was, along with Williamson and Worth told that it was likely that he would be pushed to make way for the younger talent in Key’s reshuffle later this year.

Now it is likely that not only will he make Cabinet but he will lead the House from the front bench. Just goes to show there is room for a battler even in the Nats. Street savvey is just as important as the ability to flit from cloud to cloud.

We’ve all been there

Posted by on May 20th, 2009

I actually feel kind off sorry for Melissa Lee. Her tongue-tied memory loss on TV3 last night has probably happened to every MP – it has certainly happened to me and everyone I’ve spoken to about it.

Yes Melissa has repeatedly buckled under pressure but my question is where is her support? On the item last night we saw John Carter walking across the road with her but during her painful interview he could be seen way off on the other side of the street yakking with, I think, Jacqui Dean. Jonathan Coleman is supposed to be her minder but where was he and how much effort is he putting in to making sure Melissa is well briefed?

No doubt senior National MPs will distance themselves from Melissa but they really have to blame themselves for her inadequacies as well.

The gift that keeps on giving

Posted by on May 19th, 2009

Seriously. Has someone in Melissa Lee’s campaign got it in for her?


End of NZ First?

Posted by on May 19th, 2009

There is no NZ First candidate in Mt Albert. The poor old chemist won’t have anyone to vote for. Even Future United is running Judy Turner from Whakatane.  Really is turning into a classic two horse FPP race. Voters understand that a vote for Norman might let Lee win. It will either be Shearer or Lee and the more the voters see of them the better Shearer looks.

Is this a sign NZ First has died?

Cmon the Canes

Posted by on May 19th, 2009

I’m at Eden Park, good progress being made on the stadium – permanent changes finished next year with temporary up in plenty of time for RWC. While I have been replaced as sports spokesperson I still am opposition spokesperson on RWC.

But the real action this week is in Hamilton and South Africa.  Unusually NZ will be united behind the Crusaders on Sunday morning.  Pretty rare for me.

Friday night in Hamilton will be the key. I used to live in Hamilton and kept on supporting Waikato until John Mitchell retired. But for super rugby it has always been the canes.

If we get good results then it will be the Canes v Crusaders at the stadium.

Super city uncertainty destabilising

Posted by on May 19th, 2009

The Government is increasingly under fire over the handling of its super city plans. Latest wobble is the failure yesterday of Cabinet to agree Rodney Hide’s appointments to the transition agency board. It is  likely  the reaction to Christine Rankin’s appointment as Families Commissioner has made the Government  toey about appointments that might be seen by the public as partisan or inappropriate.  John Banks didn’t help things with his statement on radio yesterday that he expected the super city would only need about 60% of the current workforce, implying job losses of 2700. By the sound of his grovelling apology several hours later he had had a carpeting by his political masters in the Beehive.

Notwithstanding the community opposition to the anti-democratic aspects of the Government’s super city model, there is mounting concern about the uncertainty generated by the Government’s handling of the transition. And this only days after the enabling legislation was bulldozed through under urgency. This draconian law strips local councils of their powers (check out s 31 of the Local Government Auckland Reorganization Act) and gives them to the new transition agency. As a result, some development projects around town are grinding to a halt.

In Waitakere alone, question marks hang over two big projects,  the New Lynn railway and urban redevelopment, and the Westgate mall expansion. Banks and private sector partners are nervous about continuing. They don’t know whether they should be negotiating with the Council, or with the transition agency, and whether the new super city will want to continue with the projects.  Tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of private sector jobs could be at risk.

The Government could fix the problem by getting the transition agency to work closely with Councils to decide which projects get the go-ahead. First though, appoint your transition agency.

Health Priorities Cut – Services Next?

Posted by on May 17th, 2009

On Thursday last week Tony Ryall announced National’s health priorities and the targets he expects DHBs to report against. The announcement was timed to perfection for minimum exposure – right after the last question time of the week and right before everyone got wrapped up in the urgency shemozzle of the Auckland (or is that Tamaki Makaurau now?) Super City legislation.

Why wouldn’t Ryall want to make a big deal of his new priorities? Because three key areas – mental health, oral health and obesity prevention – have been dropped off the list. Ryall’s targets are heavily hospital focussed at the expense of primary health and prevention programmes.

What this clearly signals is a very short-term approach to health care. Gone is the focus on transformational change, replaced by the need to generate statistics in time for the 2011 election. It’s about helping the Government look good, not improving our health system. Ruth Dyson made a great statement about the flow-on effects.

