Red Alert

Archive for May, 2011

Why does National Party leader want foreign workers rebuilding Christchurch

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

The rebuild of Christchurch provides an opportunity to develop the skills of tens of thousands of young un and under employed young people. It could set them and NZ up for a generation.

Now the Nat leader and his sidekick Joyce have amended immigration regulations to allow easier migration for foreigners.

The earthquakes are a tragedy. Let’s not add to it.

New Zealand Music Month: Last Day

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

When I was living in New York a decade or so ago, it seemed Dave Dobbyn was a bit of a soundtrack for the Kiwis we kicked around with. I am sure its a similar experience for many Kiwis overseas. I was not actually a great Dave fan before I went away (too much exposure to DD Smash I think) but I have come to be a fan. Welcome Home is a great song, but this is the song the evokes the best of Dave for me, and the best of New Zealand, that we are there for each other through thick and thin. (or at least we should be….)

And appropriately from the opening night of NZ Music Month last year at Mighty Mighty in Wellington.

Chippie v grey brigade

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

CHANGES, THEY ARE ACOMIN’ FOR ACC?: ACC Minister Nick Smith is announcing changes to ACC on Wednesday. What will the headline be? Will the changes mean privatisation? Or partial privatisation? Will the changes be the end of ACC as we know it? Or will the changes ensure ACC is there for future users?

FOR SALE?: Asset Sales are a big election topic. National is running on the idea that a partial state-asset sale will give businesses the capital needed to expand their business and keeping them off government funds. While Labour is running on the promise there will be no sale. Will asset sales have a large impact on the election? Should asset sales go ahead? Is 51% ownership enough? Or will a mixed-ownership model give our economy the injection boost we need?

LIVE pub politics from the Backbencher Pub: Wednesday, 1st of June. The panel : Green Party MP David Clendon, Labour MP Chris Hipkins, National MP Katrina Shanks, and United Future Leader Peter Dunne.

iPredict this week

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

Key Points:

* Growth expectations continue to creep upwards, but unemployment forecast to remain above 6.3% right through to March 2012

* Interest rates to remain low despite inflation not going below 3% until 2012

* Labour continues gains, and National edging back up

* Act’s forecast party vote drops back to 4.7% but Banks secure in Epsom

* NZ First on 4.9%

* John Key forecast to govern regardless of whether NZ First reaches 5%


Filed under: ipredict

Positive workplace relations – going, going, gone.

Posted by on May 30th, 2011

The more I hear from this government, the more I believe that they think unions and workers have little role in the success of a business, and what’s good for business is good for everyone, regardless of how people are treated.  Paula Bennett said a couple of weeks ago that “any job is a good job“. She means that workers should just be grateful for the generosity of employers who provide work for them, even where it’s a job on minimum wage (or less), has no job security and in some cases avoids workers’ rights by employing them under disguised arrangements such as contracting.

Some of the cuts in the Department of Labour budget are instructive. They may not have made headlines, but they show this government’s priorities.

One major change is the ditching of the Partnership Resource Centre, which has been run out of the Department of Labour in collaboration with independent associates, who have extensive knowledge in industrial relations and organisational development.

The Department of Labour’s Partnership Resource Centre website describes partnership as  :

…….a modern approach to managing employment and industrial relations. It’s about creating new employment relationships based on co-operation and mutual gain. Across the world, and in New Zealand, many organisations have seen the benefits of partnership. That’s why we’ve been working to become a centre for partnership excellence. We’ve developed a collection of useful resources for people exploring partnership practices, and we conduct research and organise events to educate New Zealand organisations and unions about partnership.

Some of the successful NZ projects include those in hotels, Aged Care and even in Kiwirail, and have reported improved productivity, a reduction in serious workplace disputes and improved trust, less contentious collective bargaining and even reduced legal bills. It goes further than that.  Healthy and safe workplaces also require partnership – where workers are trained and confident in identifying and reporting potential hazards to prevent workplace injuries.  Good for the workers, the workplace and the country’s medical costs.

There are two models of employment relationships. One is confrontational, where workers are expected to be subservient and do as they are told.  In my experience, this leads to resentment, protracted disputes and workers standing on the outside picketing the premises.  Some employers get away with it, because their workers aren’t unionised and they are afraid of losing their jobs. It means high turnover, resentful staff who don’t extend themselves beyond the daily grind and if the workers get a chance, individual litigation through personal grievances.

