Red Alert

For the benefit of Mr Trotter

Posted by on July 13th, 2012

For almost 20 years Chris Trotter has been tying to put me in an ideological box. It started at Otago University when he christened me a “reluctant radical” because as OUSA President I didn’t, according to Chris, seize what he considered was the moment for students in Dunedin to rise up against the police in the wake of a stoush following a protest against massive fee increases. I didn’t see the moment the same way and I preferred to focus on the issue of the need for more equitable access to education. I could debate with Chris the level of radicalism I did bring to student politics (leading dozens of street protests, occupying all bar one of the university registry buildings, aligning with other protest groups etc) but that’s in the past.

Fast forward nearly twenty years, and Chris is at it again in a column published today. Fair enough, he is a commentator. But his out of context characterization of my recent environment speech needs a response.

He chooses to lift out a phrase from the speech about my view that we need to avoid “uncompromising dogma” in some aspects of environmental policies to somehow be my political catch-cry and extrapolates this in a several paragraph bound to a belief that “business as usual” is the way forward in my political universe. I reject that.

In the speech the statement about ‘uncompromising dogma’ relates to the importance of using evidence and science to back up our environmental policies. I use a particular example of the issue for some green businesses that there is some inside the lab genetic modification that is being unnecessarily limited by our current laws. (Current laws I played a part in creating I might add). Sticking to these rules without evidence and standing in the way of safe science that will promote green growth is to me, uncompromising dogma.

Chris then makes a quantum leap that would make Roger Douglas proud, and says this serves as a ‘brutal warning’ to the Greens about what is required if they want a “spot at the Cabinet table”. What absolute nonsense. What it is, is my opinion. It might challenge some people in the Greens, but I am not in the business of issuing warnings or threats to my friends in the Greens.

Leaping onward, and having blithely ignored the several paragraphs in the speech devoted to National’s appalling stewardship of our environment, Chris comes to the view that I accept a “business as usual” approach to the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact a whole section of the speech is devoted to why the way we have treated the planet for so many generations can not go on, and the importance of a global response. The whole point of the event that David Cunliffe and I organised was to discuss the importance of taking a different approach that draws together the environment and economic development.

I have had a fair bit of feedback about the speech, and I welcome more. A few negative or questioning comments, but far and away many more people appreciating that Labour is taking environmental issues seriously, agreement that as a country and world we do need to do things differently, and excitement that we are going to use evidence and science and that we will make the economy and environment work together. That’s where I am focused, whatever box Chris wants to try to put me in.


31 Responses to “For the benefit of Mr Trotter”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz says:

    For Chris Trotter it truly is ‘Publish or Perish’ and the cash strapped Tory press needs a certain type of admiration for Key/ suspicion of Labour columnist to keep its upper- middle class readers happy.

    He views national level politics like a ditch digger would. Anybody can do it- you just start digging.

    The Ditch Baron from Herbert wont be content until everything is drained away.

  2. Pete says:

    Labour’s mantra is reform from within capitalism. The only change the electorate will tolerate is moderate change. That was the lesson of Labour’s defeat in 1990. It’s also the only way a government can function in an MMP environment, which has been built to temper the excesses of radical change.

    Labour’s problem today is that the moderate changes it has outlined: Keynesian counter-cyclical spending, a capital gains tax, pre-funding superannuation and the retention of state assets does little to float anyone’s boat, aside from economists and poli-sci geeks. So on the one hand people like Chris are calling for bold decalarations and on the other we have MMP, which is there to be more representative and slow things down. Politics is all about compromise. I wouldn’t want to be a politician, it must be like walking a tightrope.

  3. Thanks for this response, Grant.

    The quote from you about “uncompromising dogma” around which my column is assembled was delivered with particular care precisely because it carried an important sub-text (what some call a “dog whistle”) to its largely Labour audience.

    You quite rightly alluded to the battle over GE that divided Labour and the Greens in 2002, signalling with your comment that the strong resistance to Green pressures displayed back then would not be lessened in any future coalition.

    I was an eye-witness to the full venom of Labour’s response in 2002 and know from personal experience the lengths to which some Labour people will go to silence and/or discredit their opponents.

