Red Alert

Archive for August, 2010

Big Norm

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

81tour-006A tweet from Phil Goff was a reminder that today is the anniversary of the death of Norman Kirk, a much loved NZ Labour Prime Minister, who died suddenly at the age of 51 in 1974. “Big Norm” was the fifth New Zealand PM to die in office.

To quote Michael Bassett in the Dictionary of NZ Biography :

“New Zealanders awoke on the Sunday to the news that their Prime Minister was dead. There followed an outpouring of grief paralleled only by that which had followed M.J. Savage’s death in 1940. People who had been slow to embrace Kirk as a leader could not believe that he had been snatched away, seemingly in his prime. As the Labour Party slid towards defeat at the 1975 election, legends grew about the man who might have saved the country from Muldoon. Princes, prime ministers and potentates with whom Kirk had established friendships also mourned his passing; most thought him an extraordinary individual, and the “log cabin to White House” metaphor was on many lips.”

I’m old enough to remember his death, and was young enough at the time for his short tenure as PM to make a formative impact on my fledgling political views. Norman Kirk’s strong protest against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean, which led to the Labour Government taking France to the International Court of Justice in 1972 and his heroic act of sending two New Zealand navy frigates into the test zone area at Mururoa Atoll in 1973 to protest  French testing made a big impact. Kirk also refused to allow a visit by a South African rugby team  team, a decision he made because of the apartheid régime in South Africa – which was a forerunner to the 1981 Springbok Tour actions.

I strongly recall the sense that something good and promising with his election as a Labour Prime Minister had disappeared, followed soon after by the malevolent and all-pervading presence of Muldoon – which in its weird way was also transformative for my generation.

And of course, only a taste of what was to come.

The curious case of the missing recovery

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Not much good news around about the NZ economy.

Standard & Poor Chief economist David Wyss told Auckland economists yesterday that there is a one in three chance of another crash and while the “recession is over”, it’s a very fragile recovery. NZ businesses say they cut too deep in the recession last year and are struggling to rebuild because many of the skilled workers they laid off have gone elsewhere – and who can blame them?  Tens of thousands got the chop with no redundancy pay and NZ wages and conditions are falling further and further behind Australia’s.  Confidence is faltering and today, our government will fork out around NZ$1.6 billion in taxpayers money to 35,000 depositers in South Canterbury Finance that were covered under the extended guarantee scheme.

The best our government can come up with?  Cut workers’ protection against unfair dismissal, restrict their access to union advice, cut their meals and rest breaks and put their holidays up for grabs.

You don’t have to go far to find some pretty grumpy voters. And they’re set to get a lot grumpier come the 1st October when GST goes up and most find that their tax cut has already been eaten up.

This clip from Jim Stanford (aka Lieutenant Stanfordo), who wrote “Economics for Everyone” has parallels, and also some warnings.  Paula Bennett’s Welfare Working Group has been promoting unemployment insurance, but look what happens to the workers who are laid off in this video.  Compulsory savings is an attractive idea, but without government guarantees, workers can end up getting nothing.  I hope someone makes a NZ version.

Further Thoughts on the OIA

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Clare’s post earlier today highlighted the excellent job done by I/S over at No Right Turn in analysing the slow response from some Ministers to OIA requests. This is a topic I feel qualified to comment on having played a role in the management of OIA requests in the previous government.

Firstly it is important to acknowledge that Labour in government did not have a flawless track record in this regard, and neither did the National government of the 90s before that. I can remember when coming to work in the Beehive hearing the story of a National Minister who kept a pile of OIAs that were ready to be released beside his desk. If the person who made the request did not keep pestering the Minister’s office the OIAs simply did not go out. Clearly that is not good enough, but it serves to illustrate the point that while a Ministry or Department will often process the request within the timeframe, the blame for its failure to be released on time will often lie with the Minister and their office.

In our time in government the Ombudsmen did highlight a number of deficiencies in processing, and I can recall attending a couple of meetings about that. By the end of Labour’s term the Ombudsmen’s annual reports indicated an improvement in the processing of requests. But that does not mean that we should not be even better when we are back in government.