The other is accepting that workers have a role to play in the business, have skills and ideas that can be harnessed to build productivity, innovation and efficiency.  That means accepting that the workers must have a say and role in what happens at work, and be treated and remunerated fairly for their contribution.

I’ve seen both models at work.  Partnership doesn’t mean either side subsume their views or ideas, and there won’t be disagreements from time to time.  It does mean accepting that both sides have their own independent voice.

There are other cuts in the budget to employment relations education funding which enables unions and employers to provide education on productive employment relationships and rights at work.  That’s been significantly cut for the second year in a row – a small amount now reduced to almost nothing.

Productivity increases require the involvement of workers.  If the government doesn’t get that, then we are doomed to be a long hours, low wage, low skill economy for the foreseeable.

Mind you, Bill English thinks our low wages are a competitive advantage.  These cuts just confirm his views.

Key English sacrifice jobs for votes

Posted by on May 30th, 2011

Bernard Hickey has a talent for expressing fairly complex economic issues simply. He did it again yesterday showing how the productive sector is being sacrificed by the current government’s exchange rate approach.

Saves me doing a more clumsy post on the same topic.

He highlights Bill English’s role in courting Chinese individuals and groups who are interested in buying New Zealand assets.

It is instructive that the Dompost has highlighted the need for international energy privatisation experts. They know that these assets have to go offshore to get anything like their true value. Even with the Key $1000/week for me tax cuts there just aren’t enough rich Kiwis to buy and hold the shares.

A project manager and adviser are being sought for the sell-down, and the Government has flagged two more requests will come next month to establish an expert advisory panel and consultants to undertake scoping studies on the companies.

“We would have financial analysts as good as any in the world but maybe not [with an] international energy capital markets perspective,” said Paul Hendry, director of advisory firm McKinlay Hendry.

“Without question, the Treasury would be advising the Government that’s the only way to go – international expertise, the best advice possible in the world.”

Coddington has a point

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

Deborah Coddington is an ex Act MP. I gave her a pretty hard time during her one term but she is, unlike many MPs, pleasant and we have enjoyed several very interesting conversations over the years.

She is a very black and white person. Doesn’t do subtle well. She has some very strong views on child abuse. Sometimes overstated, but as is often the case, there is a kernel of truth that needs real consideration.

Her column this week says :-

Well, in the worst-case scenarios, these babies should be taken away from their cruel families. As Harvey said, some newborns just shouldn’t be allowed to go home.

I’ve dealt with two sad cases in recent years where very young children have been removed not only from their mothers but from the wider family. These decisions were resented by the families but appeared to be properly made in the interests of the children.

There have also been several cases go through my office where grandparents and other close family members have had real trouble being in the middle of CYFs v mothers battles.

Of course it is best if family members look after babies if mothers can’t cope or protect them. But that is not always the case.

Tweet of the Week

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

Bit of a slow tweet week what with it being recess. Come on colleagues – we need to lift our game next week!

Tweet of the week: I’m sure many people would be happy to pitch in.

Tweet - Mt Kaukau

Press Gallery tweet of the week: Definitely Idol.

Tweet Corin

And on the biggest event of the week on Twitter – don’t actually know what he’s saying but if I was going to express my feelings about the American Idol final in another language it would be something like this tweet – starting with “nonononono”, involving dramatic hand gestures and excessive almost violent punctuation (apologies to Carmel who has an aversion to exclamation marks.)

Screen shot 2011-05-29 at 4.27.09 PM

And just to show that MPs from across the political spectrum can put aside our differences and come together on the important issues:

Tweet Roy cheese rolls

Smith to announce ACC privatisation

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

On Wednesday this week, Nick Smith is going to announce what amounts to the effective privatisation of a large part of ACC. You won’t hear the word privatisation uttered from his lips, he’ll use all sorts of other words like ‘competition’ and ‘market discipline’, but the effect will be the same. Accident cover for those injured at work will now be provided by the private, for-profit insurance industry. That’s privatisation.