    You will need to give me considerably more evidence than the above that Labour has changed both its policies and its political praxis on matters ecological before I’m convinced that you and your party have become something more than (at best) “reluctant radicals”.

    And as for 1993, my view has not changed. Had I been President of OUSA and witnessed the Police brutality unleashed on dozens of non-violent student protesters less than 24 hours before, I would have led a Union Hall full of angry students to the Registry in protest, not allowed the moment to pass by introducing that afternoon’s guest speaker, Winston Peters.

    That was your call, not mine, Grant. I just gave it a name.

  4. Dorothy says:

    not sure if it’s sad or funny that Trotter is still bitter about a moment in student politics twenty years ago. Though if I were feeling mean, I’d be tempted to ask, if he felt the moment was right for more radical action, why didn’t he call for it from the floor and see what reaction he got?
    Otherwise I’m with Ghost as to Mr Trotter’s current role.

  5. jennifer says:

    Poor old Chris. I genuinely feel sorry for him. Maybe the last cold war warrior. Sitting comfortably, but always with a view on what other should do, or think, or say, and always with a dash of intellectual superiority, and hint of ideological snobbery. I wonder why no-one has taken his advice over the years? There’s been plenty of it.

  6. Concerned about the rhetoric says:

    Before getting bogged down in a who-said-what 20 years ago battle… back to the issue at hand.

    Is Labour ready to start ‘walking the environmental walk’ and shed some of it’s dogma on jobs/mining etc (i see Shane Jones doesn’t appear to be) – and making calls based on the evidence, take a stand on issues like the proposed Denniston mine which would see an overseas company destroy a unique landscape (plenty of evidence there) for little benefit to NZers (there are already problems on the Coast with fly-in-fly-out mine workers from Nelson, CHCH, Welli and elsewhere ramping up the cost of living, and not living in the area, not contributing to the ‘health’ of the community through having kids in the schools etc).

    The last time I queried the Labour leader on an actual evidence-based position on this stuff, his reply was we need the mining, just with strong envtal controls. Actually, I’d argue we need to choose a different, more forward-thinking basis for our economy than simply cows and mining which is the current situation. Either way, Labour must start to take a stand on issues and stick to their guns, or the public will simply be lost, left wondering what they stand for and not giving people something to vote for.

  7. changepls says:

    Grant go join the National Party. Nacts plot against democracy all the time. You’ll fit in great.

    What was your job in New York again? Must be sec general by this telling.

  8. Grant Robertson says:

    @Chris. Thank goodness I have you to tell me what I am thinking and unpicking the hidden meaning of my words and tone. I won’t bore the punters with picking over 93, but as I say we have very different perspectives on those events.

    @CABTR. I agree completely about the importance of an economy that is more than simply cows and mining, and that point has been made in speeches by David Shearer, David Cunliffe and me. That is the vision that Labour is working towards.

  9. Guy says:

    My god you guys are just unelectable ! Policy – Diet socialism lite – Strategy – whatever the weakest middle road is – result – Me voting National again ! Real people respond to conviction, charisma and belief, the Labour front bench has none of the above. This is not a game, drop the frat party Otago sociology bullshit and put some guts into your politics.

  10. Cactus Kate says:

    That you have gone to such a length to respond to Chris shows all.

    Trotter is a commentator and a valuable critic. Grant you are lucky he isn’t an MP. In ACT we had years of Sir Roger berating our MPs.

    See how that turned out.

  11. al1ens says:

    “In ACT we had years of Sir Roger berating our MPs.

    See how that turned out.”

    All buried face down at a crossroads with stakes through the hearts if were lucky ;)

  12. Arthur says:

    The Greening of environmental issues has been a complete catastrophe for any kind of environmental integration to a modern society, & that’s about the best that can be said, won’t even go into Green social eugenics.

    Nuclear Safety is the number one issue for the world environment – get it??????

    Despite an UN-precendented ongoing disaster happening currently, & it is still being ignored, when that should be seen as a warning sign with all the uncertainty relating to geological events with nuclear reactors around the globe.

