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The state sector revisited

Posted by on February 2nd, 2014

This is an oped piece I wrote last week which was published in the Nelson Mail on Friday 31 January under the headline “It’s time to reassess and rebuild”. All constructive, forward-looking comments welcomed!

The role and functions of the state services have come under increased pressure in the last five years. The culture and performance of the wider state sector, in which I include all public services, has altered markedly under the current government.

The National-led government vowed to strip back the state sector, undertaking to get rid of the “back room” functionaries and place more people on the “front line”. It undertook to improve public service delivery with a programme called Better Public Services (now, inevitably reduced to “BPS”), with key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets to make sure the improvements were happening.

It was as if a new owner had taken over the company and decided to do the usual Stage 1 managerial reforms such as sacking the old guard simply because they were the old guard and giving people new goals and targets to meet so that they could demonstrate their efficiency.

Nelson felt it keenly for a small town, with 28 real jobs lost in IRD and 22 or more out of DoC, and that was just for starters. The Department of Labour and Housing New Zealand came next. But Nelson was not alone. Public services were stripped out of all smaller towns around New Zealand and centralised into Wellington.

But all of this was done without any real reflection on the role and purpose of the state sector. What does it do? What role does it perform in our democracy? What needs to be done differently? How might things be done better? And fundamentally, what is the difference between running a company and running a country?

Well, there is a substantial difference, actually.

There is no doubt that the public service is responsible for the implementation of the programme of the duly elected government of the day. That is a basic democratic expectation.

But the public service does a lot more than that. It also acts as a buffer between the exercise of the comprehensive executive power of the Cabinet, and the people. It is the repository of political neutrality and the upholder of our country’s constitutional integrity. It is the part of our democratic apparatus which provides the transparency and accountability which citizens in a sophisticated democracy require of their leaders and their leaders’ decisions. It is the place where innovative ideas can be tested and policy development can occur amongst some of the cleverest brains in the country.

It is also responsible for giving free and frank advice to Ministers in order that Ministers might fully understand the impact of their policies on the real people they purport to represent and whose votes put them there. In performing this function, it also protects Ministers, if only they would see it.

It is that tradition of free and frank advice which has been eroded the most under this government.
There are numerous examples, from Conservation to Health to Education and other departments and ministries besides, to back this up. It has got to the point where senior officials vet a report to a Minister before it even gets to him or her because the officials have had some clear indication or pressure from that Minister about the nature of the “advice” they require.

And so we have a DoC policy adviser resigning her position because her 32-page report on the environmental consequences of the proposed Ruataniwha dam in Hawke’s Bay gets reduced to a a single paragraph printed twice in the brief advice given up to Minister Nick Smith. He can say he didn’t even see the 32-page report because he didn’t. He didn’t see it, because senior officials knew that this was not the kind of free and frank advice the Minister wanted and so they didn’t give it to him.

This is a perversion of the public service.

The public service must advise the Minister on the best method and consequences of the implementation of a policy. The advice must be free and frank, without fear of retribution. That advice should be publicly available, and mostly it is, under the Official Information Act.

The ability of the public service to give free and frank advice on the basis of years of experience, research and policy development, is one of the things which contributes to New Zealand’s enviable reputation for a lack of corruption. The most recent Transparency International report on the Perception of Corruption last year, held New Zealand as first (the perceived cleanest) in the world, largely because of the effort and reputation of its public service. But they also expressed concern about the silencing of advice, inadequate or questionable appointment processes, rushed legislation which took away people’s rights such as the GCSB legislation, and poor contracting processes evidenced in the Auditor-General’s criticism of the Sky City deal.

If the government realised it was running a country and not a company, it might value more highly such things as due process, transparency, accountability and the best public service possible. It is time to take a more fundamental look at the role and functions of our state sector. Of course we should always strive for better public services. Every government should – they owe that to their people. But instead of performing a corporate restructuring exercise, they should reflect on what a capable and competent state sector brings to the lives of New Zealanders. It is time for such reflection and the rebuilding of our state sector.