So, what to do from here? This was a major topic of discussion at the Open Labour event on Saturday. It seems to me that there are some short and medium term things to do

  • In the short term the National Ministers who have been highlighted by I/S need to step up their game. These delays are simply not on, and there needs to be some leadership from John Key on this.
  • Just as we are now seeing increased transparency around Ministerial and MP expenditure, there should be a regular release of information on processing times for OIAs. I am sure sunlight will be a good disinfectant in this case.
  • Looking further ahead I do think we need to move to see more documents pro-actively released, including Cabinet and Committee papers and background documents. This will actually reduce costs and promote efficiency.
  • There are other practical measures as well, such as tightening up on transfer requirements. The idea that a Minister or agency will wait til just before a 20 day period is up and then transfer a request is unacceptable.

I think the solution here is a combination of updating the law and better enforcement of current practice. The OIA still serves us well and gives access to information that other countries are still envious of. But it is not working as well as it could. I am sure a multi-partisan approach is possible, and desirable on this.  Perhaps making use of the expertise of Nicola White and others to lead the work?

National’s empty rhetoric is good for one thing

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

On our regular radio show (on Radio Chinese Voice AM936) the Minister for Ethnic Affairs Pansy Wong and I engage in a Q & A session with listeners.

I made the point recently that under her watch the ethnic unemployment rate has grown to 13.5 percent while the Asian unemployment rate has doubled to 10.5 percent.

However, it is not fair for me to make her to face the music on these statistics. After all, she is just following her Party lines. No wonder every time I ask her about topical matters (either through my columns in the Chinese media or Written Questions) such as how to grow economy or create jobs her standard response appears to be organising yet another “ethnic forum”.

The ‘ethnic forum’ she so positively speaks about sounds eerily similar to her Government’s catastrophic Job Summit. It will be just another talk-fest. A token gesture which does nothing to address the unemployment issue.

Media have summarised well that the top three measures implemented by the National-Act Government so far are the national cycle way; the job summit and the 90-day fire-at-will employment law.

The top three measures, despite being futile, have prompted blogs on the Chinese-language social media site to encourage fellow internet surfers to play a game similar to but different from crosswords.

A loose translation of the blog (copied below) is as follows:

After listening to what Raymond Huo said this morning regarding the National Government’s top three measures in job creation, I had the following words sprung to my mind:

a 2-word phrase: ‘be disgraced';

a 3-word phrase: ‘can’t help it';

a 4-word phrase: ‘donkey exhausted its tricks’ [derived from a Chinese idiom];

a 5-word phrase: ‘come off sentry duty now’ [derived from a popular Chinese phrase “xia-gang” which means “if one failed to deliver he or she will be removed from the office.]

Being made redundant is probably its English equivalent. Some further commenting by bloggers said that they would ‘never vote’ for National again for failing to deliver and for breaking promises such as raising GST, among other things.


2010-07-22 16:20










The bright side of this is that the National Government’s empty rhetoric is not always useless. It offered, like this blogger has demonstrated, some good initiatives for migrants to hone their linguistic skills.

Ethnic Aucklanders under-represented in council controlled organisations

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

The list of directors and chairs for Auckland Super City’s council-controlled organisations agreed by Cabinet last week under-represents the Asian and Ethnic voice.

It is a big disappointment the Government has not acknowledged more fully Asian and Ethnic representation in its Super City reform.

There are many successful Asian business people to choose from. This is exactly the kind of initiative the Government should be using to improve representation for ethnic people.

According to the Government every single member and chair is an Aucklander, yet the make-up of CCO boards announced does not acknowledge the over 20 percent of Aucklanders of ethnic descent.

This insensitivity is not acceptable to the wider ethnic community of Auckland, who have contributed hugely to the cities economic development.

These nominations were invited from Mayors of all Auckland territorial authorities, the chair of the Auckland Regional Council, Ministers, as well as the Ministers of Women’s Affairs, Consumer Affairs, and Pacific Island Affairs, Te Puni Kökiri, the Offices of Ethnic Affairs and Disabilities and the Treasury.