    & it is thanks to Bruce Beetham and Social Credit that NZ is nuclear free, the historical record say so, about the last time there was much leadership in the direction of NZ’s society via politics :)

  13. Cactus Kate says:

    Aliens
    You getting it. And in the.chook :)

  14. thesorrow&thepity says:

    Ah Labour the party of vendettas! At least Trotter is an honest person, I wonder if Labour will ever have the honesty to admit that their present fill in leader is on borrowed time. In the end all that the 1999-2008 Clark government will be remembered for will be a period of squandered opportunities & a mountain of debt that will bury an entire generation when the commodity markets finally slump. Oh yes & the sleaze & corruption (can’t forget that!), thank you Mr Robertson!

  15. SPC says:

    Gross sovereign issued debt in

    1999 was $37.3B (35.1% GDP) and in 2008 was $37.74B (20.6% GDP).
    2008 was $37.74B and in 2011 was $77.29B (38.6% GDP).

    Core Crown net debt in

    1999 was $25.92B (24.4% GDP) and in 2008 was $10.25B (5.6%)
    2008 was $10.25B and in 2011 was $40.12B (20%)

    As for total Crown net worth

    it was $10.79B (10.2% GDP) in 1999 and in 2008 was $105.51B (57.6%).
    it was $105.51B in 2008 and in 2011 was $80.88B (40.2%).

  16. thesorrow&thepity says:

    @SPC http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/statistics/az/2989605.html
    If you’re going to use numbers reference them or else it’s just your word that you haven’t pulled them out of a hat. As you can see this example uses data from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (perhaps you’ve heard of them) which you can find on the website
    NEW ZEALANDS OVERSEAS DEBT (Official Govt debt as % of GDP)
    March 2000 98.1 (the lowest quarter it ever was at under Labour)
    June 2000 108.0 (never to fall below 100% of GDP ever again, certainly not under the remaining 8 years of Labour Govt)
    March 2006 116.4 (has been in the 110s’ of % of GDP under Labour but at this point will never be below 110% again ever)
    Sept 2007 Official Govt debt as a % of GDP at 122.7% (never to fall below 120% again… ever)
    LABOUR MARKETS & BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
    For the entire 9 years of the Labour Govt the Current Account Balance as a % of GDP was NEVER in a surplus at anytime, it’s lowest recorded Acoounts Deficit level was
    Sept 2001 at -2.2% of GDP lowest amount achieved under Labour (the – is used to signify a deficit)
    Sept 2005 at -7.4% of GDP
    March 2006 Labour never to be below 8% quarterly deficits for the rest of it’s administration
    with -8.7% of GDP account deficit (well done!)
    The December 2008 quarter (containing the final spending spree of the now outgoing Labour Govt) -8.9% of GDP account deficit
    Your source material as an economic indicator leaves somewhat a lot to be desired, Total Crown Net Worth although ‘sounds’ a good thing (as you thought it did) actually is derived from increasing liabilities, which in turn the govt has to borrow more to finance (hence Labours March 2006-2008 -8% of GDP accounts deficit reign of terror)

  17. thesorrow&thepity says:

    It seems on red alert swearing is fine but citing figures in black & white from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand of the 5th Labour govts economic track record will get your comments pulled!
    @SPC Increased Total Crown Net Worth means the Crown has also increased it’s liabilities & hence also it’s borrowing. If your going to use facts & figures cite your source (so we all know that you’re not talking b.s)
    All my numbers below (if the moderator dares allow them) come from this source
    all figures are quarterly with December quarter figures including the outgoing govt in election years
    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/statistics/az/2989605.html
    NEW ZEALAND’S OVERSEAS DEBT (OFFICIAL GOVT DEBT AS % OF GDP)
    lowest point under 5th Labour govt March 2000 98.1
    March 2006 116.4% of GDP, Sept 2007 122.7% (at these dates govt debt never goes below the 110% & 120% marks respectively)
    Dec 2008 136.7% of GDP (A goodbye present from an outgoing govt)

    LABOUR MARKET & BALANCE OF PAYMENTS (CURRENT ACCOUNT BALANCE AS % of GDP)
    never under the 5th Labour govts 9 yrs is an account surplus achieved
    lowest deficit under Labour -2.2% of GDP in Sept 2001
    June 2004 -4.4% of GDP, the last time the 5th Labour govt manages an account deficit below –5%, June 2005 at -6.9%, (last time it’s below -7% of GDP under Labour)
    from March 2006 to Dec 2008 the account deficit never falls below -8% of GDP

  18. al1ens says:

    “It seems on red alert swearing is fine but citing figures in black & white from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand of the 5th Labour govts economic track record will get your comments pulled!”

