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Time to Save Invermay

Posted by on May 6th, 2014

Across New Zealand farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Government’s lack of response to the slow train-wreck that characterises AgResearch’s restructure.

Citizens too should be frustrated; taxpayer funds are being squandered to New Zealand’s detriment by a Board refusing to hear reason and not listening to stakeholders.

Staff retention is the number one risk the Board has identified and reported to the Minister.

Yet top scientific staff have already quit the organisation over the restructure and more are threatening to do so.  If Invermay is dismantled and science funding and expertise heads overseas – so too will future economic gains.

View the short video explaining the case for Invermay’s retention. Judge for yourself whether Steven Joyce is performing his taxpayer funded duty to oversee the Board and ensure it is adequately managing risks.  Time for the Minister to step up.

If the Minister doesn’t step up, the organisation will slowly run into the ground. Management’s plan to formally dismantle Invermay doesn’t properly kick into action until 2017.

For more information visit

Invermay – a national issue

Posted by on March 10th, 2014

Despite being signed off by Steven Joyce nearly a year ago, the full business case for AgResearch’s restructure has been suppressed until now. It reveals that the whole organisation is put at risk for uncertain returns. $100m taxpayer money is to be spent; and in one scenario modelled – a worse outcome is produced than business as usual.   I guess it is now obvious why they tried to hide the detail for so long.

The Background

In July last year, the Government’s largest Crown Research Institute – AgResearch – announced its plans for a major restructure. A lot is at stake since AgResearch is the taxpayer-fuelled science engine that underpins productivity-growth on New Zealand farms.

Starting in the South, discontent is spreading across New Zealand with news of the decision to break up a successful hub centred on its World-leading Invermay campus. On Saturday, New Zealand’s largest independent newspaper broke the news that background to one of the country’s most significant export-related restructures has finally been released.

Previously, AgResearch’s own internal review singled Invermay campus changes out – as the piece of the AgResearch restructure puzzle that didn’t fit.  Change is hard, but the internal review team concluded that most of what was proposed across New Zealand would meet the organisation’s internal goals.  However – Invermay should be grown, not shrunk, it said.

Where to from here?

Sheep and deer farmers in particular will be angry. It is unacceptable that this business case was kept from them until now. They are the clients. AgResearch has been treating industry stakeholders like mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.

AgResearch last year released a shorter redacted version of the business case, in a failed attempt to give the impression of transparency.  What we now know is that the public were being fed only half of the story: the part AgResearch thought fit for farmer consumption.

The drastic changes proposed also create serious problems for families of scientists at Invermay’s Mosgiel campus.  Many have partners who will struggle to find good work in Lincoln and will face significantly higher mortgages. They simply won’t move there.

The worst-case scenario in the business case modelling now looks wildly optimistic.  It assumes scientific staff will relocate – when available evidence says they will not. An earlier restructure saw just 28% of scientists retained; those close to this one say it is shaping up no better.

Instead, the majority of world-class scientists who’ve built Invermay’s international reputation are proposing to leave the organisation to pursue opportunities abroad. Another group are proposing to take early retirement.  While Steven Joyce has been typically short and sarcastic in his responses to my parliamentary questioning on Invermay, he has shown some awareness of the importance of staff retention to organisational capability. As shareholding Minister, he’s left himself some wiggle-room for intervention.

Breeders know the importance of Invermay to their commercial success.  In particular sheep meat productivity has doubled and disease incidence in deer has been slashed. AbacusBio and other important industry participants have contributed to extraordinary success in the Ag sector off the back of facilities and research at Invermay.

The Government set itself the admirable goal of doubling agricultural productivity. Invermay has played a huge role in historic successes and promises to play an important part in the future. Invermay must be saved for the best future for New Zealand’s on-farm productivity.

Signatures are being collected across the country.  Sheep breeders in Northland, Manawatu and Southland abhor the changes equally. If you’re lucky enough to live in Otago there are dozens of places to sign the petition I’ve launched opposing the changes. Visit to find out more or to download your own copy of the petition form.

The board of AgResearch is showing itself out of touch with the industry it serves. Shareholding Minister Steven Joyce must call the Board to account. The Invermay changes make no sense.

The SkyCity Gamble

Posted by on September 3rd, 2013

Many New Zealanders think having a new international convention centre is desirable.  Few of them think paying for it via problem gambling is a good idea.

This Government is pushing a bad deal onto New Zealanders.

Steven Joyce’s own department estimates that 8000 more Aucklanders will be affected by the fallout from problem gambling.  Another report suggests the net benefit of the deal to the economy will be just 18 more jobs.