I question how robust this nomination process was, because the CCO board certainly does not reflect the diversity of Auckland city.

Hide hoses down Auckland water fears

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide has intervened in the Auckland mayoral and council elections with a carefully contrived announcement on water rates.

You would think water rates would be decided and announced by the new Auckland Council. The election is, after all, only six weeks away. And the water company, is after all, owned  by the Council.

But no, Mr Hide yesterday trumpeted a new water rate that will see all Auckland houses pay the same tariff of $1.30 per 1000 litres of water.

Asked why he was announcing it now, he replied because Aucklanders have been “anxious about water” charges.

Why have they been anxious about water charges? Because the Government wants to roll out volumetric or user pays pricing for waste-water expected to result in hefty increases for most Aucklanders. And because the centre-right Citizens and Ratepayers ticket has the same policy. And the C&R mayoral candidate Mr Banks has been taking heat on this issue.

Mr Hide was happy to announce the new rate on water piped to the home, but he was keeping quiet on the new rate for waste water which is the one that is likely to go up significantly if it gets the full user-pays treatment. If he was going to announce one I don’t see why he couldn’t have announced both, because Watercare has had a full year to do the calculations on both.

The farsighted Mr Hide has legislated that waste water charges, and general rates, won’t be going up until mid-2012 which just happens to be after the mayoral and council elections, and after next year’s general election.

By the time the new waste water and general rates kick in, the Auckland Council will have been in place for 18 months and Mr Hide will be able to wash his hands of any responsibility. He is hoping the Council will have to carry the can for the structures and budgets he put in place 18 months before.

If in 2012 the waste water charges and general rates do go up, as most Aucklanders believe they will, with any luck we won’t have to listen to Mr Hide blaming the Auckland Council.  He will be long gone by then.

Silly idea number 12 – what do you think?

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Breathlessly announce that it is Government policy to catch up with Australia’s GDP/capita by 2025. Forget to spell out how. Then discover that we are heading the other way.  Go into denial of the bleeding obvious, relying on a hilarious attempt at obfuscation, rather an acknowledging the truth and playing a longer game.

(See A goal is not a strategy by the New Zealand Institute)

I think this idea is –

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Filed under: economy

How do Govt Ministers perform on OIA

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

This is interesting.

Would like discussion to be around how government should perform on OIA requests.

Is the issue about resources and priorites? It’s interesting to me as a new-ish MP that getting information out of government can be so difficult.

I think that should change.

Hat tip: @atnorightturnnz (twitter)

OpenLabourNZ: what happens next

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Open Labour Logo

The dust has settled from Saturday’s event and it’s time to think about what happens next.

Three take out messages:

  1. Labour is serious about OpenLabourNZ. It may not be headline news. But it’s important to how we engage with citizens. We will take a policy of open and transparent government into the election. And we will deliver on it in government.
  2. Collaboration is important. With many different groups. And across parliament.
  3. There’s responsibility. By the elected representatives. By the public sector (culture change) and by NZ citizens. We can’t make our government more open and transparent without a commitment and a sense of responsibility across the board.

What happens next:

  • If you haven’t already, go and visit the wiki and contribute to it. You need to register here
  • You will have the opportunity to have input for one month. (end of September)
  • The draft policy will then be submitted into the Labour Party policy process. All inputs will be taken seriously.
  • The Labour Party conference in October will hold a workshop on open and transparent government
  • The Labour Party Council will work with all MPs to develop our Manifesto commitments on Open Government policy
  • What we promise in our Manifesto we will deliver

Strike One, Strike Two….

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

The news that secondary teachers are set to strike within the next two weeks sets up an interesting situation. The Ministry of Education do the negotiating on behalf of the government with teachers. My sources tell me that industrial action is looming in the Ministry of Education itself, with pay talks stalled and the mood souring.