Ryall says that not being on the priority list doesn’t mean services will necessarily be cut but I’m already getting reports that mental health funding and services in particular are under threat. Mental health funding is ring-fenced but many DHBs provide resources over and above that. One DHB has definitely told community providers in its area that the additional funding is gone and that the funding formula for the ring-fenced portion may be changed.

It’s great that DHBs will be expected to reduce cancer treatment waiting times and increase the number of elective surgeries (both of which were on Labour’s priorities too) but why does Ryall want to wait for people to get sick rather than maintaining some attention on prevention as well?

Mt Albert campaign launch

Posted by on May 17th, 2009

parkI am just home from a successful launch of the David Shearer for Mt Albert byelection campaign. It started with an outdoor rally at the Rocket Park. It was great: funny hats, balloons, and all the fun of the fair. Good rousing speeches from David, and Phil Goff. I thought for a minute David had brought back from Baghdad the endearing Middle Eastern habit of firing guns into the air at these kinds of events, but then realised people were letting off party crackers.

The whole mob then piled into a noisy red motorcade and tootled off around the electorate stopping at high traffics spots like Kingsland and the PaknSave to wave placards and hoot and holler. One of the highlights was when Melissa Lee pulled up to the Pt Chev lights in her fancy Melissa Lee-branded campaign car and found herself surrounded by dozens of placard waving jubilant Labour campaigners chanting “”Bring back Ravi!”

Nats plan to restrict trial by jury

Posted by on May 17th, 2009

I watched Simon Power on Q+A this morning outline his plans to restrict trial by jury. I have talked about this with other members of the Labour Justice team and I am surprised. Power is one of the more pleasant and reasonable Nats to deal with. But what he said about changing criminal process worried me. There is a lot that can be done about improving access to justice in NZ. We started some of this work in Government but there is a heap more to do.

Funding for community law centres is still under threat – they get money from the interest on solictors’ trust accounts, and because interest rates are way down, they have been under real difficulties, despite assurances from Power. The public defender scheme that we piloted needs to be strengthened and supported as an alternative to legal aid. And legal aid itself needs to be kept under review, both to ensure that rates are realistic and that the right mix of specialty lawyers operates, especially in provincial centres.

It might not make for such attractive headlines, but if Simon started with these issues I might be more convinced he was keen to make it easier for New Zealanders to get in front of a court speedily and with proper legal advice.

Started with a shambles, ended with a shambles

Posted by on May 16th, 2009

We have finally finished urgency and it started very much as it began, with National and ACT combining to stuff up basic procedure at the very end of the night.  For those interested in the arcane details of Parliamentary process (you sick people!)  Rodney Hide failed to give a date for the second Auckland Governance Bill to be reported back from the Select Committee when he moved the very last motion of the night. Cue, another 40 minutes of points of order, before the matter was resolved.

National and ACT took the best part of 40 hours to put through the two bills. They missed a lot of tricks early in the piece, and Gerry Brownlee’s limited grasp of house process was exposed.

From our point of view, it is not fun to spend all this time in Parliament, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was the right approach. The National government has made the big decisions consigning to history 7 councils, putting in doubt the employment conditions of 6,000 people and investing all the powers of those councils to a transition agency, handpicked by Rodney Hide.  This is wrong, and at the very least it needed to be sent to a Select Committee. In the end we used the only avenue available to us to ensure there was at least some scruitiny and debate.

Agenda behind Super City legislation

Posted by on May 16th, 2009

Good to join Red Alert. My first post comes as the end is in sight for the urgency at Parliament. We in Labour have used it to do all we can to slow the headlong rush into what will prove an unmitigated Super Cockup for Auckland…

Here’s the message I sent earlier today to my Christchurch Central electorate members.

You deserve to know why I am not in my electorate today, Saturday, working on a complete day of engagements, including a party budget planning session and most especially, doing whatever I can to assist those 102 people who yesterday lost their jobs at Lane Walker Rudkin. With my Labour caucus colleagues, I am at Parliament, as it sits under urgency trying to stop the Government ramming through the legislation to establish the Auckland ‘Super City’ Council.

The Tories are attempting to portray this as time-wasting. In fact, we Labour MPs, along with those in Greens, Progressive and Maori Party, are providing the only check on Rodney Hide’s audacious move to impose what he wants on our biggest city. The Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill creates the Transition Agency which will have total authority in running Auckland until next year’s local body elections. Hide will pick its members and you can guess the sort of people he will appoint. I have very real fears that the right and proper case for reform of Auckland’s local authority structure, as recommended by the Royal Commission that Labour established, will be used to set in place an agenda for a new and savage round of privatisation of public assets.

And if Auckland is first, the question is: what region is next?