The Government originally tried to sell this deal as an economic development initiative, but because the economic benefits of the casino deal to New  Zealand are marginal, the debate has shifted to the problem gambling that is paying for it.

Why is the deal so bad? Simply put: it is because the Government *put itself* over a barrel in the negotiations.  A transparent process would have seen competitive bidders. Instead SkyCity were able to name their price from a Government already commited to saving political face through getting this deal done.

The Auditor General certainly pulled no punches in describing the process for what it was: “we do not consider that the evaluation process was transparent or even handed”.

Treasury has made it clear that they are not convinced by the cost benefit analysis presented to Ministers.  Treasury expressed “strong concerns that private benefits to SkyCity will exceed public benefits to New Zealanders.”

The deal buys SkyCity an extra 230 pokie machines and an extension on its licence until 2048 in return for building the New Zealand International Convention Centre.  Even if you put the horrors of problem gambling to one side, comparison with overseas valuation of gambling rights shows taxpayers have been short-changed.

Sudhir Kale, a professor of marketing at Bond University in Queensland, and a friend of SkyCity CE Morrison has worked as a consultant at casinos on five continents.  He says the deal was a clear win for SkyCity. “He’s a friend, but if you want to quote me you can say: ‘Morrison did an excellent job negotiating with authorities’.” Kale calls the 27 year license extension ‘icing on the cake’.

The Treasury were spot-on when they said that public costs will flow to private gain once the centre is paid off.

And there may be worse to come.  The final negotiations on spend for the convention centre are set to happen during election year.  The Government has reserved itself the right to hand more taxpayer cash over to SkyCity to get the negotiation done.

The fact that gambling issues are treated as conscience issues in Parliament presents an opportunity to MPs; we are explicitly invited to exercise our consciences.

You may not have heard of the National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga but he holds the deciding vote that could stop the extra pokies. Sam comes from a part of the country where pokies do more harm than almost anywhere else.  Signing the online petition to encourage him to change his mind is a practical step you can take to push for change.

By the numbers

Posted by on March 28th, 2013

12,800           The dollar difference between what average Kiwis and Auzzies earn.

280                 Fewer hands on deck at DoC won’t go unnoticed.

1:23                 PM – The Government has a further EQC breach on its hands.

59                    National MPs voting to rob Kiwis of their hard-earned public holidays.

1                       Speaker of the House looking forward to a long weekend more than ever

Mondayising a step closer but Key doesn’t trust Kiwis

Posted by on March 28th, 2013

It’s been a while since I last posted on my Mondayising Bill.

In short, the Bill ensures that hard-working Kiwis get all 11 public holidays every year, not just five out of seven.  Since it was made clear that the commemorations for Waitangi and Anzac stay on 6 Feb and 25 April respectively, there has been overwhelming support for the Bill.

When the Waitangi or Anzac day commemoration falls on a weekend, a day off will be preserved for Kiwis to spend with their friends and families.  It is an issue of fairness.  In seven out of eight Australian territories, they already do this for their national day and also for Anzac Day.  It works well.  Attendance at commemorations has continued to grow.

In yesterday’s question time, it was embarrassing to hear John Key implying that NZers couldn’t be trusted to honour our war dead in the way that happens in Australia, where they mondayise already.

To suggest that a day off with friends and family a couple of days after the commemoration will somehow cheapen the day – is loopy. We mondayise in New Zealand for other holidays that have full recognition.  Christmas is a good example.  When Christmas falls on a Saturday, no-one puts off celebrations in outrage that a public holiday will follow in a few days’ time.  A long-weekend will mean it is more likely that people will travel to be with family to attend commemorations.

Most employers support this Bill.  Ordinary New Zealanders support this Bill.  The majority of MPs and political parties support this bill. It is fair. John Key should get in behind this bill and support it.  Anything else looks like Grinch behaviour, sour grapes or something worse.


By The Numbers

Posted by on March 16th, 2013

1982 – The Reserve Bank ‘parties’ like it’s 1982…

61-60 – The vote bringing guaranteed holidays closer for hard-working Kiwis

30 – Million dollars – The cost of collecting National’s petty car park tax that would bring in just $17m

9 – Pix of the situation on the ground in drought-stricken Wairarapa.

1 – Own goal from the PM on Solid Energy’s ‘bid’ for Crown investment

Government failing to play its part

Posted by on March 10th, 2013

This Government is asleep at the wheel.  For a long time, this has been obvious to those struggling to find work.  The Government hasn’t been playing its part.

Now there’s growing evidence that those in-work are noticing it too.  Today’s Sunday Star Times carries some telling business survey results.