What concerns me about this most is that the National government haven’t even attempted to produce a robust case to show that it’s a good idea. This is a purely ideological decision, based on National’s blinkered belief that the market will always deliver the most efficient outcome. But consider these facts:

  • An independent review by Pricewaterhouse (Australia) found that our ACC scheme has the lowest administration costs of any comparable scheme anywhere in the world.
  • Information provided to the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee showed that the cost per-worker of work-related accident cover in New Zealand is, on average, about half what it costs in Australia (is this what National meant by catching the Aussies?).
  • Under the current system, if someone is injured at work and has to stay home, the first week of income compensation has to be provided by the employer. Following the Christchurch earthquake, the government waived that requirement and ACC covered the lot. They couldn’t have done that if work-related injury cover had been provided by private insurers.
  • If a private insurer offering ACC cover collapses, it’s the taxpayer who will have to pick up the tab for any outstanding claims liabilities. So the private insurance companies have an effective fail-safe guarantee. We’ve already seen one ‘accredited employer’ collapse resulting in ACC having to pick up the bill, that will only get worse under Nick Smith’s privatisation plan.
  • When HIH, a private Australian accident insurance company collapsed in the early 2000s, the Aussie govt had to pick up a $500 million tab. HIH had been offering accident cover under National’s previous attempt to privatise ACC, which was reversed by the incoming Labour government following the 1999 general election.

There are only two ways that private insurance companies will be able to turn a profit from offering work-related accident cover in New Zealand. Either they will have to reduce entitlements, or they will have to increase the cost of that cover. In other words, we’ll all end up paying more to get less.

Since National became the government, Nick Smith has gone to some lengths to manufacture a crisis in ACC in order to justify his privatisation plans. As I outline a last week, ACC is in pretty good shape and Smith’s scaremongering is pretty transparent. His moves to massively hike up levies in 2009 were designed to erode public support. If ever we needed proof of how cynical a move that was, we got it a few weeks ago when he started talking about levy cuts just six months out from a general election.

ACC isn’t perfect, but the comprehensive, no-fault, 24/7, universal cover it currently offers is the right approach for us to take. We should be focused on how we can improve what we have now, not how we can create more profit-making opportunities for National’s mates in the private insurance industry.

A treasure of an interview

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

Outgoing Treasury secretary John Whitehead gave an extraordinary and revealing interview on Q + A this morning.

First, challenged by Guyon Espiner on the 170,000 jobs/4 percent p.a growth forecasts, he claimed Treasury had a second to none record for such predictions. The Parliamentary Library confirmed for me this week that Treasury has got its growth forecasts wrong for 28 of the last 30 quarters. (Sure some differences are minor but some are .5% or even 1%+ out)

 Secondly, he confirmed that Treasury had supported Michael Cullen in building surpluses rather than giving tax cuts and that these stood us in good stead for the current downturn. (So much for National’s continuing rhetoric about Labour’s economic mismanagement.)

 Then he talked about Treasury’s concerns about growing inequality in New Zealand (we are now lag at 26th in the OECD on this measure). What has this Government done to address inequality – tax cuts skewed to those on high incomes? Increased GST? Assets sales?

 And Dr Whitehead talked about how the way to address inequality is lifting skills. We’ve just had a budget that cuts such funding by $90m.

 Finally, he defended state asset sales as a way to boost wealth. For whom?

Filed under: treasury

Lusk, Farrar, Slater, Williams to run anti MMP campaign

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

A few weeks ago I ran a series of posts which outlined the role the shadowy Simon Lusk in National Party selections, the Brash Act leadership coup and indicated that he was chasing the lucrative anti MMP campaign.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as many National MPs thanking me – for letting them know how someone they trusted was in fact outsourced by Steven Joyce to do work in the coup to put Brash into Act. Many were not aware that he had a role in several selection campaigns some of which was sub contracted to Whaleoil.Many however suspected what polls now show, that Brash has significantly higher negatives than Hide and that women who supported Act would abandon the party. Interesting how Joyce has moved – with this, the Mediaworks scandal and the mess he has made by indemnifying Telecom for UFB losses – from hero to close to zero.

The Sunday Star Times today has part of the story:-

Those behind a campaign to shoot down MMP have killed before.

The right is getting ready to fire both barrels at MMP. A group of activists with links to National and Act are busy preparing a campaign against the electoral system. They are hardened politicos and some happen to share an interest in hunting, shooting and fishing. But it’s not clear if they’ll kill off MMP.