NZ and the disarmament agenda – where are we?

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

The nuclear disarmament agenda has been gathering pace internationally in 2013 but our government has been ignoring, or just missing, every opportunity to do anything to advance it.

We had a great statement on it read at the UNGA recently by our disarmament ambassador, but that was despite Murray McCully, not because of him. She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any instructions from government in Wellington.

The humanitarian rationale for non-proliferation and dismantling of nuclear weapons is gaining traction internationally. The impact of even one nuclear bomb being detonated (they are so much more powerful now than in 1945) will have catastrophic implications for the global environment and climate, food production and security, economics and politics, that winding back our collective arsenals and decommissioning nuclear warhead production is the only sensible way forward.

There are more or less 17,270 nuclear weapons in the world right now, of which 4,400 are on high alert, or ready to be used immediately. $1.75 trillion USD is spent annually on military expansion. Just 9 countries spend $100billion USD per annum, that is nearly $300million USD daily, on nuclear weapons. Just imagine what we could do if……

NZ had an opportunity to assist Obama and the US in his ambitious programme for the de-escalation of this threat to humanity, but John Key only saw it as a photo op. What a waste. It’s time he moved over and let someone who actually cares about NZ’s role in the world take over. David Cunliffe will do nicely.

Time to clean up the burning pit, Minister!

Posted by on May 10th, 2013

For the last month or two, residents of the new Wigram Skies suburb in Christchurch have been suffering from toxic smoke blowing across them. It has been coming from a fire in the nearby recycling pit caused by the spontaneous combustion of some medium-density fibreboard. You can see what they have been putting up with in this picture. No wonder 150 of them came to a public meeting called by MP Megan Woods, in whose electorate that new suburb has developed.

The toxicity comes from burning formaldehyde. The Medical Officer of Health says that there is no long term health risk posed by the smoke and fumes. That is a good thing. But it is still unpleasant, irritates the nose and eyes, stinks and is an air pollution issue. I visited it with Megan recently and even on a still day I could smell it in the air the moment I got out of the car. Now it seems the fire has collapsed and is able to be put out. It has been too hot for firefighters to get near until recently.

The question shifts now to what to do about it and how do we prevent something like this happening again. The site needs to be cleaned up and taken over by the Ministry for the Environment. Residents have legitimate questions about the environmental impact on the local area and the pollution threat to water resources given the fact that the Owaka pit is right on top of an aquifer. If we still had a democratically elected Environment Canterbury body, something might have been done or planned by now. But we don’t. This is a major pollutant and the Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, should take it over as a pressing concern for these people.

Oh, and by the way – the pit is in Amy Adams’ electorate……

And they want to put a tunnel here??

Posted by on April 1st, 2013

I was in Queenstown over Easter and had arranged to meet with people in Glenorchy who are opposed to the proposal to put a tunnel through from the Dart River to Milford, while I was there. So on Easter Saturday afternoon, I turned up to meet the committee organising the opposition and then there was a public meeting after that.

I hardly expected anyone to turn up, but they started to pour in the door just before 3pm. Some people’s apologies were given because they had gone away or had haymaking to finish (where do you go for a weekend when you live in paradise?). Even Rob Munro (ex-Nat MP for Invercargill) turned up, but he left early – once he had determined how the meeting was going perhaps?

After the meeting, at which  just EVERYONE there was vehemently opposed to the proposed tunnel, I was taken up to the start of the Routeburn track, where the mouth of the tunnel would be located.

Now, I love Central Otago and am familiar with large parts of it, but I had never driven up to Glenorchy from Queenstown. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is pristine wilderness, protected as a World Heritage Park recognised by UNESCO. There was more LOTR scenery than you could shake a stick at. I am now absolutely committed to walking the Routeburn next season. Have a look at the Bear Grylls safety video AirNZ is using now in its Boeings and see if you think the environment would be enhanced by a tunnel.