    260% off :lol:

  19. SPC says:

    What figures? You simply made unsubstantiated claims in your 9.26pm post.

    Mine came form the excel files here

    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/data

    FYI – Crown net worth is assets less liabilities (debt). An increase means its assets have grown faster than debt.

    The official overseas debt figure is NOT the figure for government debt, it includes the debt of farmers and homeowners, and businesses. You are either ignorant of that or are deliberately seeking to mislead those who are.

    You raise the issue of our current account/balance of payments deficit – to put that in context you would have to identify when we last had a surplus.

    I will simply note that this was a long time ago.

    The following link is to a speech by Don Brash on the topic back in 1998, because our then deficit was as high as it was in 1984 (there was no surplus between the two periods or since).

    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/speeches/0056822.html

    The only realistic way to reduce such a deficit is to hold own home and farm values (as the GDP grows over time) and increase the proportion of domestic saving to offshore finance for buying them. To an extent this is now happening but an emerging housing shortage in Auckland and foreign interest in buying up farmland puts this at risk.

  20. SPC says:

    What figures, you gave none in your 9.26pm post.

    Mine came from the excel files here

    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/data

    For your information – Crown net worth is assets less liabilities (debt). An increase means its assets have grown faster than debt.

    The official overseas debt figure is NOT the figure for government debt, it includes the debt of farmers and homeowners, and businesses. You are either ignorant of that or are deliberately seeking to mislead those who are.

    You raise the issue of our current account/balance of payments deficit – to put that in context you would have to identify when we last had a surplus.

    I will simply note that this was a long time ago.

    The following link is to a speech by Don Brash on the topic back in 1998, because our then deficit was as high as it was in 1984 (there was no surplus between the two periods or since).

    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/speeches/0056822.html

    The only realistic way to reduce such a deficit is to hold own home and farm values (as the GDP grows over time) and increase the proportion of domestic saving to offshore finance for buying them. To an extent this is now happening but an emerging housing shortage in Auckland and foreign interest in buying up farmland puts this at risk.

  21. SPC says:

    Just checking whether it was what was said, or simply that I have been placed in moderation. Yeah I know we are not allowed to ask why – but we do wonder. {It’s the excessive use of links that causes it. This exchange has of course drifted off topic, but as its started I will let it go, Grant}

  22. SPC says:

    What figures? You simply made unsubstantiated claims in your 9.26pm post.

    Mine came form the excel files here

    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/data

    FYI – Crown net worth is assets less liabilities (debt). An increase means its assets have grown faster than debt.

    The official overseas debt figure is NOT the figure for government debt, it includes the debt of farmers and homeowners, and businesses. You are either ignorant of that or are deliberately seeking to mislead those who are.

  23. SPC says:

    You raise the issue of our current account/balance of payments deficit – to put that in context you would have to identify when we last had a surplus.

    I will simply note that this was a long time ago.

    The following link is to a speech by Don Brash on the topic back in 1998, because our then deficit was as high as it was in 1984 (there was no surplus between the two periods or since).

    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/speeches/0056822.html

    The only realistic way to reduce such a deficit is to hold own home and farm values (as the GDP grows over time) and increase the proportion of domestic saving to offshore finance for buying them. To an extent this is now happening but an emerging housing shortage in Auckland and foreign interest in buying up farmland puts this at risk.

  24. Arthur says:

    The reason that Douglas proposed a price rebate and dividend is based upon his A+B theorem, and the deduction that a form of purchasing power must replace the wage as capital replaces labour in production.

    Keynes reached the same conclusion as Douglas in his book “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” when he stated:
    “Thus the problem of providing that new capital-investment shall always outrun capital-disinvestment sufficiently to fill the gap between net income and consumption, presents a problem which is increasingly difficult as capital increases. New capital-investment can only take place in excess of current capital-disinvestment if future expenditure on consumption is expected to increase. Each time we secure to-day’s equilibrium by increased investment we are aggravating the difficulty of securing equilibrium to-morrow.”