Will Anne Tolley soon have on her hands not only the teachers on strike, but her Ministry staff out as well? And will the negotiators for the Ministry of Education be able to come back to the table if there is movement from the teachers, or will they be on strike as well?

Victims of Crime

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

A very interesting perspective piece in the Herald this morning on the recent debate surrounding meeting the real needs of victims of crime.  I am keen for feedback as I have been doing some serious thinking about this since I posted on the Chief Justice’s speech which raised this very issue.

Hide’s appointees to run Auckland Corp

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

Hide and Ford

Rodney Hide’s hand picked appointees to run the new corporatised Auckland have been announced.

Apart from Sir Don McKinnon and Mayor Bob Harvey most Aucklanders won’t know who they are. And that is the point: these people will now wield enormous power over local government in Auckland but they’ve been selected in secret by the Minister, without Aucklanders having a say.

Not only did the Key-Hide Government insist on corporatising the super city against the will of Aucklanders. But Hide couldn’t wait two months and let the newly elected Auckland Council make the appointments – he had to put his own people in there.  Hide promised to consult Auckland Mayors on the appointments and then promptly broke that promise.

The appointment that sticks in the craw is that of Mark Ford. Mr Ford is a former chief executive of Watercare and chair of the Auckland Regional Transport Agency(ARTA). He is Hide’s man put in place to run the Auckland Transition Agency setting up the super city. Along with Hide he is the main architect of the over-centralised and undemocratic corporate jack up that the super city has become. He has been extraordinarily influential, at times advising Cabinet directly.

As well as setting up the super city, and overseeing the appointment process for the directors of these council owned companies, Mark Ford now has arguably the most powerful job in the whole set up. He is going to run the new mega-transport agency which will spend 54% of Aucklanders’ rates.  Transport is the area Aucklanders most want to see fixed. It’s importance cannot be over-emphasised.

Underlying the concerns about the Auckland super city has been a fear that power is being concentrated in the hands of a highly centralised bureaucracy, and corporate boards operating behind closed doors. Mark Ford is the personal embodiment of both.

I think the Auckland Council should hold US Senate-style confirmation hearings on the appointment of these board chairs. Let the newly elected Mayor and Councillors question Hide’s appointees on behalf of the people of Auckland in open session. Ask the questions their electors want asked and then decide whether these appointments should stand.

Silly idea number 11 – what do you think?

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

Take an axe to Kiwisaver and halve it.  Cancel payments into the Cullen fund.  Wait almost two years.  Discover that New Zealanders’ don’t save.  Set up a committee to find out why.

I think this idea is –

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MPs who tweat (sorry tweet)

Posted by on August 29th, 2010

At yesterday’s OpenLabourNZ event in Wellington there was a discussion about the growing importance of social media and how it is transforming engagement in the political process.

The growing use of twitter and facebook by members of parliament as well as public servants was also discussed and the inevitable issues that result when someone makes a controversial comment that can land them in trouble.

The point of the discussion was that social media interaction was becoming more normalised and it was important for employers (and media) not to over react when comments were posted that seemed inflammtory.

Of course there are lines that have to be drawn. A case in point on Red Alert is how the moderation of comments policy has evolved and got stronger over the last year. David Farrar on Kiwiblog also wrote about this issue.

Given the highly charged nature of the political world it’s interesting to see how many MPs are using social media.

Twitter is fast becoming a tool for discussion and commentary during question time in the House and many New Zealand politicans are actively using twitter on a regular basis.

I thought you might be interested in seeing this twitter analysis tool created by Brenda Wallace, a Wellington based software developer and girl geek.

Engage is a tool to measure twitter use by NZ and Australian MPs. It measures the actual interaction by MPs rather than just the number of broadcast messages. And ranks them.

It’s interesting that Rob Muldoon (his ghost) ranks the highest. I am currently second, because of the amount of tweating over the weekend on OpenLabourNZ. I’m sure that will change as Metiria Turei and Jacinda Ardern are hot on my heels.

But while there are quite a few MPs on twitter, not many use it a lot.

I think we will see this change in the coming months.