This government’s proposals for the environment are truly scary – just have a look at the proposals for the second round of RMA ‘reforms’ and the water proposals. Nick Smith is going to make the decision about the Dart tunnel himself, which he can do. Do you think he will remember to do what his remit is as Minister of Conservation – to protect the environment? Does it make any sense at all to put a tunnel here??



Moving on to the next challenge

Posted by on February 25th, 2013

I have enjoyed the Health portfolio. It is huge and arguably, it takes longer than one year to get around and establish networks. I have been doing that in the past year and I am grateful to all those who were prepared to engage intelligently and repeatedly with me. I have been pleased to stick up for diabetics in the disastrous changeover to the Care Sens blood glucose meters. It was a mistake and should be rescinded. It affects the way people manage their diabetes and directly impacts their well being, especially for Type 1 diabetics.

I have also made a running on the increase in prescription charges, changes to pharmacists’ contracts with the DHBs, and the burden of implementation of changes falling on local pharmacies. This sector is in chaos and Tony Ryall continues to pretend that there is nothing to see here. Shelves full of uncollected prescriptions would say otherwise. If people can’t afford medicines, and some clearly can’t, we are only going to see additional hospitalisations further town the track.  This isn’t rocket science – just medical science.

But now I take up a new challenge with the Environment portfolio.  And there are challenges aplenty.  We would all love our myth of being 100% pure to become fact again but we need aggressive leadership in this area if that is ever to happen. From our waterways to our air quality, and much more besides, there is much to do to restore our natural environment and to protect it for future generations.  I look forward to that challenge.

Thanks again to all you good health folk for working with me over the last year.  Keep up the good work!

D-Day for diabetics

Posted by on December 1st, 2012

Today the government, through Pharmac, ceases to subsidise the Roche Accu-Check blood glucose meters used by 80% of NZ’s 200,000 diabetics. About 20% of diabetics use the Abbott meters and 0.5% use the Care-Sens meters. But Pharmac has chosen to give the contract for subsidised meters to the people who import the Care-Sens model, Pharmaco. All of them. One supplier. Dangerous and unnecessary. But apparently it will save $10 million!

Pharmaco is running training sessions for pharmacists, doctors and other health professionals on how to use these meters so they can teach their patients and customers how to use the new meters. They are calling them “Meet your Meter”. I am so tempted to call them “Meet your Maker” seminars but that would be too inflammatory.

Diabetics depend on these meters. They are used to identify blood glucose levels so that Type 1 diabetics know how much insulin they need to inject right now and Type 2 diabetics know how many jelly beans to consume right now. Pharmaco tendered for the contract on the basis of a meter which was inferior to the one used by most diabetics, but after an outcry from the diabetics themselves, they upgraded the meter to a comparable one.

Changing over medical devices is a risky business. Changing to a sole supplier is crazy.  They will have no competition to upgrade their product over time or provide good after sales service. Their predecessors did both of those things. Pharmaco is now working in a hostile environment. They had better be careful to get this right. Lives depend on it.

Aung San Suu Kyi to NZ – was anybody listening?

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

What was Aung San Suu Kyi’s word to the west during her recent European tour? “Yes – we welcome foreign investment, but ethical investment and people-centred aid please.” Did John Key hear any of this before he swanned off for another photo opp?

His post-Burma visit interview with Audrey Young was a lesson in how to learn nothing from one of the world’s greatest and most principled democratic leaders. It was like watching a child trying to speak adult language. And as for the Boy’s Own Annual approach to Foreign Affairs –  of the East Asia Summit: “It was a pretty interesting meeting just generally….I know…all these guys. I’ve met them lots now” – one wonders what Key thinks he is there for. And did he not know how ASSK might react to the name Myanmar?