The report says employers have “slammed” the Government’s record on creating jobs and developing a viable growth agenda.

Most employers think job creation is a role shared by business and government. According to this survey a whopping 69% of Kiwi employers give this Government a ‘fail’ for its part in the process.

More and more Kiwis are searching for work. In the last year 17,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, and 33,000 Kiwis gave up on the workforce in the last quarter alone.

Someone in this Government needs to step up and show some leadership. Because, when it comes to jobs, Steven Joyce has proven he’s not up to the task.


By The Numbers

Posted by on March 8th, 2013

425,000 – Dollars – Lesley Longstone’s golden handshake = a year’s worth of food in schools for 1000 kids.

1,200 – Dollars a day paid to Mighty River Power directors to prep the asset for sale.

389 – Million reasons to appear before Select Committee.

2 – The number of fingers in Mighty River’s salute to the taxpayer.

1 – Government out of touch – selling the assets all Kiwis currently own.

By the Numbers

Posted by on March 1st, 2013

2013 – Labour’s new line up

40 – Per cent of our Defence Force has threatened to leave thanks to National’s botched policy of civilianisation.

23 – Million dollars dished out in bonuses to executives at Solid Energy. National’s culture of excess has run Solid Energy into the ground.

22 – Per cent of us say we are struggling financially in a new quality of life survey.

1 – MP with an “edgy but snappy dress sense”

Economic Development

Posted by on February 28th, 2013

David Shearer has been clear from the start that he wants a clean, green, diversified economy – to ensure New Zealand’s future prosperity.

With my appointment as Economic Development Spokeperson comes a big challenge. We need to present a credible plan to get to a prosperous diversified economy.  I’m excited about this opportunity.

Steven Joyce spent a year with the huge bureaucratic resources of MoBIE and failed to map anything but a managed decline. His ‘Business Growth Agenda’ finalised yesterday has proven little more that a year long coms plan. It’s been a year of existing policy re-heats with a few meek ideas thrown in for colour.

But Joyce is vulnerable. Because the facts are drowning out his spin.

Last year 30,000 jobs were lost.  Unemployment is pushing 7%.  1000+ Kiwis are leaving for Australia permanently every week.

No amount of spin can hide the fact that the Government has no plan for sustainable economic growth. Selling off our best revenue-generating assets is National’s big idea.  Treasury says it will set back the Government coffers by about $100m/year. Other than that, they intend things to continue as they are.

I’ve always maintained that the market makes an excellent servant and a terrible master. And this Government is failing to control the market. It is failing to deliver jobs. Right now so many hard-working New Zealanders are being treated like its slaves, forced to be grateful for any scraps that fall from the table. A full 40% of Kiwis earn less than a living wage.

Labour already has chunky policy announced that will lead to economic growth, jobs and an export-led recovery. In particular we want a pro-growth capital gains tax, Research and Develoment Tax Credits, Universal Kiwisaver, Pro-Kiwi procurement policy and tools for the Reserve Bank that will allow it to do what overseas countries are doing to assist their exporters.  These changes will give the economy a shot in the arm and create jobs.

There is more to explore.  Sector-specific incentives for growth beg consideration, as do the implications of Labour’s affordable and healthy housing announcements.  They will create jobs as will our commitment to creating more apprenticeships.  Labour wants a market that generates jobs, living wages and future prosperity for our country.

We need change, because the old solutions have been shown to fail. Right now, the market and it’s hands-off disciple Mr Joyce are not working in the interest of New Zealanders.

By The Numbers

Posted by on February 22nd, 2013

1,600,000,000 – In tax evasion v $39 mil in welfare fraud.  White collar v blue collar = double standards?

67,000,000 – Our returns halve when Mighty River Power is hocked off by the Government

180 – Dollars – the latest median weekly wage gap with Australia

24 – Hours of porkies, pokies and pork barrel politics from National

1 – Problem gambler

By The Numbers 2013

Posted by on February 1st, 2013

The week’s news in a nutritious bite-sized snack:

62/52 – the vote that selected David Carter as Parliament’s next Speaker

57 – fewer staff in our Police Communication Centres than in 2009. No surprise that there’s a slowing response rate to the increasing number of 111 calls

15 – dollar minimum wage should top Simon Bridges’ to-do list

6 – months into the Novopay debacle and National has admitted it might need scrapping

1 – Cat story has seen fur flying around the world

By the Numbers

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

169,000,000 – Dollars higher than forecast: National’s deficit keeps growing…

450,000 – Dollars – the cost to taxpayers of two reports into the MSD privacy breach.