    The great & peerless NZ parliamentarian Social Credit progressive Bruce Beetham talking about his experiences in parliament before NZ went belly up:

    “no one understands what i’m talking about…”

  25. thesorrow&thepity says:

    @SPC

    FYI actually the figure I was quoting for New Zealand Oversea debt WAS the official govt debt, NOT corporate/private debt, so it’s you who’s doing the misleading especially as in my original caption I had Govt debt in big bold print.
    As for Crown Net Worth, they’re Treasury revenue estimates/predictions, even if an asset on the govt books is generating revenue which is what this figure you’re using shows, it still doesn’t take into account borrowing & debts that the asset has acquired that need to be paid off but which however are taken into account on the 2 sources I’ve quoted previously.

    I’ll read your link to dr Brash’s speech in a bit. The only govt debt figures available for 1998 are 96.5% of GDP in March on the Reserve Bank site.
    As for your presumption that foreign investment in farm land somehow threatens a reduction of our deficit I’m not sure where you’ve got that idea from. Houses are stagnant assets (people would be better off renting & investing their money in the economy or overseas) If foreign capital coming in were to increase that would actually lessen our need to borrow

  26. SPC says:

    Grant, I subsequently worked that out and posted them separately (you could delete some of the repeat posting).

  27. Galeandra says:

    Putting speeches by Roberston and Shearer together as Trotter has done in his last two posts highlights the lack of specificity to Labour’s version the cake’s ingredients while leaving no doubt in my mind about the intended flavour.
    Robertson’s response allays my concern a bit, provided I can be comfortable with ‘safe’gm,of course, and can’t imagine any other issues where green ‘dogma’ would get in the road of sensible future planning….you know, things like resistance to growth per se,or around singularities like fracking or limp ETS implementation.
    Trotter’s commentary challenges the leadership to front up with specifics, and was for that reason is appreciated. Neo-liberal bullshit has no place in the spectrum of my hopes for a NZ future. I still see no reason to trust Labour despite the shrill put-downs of ninnies like Jennifer and Dorothy.

  28. SPC says:

    Impossible, the overseas debt figure is not the government debt figure (some of government debt is domestic).

    The Brash speech was about the current account deficit and the cause – high overseas debt, not government debt. The overseas debt is mostly from borrowing for home mortgages, farm mortgages and business investment, not government debt.

    As for Crown net worth.

    Net worth equals assets less liabilities (also referred to as the Crown balance). The change in net worth in any given forecast year is largely driven by the operating balance.

    The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires the Crown to articulate targets for a series of fiscal variables, including net worth. Given the dramatic improvement in the fiscal position in recent years, a critical policy question relates to how (and which) measures of Crown net worth should be targeted. This paper sets out a framework for targeting Crown net worth. It does so by supplementing the GAAP-based measure with forward-looking information about spending and tax revenue. The paper argues that targeting net worth for the Crown requires the estimation of a path, rather than a static level.

    Ensure net worth remains at a level sufficient to act as a buffer to economic shocks. Over the medium term, net worth will continue to fall as the impact of the global financial crisis unfolds. Consistent with the debt and operating balance objectives, we will start building up net worth ahead of the demographic change expected in the mid-2020s.

    Total Crown net worth is forecast to be 27.5% of GDP in 2015/16. Core Crown net worth is forecast to be 8.2% of GDP in 2015/16.

    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/2012/bps/09.htm

  29. SPC says:

    External interest in buying up our farmland only pushes up the sale price. As most land will still be bought locally this means a higher foreign debt consequence.

    Housing unaffordability leading to renting results in high accomodation supplement cost to government, if the next generation on super do not own homes like the baby boomers do the AS cost will skyrocket even higher.

  30. SPC says:

    If you go back and check the Reserve Bank data you looked at you will see that you have confused total overseas debt with government debt.

    Excel files at

    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/statistics/extfin/e3/notes.html

    FYI actually the figure I was quoting for New Zealand Oversea debt WAS the official govt debt, NOT corporate/private debt, so it’s you who’s doing the misleading especially as in my original caption I had Govt debt in big bold print.

  31. SPC says:

    The last part of the above post was the claim you made that you should revisit. Most of the overseas debt is in fact non government debt called corporate debt.