Key announced $7 million in aid to go to Burma – $1 million in humanitarian aid to Rakhine state and $6 million in agricultural reforms. I blogged positively on the fact that he announced aid at all. But Key’s and National’s obsession with Foreign Affairs being reduced to trade shone through his announcement as did his disregard for everything for which ASSK stands – democracy, poverty elimination, reliable and accessible health care, accountable structures, rule of law, credible governance, anti-corruption.

Contrast Key with Obama’s brave and principled leadership shown in his speech at the University of Yangon: “Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it’s far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.”

$6 million in agricultural reform assistance is another way of saying how can the NZ government make life easy for our biggest company, Fonterra? Somewhere down the track, that may be an appropriate question. Right now, instead of the developed nations circling like vultures over the next and possibly last untapped market in the world, why aren’t we concentrating on what Burma needs in order to get its people back on their feet so they can trade their riches of oil, gas, gems such as rubies and other minerals, as well as their fertile land, on their own terms and for the benefit of their people?

What business needs to flourish is the rule of law, transparency, a lack of corruption and democratic accountability. US businesses are not lining up to flood into Burma yet because they know the banking system is embryonic and capricious (crisp US bills only please, no bank accounts for foreigners, cash only). Check out what US businesses are saying here.

But to get to that stage, Burma will need health care and education. Our UnionAID programme training young Burmese leaders ($175,000!) is more likely to be effective in the long term than opportunities for NZ businesses. Getting some of the basics such as human rights, health care and education sorted are the priorities, not laying the ground for us to do well out of Burma in the future. Journos can see that. A real leader would see that.

Aid to Burma

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.

I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.

I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time.  It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.

I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.

And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.

Hey Steven Joyce – wanna see a real Road of National Significance?

Posted by on November 14th, 2012

This is the road to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), the purpose-built new capital of Burma. It is 20 lanes wide – 10 each way and you could land a 747 on it – perhaps its original purpose? Except that it is a little undulating. And it clearly fixes congestion – there is no traffic! Or is that due to the fact that you need permission to visit Nya Pyi Taw? Whatever the situation, this is clearly a road of national significance. I think Steven Joyce lacks ambition for NZ……

Red Cross takes up anti-nuke agenda

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Last Saturday I spoke at the Australian Red Cross conference in Adelaide called “Towards Eliminating Nuclear Weapons”. You can read my speech here.

It is a wonderful thing that the International Red Cross movement has chosen to take up and advance the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. Here is an organisation with well over a century’s history and experience in every modern theatre of war you can imagine, bringing its substantial reputation and credibility to the advancement of peace, on the grounds of humanitarianism. They are wading into the mixed international political agenda on grounds which are entirely irrefutable.

This is the first century of human existence when people have had the ability to destroy ourselves globally. This is the first century which has begun with nuclear weapons as a fact of life. The imperative to advance non-nuclear proliferation and the reduction of nuclear weapons to zero is greater now than it has ever been. Listening to one of the speakers talk about the impact of even a limited regional nuclear conflagration on the atmosphere, environment and crop production was enough to scare you witless.

We launched the NZ Red Cross branch of the campaign “Make nuclear weapons the target” earlier this year in Parliament. I was pleased to see so many young people getting in on this campaign. It is about their future after all. Try #targetnuclearweapons for starters.

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Assisted dying – the social conversation

Posted by on September 25th, 2012

So much has been said recently about my End-of-Life Choice bill which is sitting in the ballot waiting against the odds to be drawn out.  The conversation has been stimulated again by Evans Mott’s trial (discharged without conviction for helping his wife to prepare for her lonely suicide), and the death of Gretha Appleby (pronounced by the coroner recently to be self-inflicted, which is what she always said she would do when she thought the moment had come for her). Here is Tony Nicklinson’s story, as told by his daughter. Read it and tell me if you don’t understand yet. Then keep talking.