50,000th – Kiwi left for Oz yesterday

7000 – Teachers have signed a petition rejecting the Government’s education reform agenda in Canterbury.

1 – Good case of ‘Claustrophilia’. 520 Wellingtonians donned Santa suits last night in a charity run for KidsCan – Merry Christmas!

Tackling the multi-nats

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

I’ve drawn attention to the way in which multinationals are avoiding paying tax in New Zealand.  After some prevarication, Peter Dunne ordered up a report from officials on the way similar issues are being tackled abroad.  Good.

The topic is running hot in the UK.  The Guardian’s editorial on Monday was a call to action.  The Australian Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, last month announced a range of measures to address tax avoidance.  Bradbury’s speech is well worth a read.  It explains the issue in plain English and how Australia is tackling it.

Quantifying the size of avoidance in New Zealand needs to be a priority for the Revenue Minister.  Australia have pulled an expert group together to advise their Treasury on the scope and extent of the problem in their country.  New Zealand needs to do the same.  Quickly.

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Filed under: Tax

Dunne struggling to keep up?

Posted by on December 5th, 2012

In February this year, the Prime Minister said tax policy was being held back because the computer systems “can’t actually support radical changes from Government.”   The Prime Minister’s comments over nine months ago indicated the urgent need to outline a credible plan and timeline for the necessary system upgrade. 

Since then, there is no progress to report.  Consultants CapGemini are rumoured to have been paid tens of millions for scoping reports.  Bill English was reported as saying $700 million from asset sales proceeds will be spent ‘rebuilding the country’s tax system’ but has dodged direct questions on the topic since.  Dunne says decisions haven’t been taken yet.

Voluntary compliance for income tax payments is declining. At last count 1 million tax returns hadn’t been processed and $7 Billion in tax was outstanding. Unbelievably, Dunne says 32 separate privacy breaches in a year isn’t evidence of a systematic failure and he is refusing to answer specific questions on the matter.  Call centre staff turnover is high. Morale is low. 

The computer problem desperately needs addressing as I explained in a recent article in the Otago Daily Times.  And it requires a transparent process.  Nothing to report after nine months begs some questions about competence.

Comments Off on Dunne struggling to keep up?

By The Numbers

Posted by on November 30th, 2012

259,500 – Kiwi blokes took home $80,000 or more in personal income this year – but only 92,500 women did. Gender pay gap? Yes.

125,000 – Dollars invoiced to the Education Ministry this week by schools to cover extra staff hours spent sorting Novopay.

110,000 – The annual income for one of National’s “more affordable” homes.

100,000 – Kiwi families Labour will help into genuinely affordable homes.

14,497 – Dollars – The NZ Facebook tax bill for last year. Sound small? it is!

1 – Worthwhile cause, amongst others, to support this Christmas.

By The Numbers

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

100,000 – Kiwi families would be helped into their own modern, affordable home, through Labour’s new housing initiative – KiwiBuild.

2,000 – Apprenticeships and numerous skilled jobs would be created through KiwiBuild – which could be the largest public building programme in 50 years.

5 – Per cent of new homes built in New Zealand at the moment are entry-level, affordable, homes. That is a fraction of what we should be able to offer.

2 – Billion dollars a year would be generated in economic growth through extra jobs and spending on construction materials.

1 – Summary worth a read

By The Numbers

Posted by on November 2nd, 2012

4,444,444 – The population of NZ as of sometime on Nov 1.

6,300 – People have had private information wrongly released by IRD in the last year.

1,432 – Of 7,307 private files downloaded at MSD self-service kiosks contained personal information from clients.

12.90 – Dollars or one tenth of the actual cost for tickets to Russell Brand, for a group of fans who cashed in on a stuff up  by Ticketek.

0 – Dollars for flights  to and from Christchurch as an airfares war heats up.

By the Numbers

Posted by on October 26th, 2012

256 million – dollars pulled in by Liz Taylor, who tops this year’s list of moneymaking ‘dead celebrities’

2,600 – Young beneficiaries have been issued payment cards where the last four digits printed on the cards are used as pin numbers. And Paula Bennett says she takes security seriously…

355 – km/h, the speed American John Hennessy cracked on a public road while testing a new speed camera. Don’t try this at home

220 – Workers from the Spring Creek Mine in Greymouth lost their jobs yesterday as the result of John Key’s asset sales obsession.

2.119 – dollars, the price of 91 octane at BP after the second fall in petrol prices this week.

Voters let down by Key? Let me count the ways

Posted by on October 24th, 2012

There is a political maxim that only one poll really matters, and that is the one taken on election day.  Sometimes, however, one is able to divine wisdom from polling trends at other times.