If you want to get onto twitter go to It’s easy and it’s extraordionary.

Update: It appears that Iain Lees-Galloway and Gareth Hughes are also up there in twitter use. Good on them. 46 NZ MPs are currently on twitter (according to Brenda’s site)

Acknowledgement: I spelt Tweet wrong in the headline. I’m better at doing it than talking about it. Here’s some info about twitter

The journey is just beginning: OpenLabourNZ

Posted by on August 29th, 2010

Open Labour Logo

The public event is over for OpenLabourNZ but the journey has really just begun. Will post my thoughts about the event later. In the meantime, here’s sometime stats on OpenLabourNZ so far.

  • 4,440 results on Google for #openlabournz
  • 68 #openlabournz blog posts on Red Alert
  • 399 comments on Red Alert #openlabournz blog posts
  • 497 tweets on #olnz

It’s not front page news, but it does indicate a seismic shift.

Phil Goff gave a great speech and you can read it here.

Thanks to all those who participated, physically at the event and remotely through the live stream. The twitter feed was amazing.

Thanks to all those who helped put the event together and supported me through my anxious moment. It is new and different and a bit scary for us to be opening ourselves up to the public like this.

So what are the DPS for ?

Posted by on August 29th, 2010

Hearing that Anne Tolley pleaded for the Diplomatic Protection Squad (DPS) to intervene in the Invercargill creative writing exercise is almost impossible to believe.

These are some of New Zealand’s top cops. Their job is to protect the Governor General, the PM, international political visitors and diplomats when there is a security issue.

It is not their job to run down school kids.

But there is more of an issue with the Nats use of DPS.  And I want to make it clear I’m not criticising them.

It is just the vast numbers that the PM uses. Taking four to Hawaii. Having five escourting him around parliament. Using them as a battering ram around airports. And as personal servants holding his towel in the gym.

Helen had one or sometimes two round parliament. And when we were in UK at the same time she had one.

Of course the PM has to have Police support – but I think that he could do with half the number and real criminals could be caught if the rest of these top cops were turned loose on them.

After a time of wonder……

Posted by on August 28th, 2010

I’ve had a bit of a break from Red Alert recently but am keen to get back into it. Have just got home from being at the OpenLabourNZ do in Wellington this afternoon. Big ups to Clare Curran for pushing us along this path. Excellent conversation.

I have always been a fan of greater democracy and openness and the improved ability of more people to participate in decisions which affect them. Sometimes I’ve been made to feel like like Ms Naive when raising these issues in the Labour Party.  Like I don’t really know how politics works…..But I am still wedded to the principles of transparency and openness and accountability.  They are the principles on which we need to base our democracy. People won’t engage if they can’t.

Technology (as well as Clare Curran) is compelling us along this path and I welcome it. I’m pleased David Farrar was there – he has intelligent things to say about processes and access to information. I’m sorry he will be treated by a leper by his erstwhile right wing cobbers but there you go.  His choice. If the Labour Party can’t get with the democratising programme, we deserve to be left behind.

I like that we have an Official Information Act – how else would we have known that the Nats acted against official advice when they chose to extend the fire at will legislation to ALL NZ workplaces? So now we know that they chose that option a) out of  ideology (as good a reason as any); b) to make the imploding ACT party feel better; or c) to please their wealthy mates. We can now choose which of those options we believe and vote accordingly.

Bring on more of it.

The power of social media

Posted by on August 28th, 2010

Open Labour Logo

Urge you to join the twitter discussion and get on the wiki to participate in OpenLabourNZ. Go to if you’re not on twitter and join up. Search for #olnz

The six themes being discussed are on the wiki

OpenLabourNZ It’s happening

Posted by on August 28th, 2010

Open Labour Logo

It’s happening. Phil Goff is talkig now. Here’s how to participate from afar.

For those that can’t be there in person there are lots of ways you can participate online:

Here’s the agenda for the day so you’ll know when to be watching:

Act farce – this week

Posted by on August 28th, 2010

Filed under: humour