Hibakusha and a nuclear-free convention

Posted by on August 9th, 2012

When I taught English a lifetime ago, I used to teach John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. This week I met two hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in person for the first time in my life. It was very affecting. She was 80; he was 73.  She is Shigeko Sasamori and he is Michi Hirata. They were inspiring. If you want to see some pictures of their visit, go to Mary Wareham’s flickr page . Thanks to Mary for those pics. To hear their stories is to go back to my 5th form English class and revisit why it was a good idea that Hersey’s work was part of the curriculum. It is still  a good idea.

 Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. On Sunday of this week (Aug 5), Grant Robertson and I attended the annual commemoration of the dropping of those bombs on Japan in 1945. At the commemoration, students from Heretaunga College spoke about why they, who have only ever been told stories and read stuff, are ardently in favour of a nuclear-free world. They were inspiring too.

Next week, Parliament will receive a report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee – an all-party report, with no minority report – proposing that New Zealand join with other like-minded countries to advance a convention prohibiting the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons. This is in response to a petition from Edwina Hughes on behalf of the Peace Movement Aoteaora.  Officials advised us against it, as something which would not be supported by the major powers.  Sure, that might be so. Should that stop us from aiming for the stars? The committee said no. Officials said that about cluster munitions at the time, and we got a treaty on that. This could just be the start of the next step towards a nuclear-free world. Too idealistic? God (or someone) protect us from politicians without ideals. You can read the report here. I await the government’s response in 90 days.

Happy anniversary.





End of Life Choice bill in ballot

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

I have, after 6 months’ work, finished my End of Life Choice Bill. You can find it here. I think the social conversation has moved on from the last time such a bill was debated in 2003 and lost 60-58. The two missing votes at that time were one abstention and one voted not lodged. So that was close. I hope I have enough specificity and enough safeguards in place for people to support it this time. I am sure it can be improved. I am equally sure that is time that we approached this issue with compassion and gave people the right to be as self-determining at their point of death as they have been in life. It would only apply to people who were of sound mind and suffered from a terminal illness, or an irreversible condition which made their life unbearable, in their own view. It also provides for people to register End of Life Directives in the event that these situations occur and they are unable to communicate their wishes to receive life-ending medication.  Other features include: the need for two medical practitioners to attest that the person is of sound mind, has the condition they say they have and have not been coerced into their decision; the need for counselling and a period of reflection; and a Review Body to examine the law after a period of time to ensure it is not being abused and is operating correctly. It will go into the ballot this week. Let me know your thoughts.

Larry Ross – in memoriam

Posted by on April 24th, 2012

“Peacenik” is a word which will only resonate with a few, but Larry Ross’s work for the anti-nuclear movement resonated far and wide.

Born in 1927, Larry Ross died last week at the age of 84. He founded the NZ Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Committee in 1981. His work at local government level saw the establishment of 105 nuclear free zones across New Zealand. That work was pivotal in building an anti-nuclear movement which culminated in New Zealand’s nuclear-free status enshrined in the Nuclear Free Zone Act of 1987.

Larry’s contribution to the peace movement in New Zealand was extraordinary. His commitment to a nuclear-free world was absolute and he achieved more than one person could ever expect to achieve, by galvanising neighbourhood peace groups and working from the ground up to build a robust and effective anti-nuclear peace movement, expressed locally and globally.

Rest in that peace you worked so hard for Larry. The NZ Labour Party salutes you and your years of commitment. Our thought and condolences go to Larry’s family and loved ones.

Let’s rid the world of landmines!

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Landmines are a dangerous legacy of too many conflicts and must be banned world-wide. It is 13 years since the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines became international binding law, yet there are countries including Cambodia and Colombia where people continue to be killed and maimed by landmines.

Today, 4 April, is a day of international action to promote the Mine Ban Treaty and to apply more pressure to cleaning up those parts of the world where landmines continue to wreak havoc. 80 per cent of the world’s countries have banned landmines and millions of mines have been removed from the ground and destroyed, but there is still more to do. The Lend Your Leg video currently on YouTube is a good illustration of this (link above). New Zealand has started the international action today with a Lend Your Leg activity on the steps of Parliament. MPs have rolled up their trousers to ‘Lend Your Leg’ to the campaign. Even I, who will go to almost any lengths usually NOT to reveal my legs, was moved to participate and roll up my trousers for the occasion!