Penguin campaign cover

Posted by on May 28th, 2011


Key advising Cameron ?

Posted by on May 28th, 2011

Seems like Tories spend on themselves in the UK the same way as Key and team do here. Despite savage (30%) cuts in public services they still spend a fortune doing up their digs. And they try and hide it too.

The Guardian reports:-

David Cameron spent £680,000 of taxpayers’ cash on Downing Street

Quinn on rape – he now says he didn’t hear the question – I say he did – twice

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

Treasury wants us to be happy too

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

In his last public speech before he steps down, Treasury Secretary John Whitehead announced a new direction for Treasury to accompany a report released on Wednesday entitled “Working Towards Higher Living Standards for New Zealanders”.

In the report, Treasury published the results of 18 months of research on a living standards framework with standards beyond economic growth – such as contentedness, the value of unpaid work and leisure time. Apparently, this is in response to criticism that Treasury does’t pay enough attention to whether higher incomes are the ultimate objective or a way of increasing happiness.

The happiness indicator idea was begun in Bhutan, but has been taken up by other countries, such as the UK and France. Australia has also developed a well-being framework. Grant Robertson and I have blogged on this earlier.

Now our Treasury wants in :

“Treasury’s understanding of the term living standards goes beyond the narrow material definition – often proxied by GDP – to incorporate a broad range of material and non-material factors such as trust, education, health and environmental quality.  In taking a broad approach to understanding living standards, Treasury is in line with other economic institutions internationally.

The Framework recognises the following five elements:

  1. there is a broad range of material and non-material determinants of living standards (beyond income and GDP);
  2. freedoms, rights and capabilities are important for living standards;
  3. the distribution of living standards across different groups in society is an ethical concern for the public, and a political one for governments.
  4. the sustainability of living standards over time is central to ensuring that improvements in living standards are permanent, with dynamic analysis of policy needed to weigh up short and long-term costs and benefits;
  5. measuring living standards directly using self-assessed subjective measures of wellbeing provides a useful cross-check of what is important to individuals.

It’s an interesting report and well worth a read. I hope it demonstrates a shift in thinking away from the relentless pursuit of growth for the benefit of a few and that things like closing the inequality gaps actually is one of the best ways of ensuring the happiness (and security) of a nation.

I will watch carefully to see if the new framework applies to the advice from Treasury for the government’s planned asset sales, for example, where the government is already seeking advisers to work on the sell down, despite them saying the electorate will get to vote on it.

I will watch with interest to see whether the NACTs take any notice and how this framework is applied in a whole raft of Treasury advice.

A whale of a challenge

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

Whaleoil has been less than complimentary on my rate of recovery.

In fact he now refers to me as a cripple.

Well let’s get the challenge out there.

Trevor v blubber boy 50 – 60k bike race, no motorbikes, on a course to be set by the peoples champion Gordon MacCauley in Auckland between 15 August and 15 September.

We will see whether the actions match the words – or in his case his fingers.

I bet he is too chicken, and if he accepted he wouldn’t have a chance.

Tags: ,
Filed under: sport

Crony Watch #2

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

A while back I asked why the NBR doesn’t run it’s ‘Crony Watch’ column anymore. When Labour was in government they were very quick to critiscise when anyone who had any connection to the Labour Party was appointed to any sort of board or committee. Strangely they haven’t been as vocal and vigilant since National came to power, but there are certainly plenty of examples they could be highlighting. For example:

  • John Key’s electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, has been given a role on a working group selecting proposals for taxpayer-funded political documentaries about health, education, welfare and law and order. He is also the deputy chair of NZ on Air, who get to choose which Kiwi TV shows get taxpayer subsidies.
  • Richard Griffin, former press secretary to the last National government (and often confused for the former PM) has been appointed Chair of the Board of Radio New Zealand.
  • Former National MP and Cabinet Minister Roger Sowry appointed to the Board of the Electricity Authority and to Chair the Councils of two polytechnics.
  • Former National MP and Leader Don Brash appointed to Chair the government’s 2025 taskforce.
  • Unsuccessful National Party candidate, and next on their list, Conway Powell, appointed to the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
  • Alastair Scott, who unsuccessfully tried to roll John Hayes as National candidate in the Wairarapa, was rewarded with a seat on the Crown Health Funding Agency.
  • National’s candidate in Mt Albert, Ravi Musuku, was rewarded with a slot on the Human Rights Review Tribunal after being rolled in favour of Melissa Lee for the by-election.
  • Former National MP Ian McLean appointed to the Lakes District Health Board.
  • Another former National MP Margaret Moir appointed to the Podiatrists’ Board.
  • Yet another former National MP, Clem Simich, appointed to the Residence Review Board.
  • One of the authors of Don Brash’s Orewa speech, Michael Bassett, appointed to the Board of Te Papa.