The veracity of individual polling methods is hotly debated.  But what seems to be emerging as fact is that – taken as a whole – polls since the election paint a clear picture of National in decline and Labour on the rise.

What was around a 20 point gap between the two main parties on election day is now reduced to 10 points in most polls.

David Shearer’s leadership on economic sovereignty, education and employment are clearly being seen as the stuff of credible alternative government.  At the same time the Government of the day is shooting itself in the foot faster than opposition members can fire off their own rounds at them.

Key already sat uncomfortably with many New Zealanders before the election.  His broken promise not to raise GST and the growing gap between rich and poor were unwelcome. His proposal to sell assets was (mistakenly) thought negotiable by some of his supporters.  But until the 2011 election, Key appeared comfortable riding a (smile and) wave of popularity. The tea-pot tapes saga was the first real sign of wide-spread discontent, and it simultaneously signalled that Key was uncomfortable taking decisions under the glare of more thorough media scrutiny.

Key’s majority in the House has always been slender this term.  The vote on my Mondayising Bill is illustration of that, as was the vote on paid parental leave.  If further illustration is required, recall that more New Zealanders voted last year for parties that opposed asset sales than parties that supported asset sales.  The Government Key cobbled together was based on uncomfortable compromises.

And ever since the election, the Government has embroiled itself in scandals. I think the number and consistency of scandals is the main reason the public at large is turning off Key.  Let’s recall some of the major ones:

– ACC letter of support written by Minister with a conflict of interest (prompting Nick Smith’s resignation)

– ACC privacy breach where emails with sensitive client data was sent out to Bronwyn Pullar

– A Sky City deal that appears to have been done outside the rules that are designed to prevent corruption. An inquiry is currently underway that will examine the integrity of the Prime Minister’s actions, and whether proper process was followed.

– Hekia Parata’s announcement that increased class-sizes were the way to quality education.  The effects of the back-down on Hekia’s relationship with her caucus colleagues has been more dramatic than the colour coding on name-badges that signalled to Canterbury School Principals that she thinks their schools should be for the chop.

– John Banks ‘anonymous’ donations scandals – the start of the Dotcom fiasco.  Police said Banks filed a false declaration but that it’s too late by law to prosecute him.  Banks also forgot a helicopter ride to the Dotcom mansion to propose a toast at a celebration.  He also denied that he had received discounted accommodation (a gift he failed to register on his parliamentary pecuniary interests register) but was later forced to admit he had.  John Key has bizarrely refused to read the police report. He hasn’t yet disciplined Banks, despite claiming that his Ministers would be required to hold to a higher ethical standard.

– The Dotcom fiasco is ongoing.  John Key has admitted the agency he is responsible for (GCSB) spied on Kim Dotcom illegally.  He also failed to remember that he was briefed on Dotcom months before the issue came to public attention, forcing an embarrassing backdown.

– MSD privacy breaches.  Kiosks with public access contained private information of the most sensitive kind – including information on our most vulnerable children in state care, their health conditions, locations and other personal information.

But it is not just these scandals that are embarrassing.  Earlier behaviour is now shaping into a pattern.  Turnarounds on Kiwisaver (introducing legislation to lower contributions, and then later introducing legislation to increase them again) and Working For Families (communism by stealth, or appropriate incentives for work?)  Anyone remember John Key’s ’embarrassing uncle’ speech at the launch of the Rugby World Cup, or the three-way handshake at the end? Or the Government promise that no property-owner would be worse off in Canterbury?  More recently John Key’s embarrassing brain-fade about how he voted on the alcohol age a few weeks before.

I haven’t mentioned the lack of action around outdated IRD computer systems that Key said in February can’t support changes from Government, or perserverance with asset sales legislation that is looking more and more expensive for the taxpayer over time.  Nor have I compared Key’s claim he’d stem the tide of Kiwis moving to Oz to pursue better opportunities with evidence people are now moving there in record numbers.   But despite these omissions, it’s not surprising that those who say they supported Key in the last election are today saying they are disappointed with the Government.

Key will be looking forward to throwing in the towel. Richard Worth, Pansy Wong and Phil Heatly all had to step down last term, but this term the casualties are mounting faster. He’s already said he’ll resign if National are thrown out of Government.  Pressure may mount for him to stand aside sooner.

So how about the issues that really matter?  Labour has clear positions on education, jobs, procurement, monetary policy to support exporters, pro-growth tax reform, and savings. The Key-Government is rapidly earning a reputation as a party distracted and not prepared to take the big decisions that a Shearer-led Labour Government would.

It’s no wonder the polling suggests voters are turning off Key faster than ever.