We may no longer have a Minister for Disarmament in New Zealand, but we still have people who care about these issues and care about New Zealand’s performance on them internationally.

Time for a difficult conversation, again

Posted by on March 27th, 2012

End of Life Choice bill  (TVNZ Breakfast Show video from today)

I am preparing a bill which I am calling “End of Life Choice”. It arose out of a meeting in Nelson last year with a group of people who all want to be able to exercise the same control over the end of their lives as they are enjoying during their lives. It is as much about human rights as it is about dignity, autonomy and compassion.

Three levels of protection are necessary:

1 – for the patient or person themselves – from family who would either exploit them or overturn their wishes in extremis, and from insurance companies or anyone else who might exploit them;

2 – for any attending physicians, and there would need to be 2 – from any coercion to breach their own ethics or criminal liability if all procedures were observed;

3 – for any family members who assist in the final moments – from criminal liability.

The first time this was voted on was 1995 (Michael Laws’ bill), it was defeated 61-29. The second time, in 2003 (Peter Brown’s bill), it was defeated 60-57  and of the three who made the difference,  two did not vote  (John Tamihere and Heather Roy) and one abstained (Dail Jones). It will always be a conscience vote.

I think the time has come for this question to be revisited. I think the social conversation needs to happen again. I think the numbers would be different this time.

Am I right?

Diabetics unite!

Posted by on March 21st, 2012

Pharmac has signed a provisional contract with an Auckland company to be the sole supplier of new glucose meters for diabetics. About 150,000 people are affected. Problem: no consumer testing – no backlight on the new one which is a bit tough when you are having a hypo event in the middle of the night; not enough memory to record history of blood sugar levels; batteries which conk out under 10C; sole supply out of Korea – the most stable peninsula we know? Tony Ryall is pressuring them to save $10 million through this contract. He ducked answering questions in the House today about this by exiting to comfort his upset mate, Nick Smith. Watch Campbell Live on TV3 tonight for this item.

Trade policy released

Posted by on October 28th, 2011

I released our Trade policy this evening, as promised. Trade is a bipartisan issue because both National and Labour recognise that we are too small and our electoral cycle is too short to risk our exporters’ efforts and foreign direct investment in our industries, by potentially pulling the policy rug out from under them every three years. So we both promote New Zealand’s trading interests overseas equally.

So it will come as no surprise that we wish to build on the international market access we have gained in recent years, particularly in Asia after the successful FTA with China, signed by Phil Goff.

Labour will support the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations as they proceed but Pharmac remains a bottom line for us. It works for the public good of New Zealanders and should not be compromised, despite pressure from large multinational pharmaceutical companies.

We need more openness and better engagement of civil society in our trade relationships, and so we will establish a Trade Advisory Commission to give contestable advice to the Minister about trade relationships. This Commission would comprise union, business, exporter, academic and NGO interests.

Where we differ from the National Party however in the Trade area is in the fundamentals of monetary policy which underpins the environment in which our struggling exporters work. We will alter monetary policy by introducing a Capital Gains Tax which will moderate interest rates, which will in turn take pressure off the exchange rate. We will broaden the Reserve Bank’s objectives to include employment and the health of the export sector amongst other things in its brief. We will put an exporter on the Board of the Reserve Bank to represent their interests.

And more besides……to see the whole policy, go here.

Trade policy to be released tomorrow

Posted by on October 27th, 2011

I will be releasing Labour’s trade policy tomorrow at my campaign launch in Nelson. That is a good place to do it because the Nelson region is built on fine primary tradeable commodities. And yet our exporters, from pipfruit growers to the forestry sector, are having difficulties of one sort or another. It should be up on the website by about 5.30pm. Watch this space – or one like it!

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Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.