I don’t think someone should be disqualified from appointment to a role just because they have been, or are, involved with a political party. But those appointments will always be, and should be, subject to greater scrutiny. That scrutiny should be no less just because it is a National government rather than a Labour one.

New Zealand Music Month #8 – For Trevor

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

As John Rowles heads out on his farewell tour, it seems the Mum from Second Hand Wedding is not the only John devotee out there. Our very own Trevor Mallard is a fan. So for you Trevor, here he is in his hey-day. (Actually he looks pretty cool in this vid.)

Auckland Unleashed – still time to have your say

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

The new Auckland Council is taking public submissions on the first Auckland Plan – a 30-year blueprint for the new super city.  You have until May 31 to have your say.

A lot is riding on the Auckland Plan aka the spatial plan.  It is the mother of all plans, and aims to integrate land uses like transport and other infrastructure, as well as setting out the key strategies for the new Council. It is also the main way that Council and central government are supposed to line up their priorities.

If you want to have a say on the future of Auckland this is a great time to do it.

It is especially important if you care about Mayor Len Brown’s vision for a liveable city and a world class transport system. At a time when John Key and Steven Joyce are doing their best to sink the vital central city rail link, this is a good opportunity to weigh in behind Len’s election-winning vision for the city.

But maybe you have strong views on where development should take place and where not, what the Council should spend our rates on, and what the priorities should be?

The Council has produced a great discussion document called Auckland Unleashed.  You can email in comments, or take part in facebook discussions.

I have my own local issue I am submitting on. Since moving to Te Atatu and campaigning here I’ve realised how badly served this part of Auckland is by public transport. The transport planners seem to think the West’s problems were solved by electrifying and double-tracking the rail. However the rail line is too far away for people in Massey and Te Atatu who are plagued by a motorway that is  jammed up in rush hour and clogs the main feeder routes like Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd.

Adding the odd lane to the NW motorway, or widening the arterial routes is not going to solve the problem. We need a public transport solution that allows people to leave their cars at home. Happily the North Shore Busway offers a very successful model. It currently takes two whole lanes of traffic off the harbour bridge in rush hour and patronage is still climbing. 

A dedicated NW Busway is the logical solution, especially given the huge population growth planned for the North West in coming years.

So if you are a Westie who is sick of the traffic, check out out our campaign You’d Be There By Now on facebook, and go here to make a submission to the Auckland Council.

Whatever your desire is for Auckland, go forth and submit!

National backs their mates, again…

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

Last year the National government was roundly criticized for setting aside $4.8 million in the Budget to be allocated to the Pacific Development Agency (PEDA) without a competitive tender process.  Keep in mind that when first quizzed about it Bill English’s first reaction, as it so often is, was to deny the whole thing. It took months of investigative work by the NZ Herald to establish that in fact not only did English know all about it, it was inserted into the Budget at his behest and officials didn’t know what to make of it.

The NZ Herald also suggested at the time the funding was part of an English-inspired effort to secure greater support for National amongst pacific voters. In the end they were forced to back down and a competitive tender process resulted in PEDA missing out completely.

Did they learn their lesson? It seems not. This year’s Budget allocated $2.4 million to Parents Inc, once again without a competitive tender process. The chief executive of Parents Inc, Bruce Pilbrow, was the Deputy Commissioner of the Families Commission (appointed by Paula Bennett) until he resigned just two days before the Budget. Why wasn’t the contract put out for tender? When did Pilbrow find out Parents Inc was getting the funding?

At the very least it’s a bad look for the government to set funds aside for specific organisations without going through robust processes to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money. It leaves them open to charges of cronyism and looking after their mates, but then again, there are plenty of other examples of where the National Party are doing just that!