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Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category

Rachel Smalley, you are so wrong

Posted by on June 14th, 2014

Newstalk ZB presenter Rachel Smalley has accused me of politicising a murder by raising some policy issues in the wake of the murder this week of Henderson dairy owner Arun Kumar.

I called for a stronger police presence with a community constable based in the Henderson town centre, more Council staffing  so they can actually enforce the by-law on begging and anti-social behaviour, and a concerted effort by Council and others to turn around the economic decline of the town centre.

Hardly radical views. In fact the three things I called for are all supported by the chair of the Henderson-Massey Local Board, the head of the local retailers association, and the Waitakere Indian Association which takes a strong interest in the safety of local dairy owners. Coincidence? No. I talked the issues through with all of them, and talked with the shopkeepers in the vicinity of the Kumars’ dairy, before making my comments.

Mayor Len Brown and west Auckland based Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse have also been calling for more police presence in Henderson.

You see Rachel, my constituents don’t get to comment on Morning Report about what they think should be done after an event like this.  But that is why they employ me. It’s my job to do that.

And I certainly won’t be silenced by knee-jerk responses like yours. I expect it from right wing hacks like Whale Oil and David Farrar.  As partisans for the Government it is not in their interests to see Opposition MPs raising questions about matters of public concern,  but I thought you were a credible journalist who would have seen the importance of that.

You write that a greater police presence would not have prevented Mr Kumar’s murder. Of course getting a community cop in Henderson won’t turn back the clock on the messed up parenting and social damage that saw a 12 and a 13 year old making trouble with a knife in a dairy at 7am on a school day, but to deny the relevance of police presence to these kinds of crimes is just shallow and uninformed.

If you had taken the time to find out a few facts you’d know that youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been a consistent problem in the Henderson Town Centre, including begging, intimidation and vandalism. Read the Western Leader, they’ll tell you.  The two boys accused of the crime were well known to the Kumars and other shopkeepers, and part of a group that hangs out in the centre.  The retailers have been asking for a greater police presence – specifically a community constable located in the town centre – specifically to deal with this issue.

The political Right loves to try and close down debate by drawing the cloak of sanctimony over any controversy.  Three years after the Canterbury earthquakes Gerry Brownlee was accusing MPs who raised questions about the mismanagement of the rebuild of playing politics with a natural disaster. In the months that followed the Pike River disaster, journalists and politicians who raised questions about the culpability of the company were accused of politicising the 29 deaths. It was three years before the full extent of the company’s negligence was exposed to light.

It is never wrong for an elected official to raise issues of public concern.

So Rachel, how about you have me on your show on Monday morning and we can discuss this?

Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote? Labour Leadership Q&A #8

Posted by on September 12th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 8

Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote?

Question : To win the next election we need to motivate people to vote and win some of the swing voters in the middle. Share one strategy that you think would be most effective in achieving this?

Submitted by : Dalene Mactier, Southbridge


Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog. This started Tuesday 10th September, and continues till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.



Answer from David Cunliffe

We need three things: strategy, unity and urgency. At the last election more than 800,000 people didn’t vote. At the 2011 election, Labour failed to persuade enough New Zealanders that it was a credible alternative.

When National was telling them that they would cut them off at the knees, they don’t want to hear from Labour that it would too, just a little nearer to the ankles and with more anaesthetic.

I will lead a true red Labour Party, not a pale blue one. I will lead a team that is a clear alternative to John Key.

Voters will understand the difference between Labour and National and how we will build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand.

We must be united to win. Voters disengage when there is disunity.

Everyone in Labour must put the interests of the party and the country first. We also need to be ready to win now.

We have less than a year to lift our numbers. John Key will spend billions to get re-elected. He is battle-ready and has the best spin money can buy.

New Zealanders need us to win so that they can get back on the ladder to success.


Answer from Shane Jones

Voter turnout is essential.

I am confident I can reconnect the Party with a broader range of voters. I am able to deal with the reasons why 800,000 kiwis chose not to vote in 2011.

A significant percentage of them are in the provinces.

I believe I can broaden the appeal of the Party to these people.

There is no single silver bullet.

However a robust organisation on the ground with vivid messages will work.


Answer from Grant Robertson

We need to be talking to people about the things that matter in their lives – how can they afford their first home, what opportunities are there for their kids when the leave school and university, are there decent jobs out there for them?

If we talk to people about the issues that matter to them, they will see that Labour has the vision and the policies to make a difference in to their lives.

I don’t think for a minute that middle New Zealand is better off under a National Government.

Under National their wages are stagnant, their power bills are growing and our public schools are getting shafted.

I will unite Labour so we can focus on selling our policies to New Zealanders and if we can do that we’ll win.


Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination? Labour Leadership Q&A #4

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 4

Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : Gender pay discrimination in NZ is a reality. The recent ruling in the Kristine Bartlett/SFWU case gives some hope. How would your leadership promote progress on achieving equal pay for work of equal value?

Submitted by : Lesley Soper, Invercargill



Answer from Shane Jones

The previous Labour Government made progress in this area.

It increased the wages of nurses.

I will use my position of leadership to ensure that the States resources are spent to give concrete improvement towards pay equity.

This is a core feature of Labour Party strategy and will not be neglected if I am leader.


Answer from Grant Robertson

I am really proud of the work of SFWU, Kristine and her lawyer Peter Cranney in getting that ruling.

It offers the prospect that equal pay will now become a matter of common law, and we will not need legislation to ensure it.

But we must be vigilant. National has no commitment to equal pay, and if legislation is needed, just as previous Labour governments have done we will pass it.

An immediate increase to the minimum wage, scrapping the Youth Rates, support for the Living Wage campaign and re-establishment of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within government are also important parts of ensuring that we achieve equal pay for work of equal value


Answer from David Cunliffe

I believe we need to lead by example. National has not been ambitious for women. When National took office, there were 1153 women in boardroom positions. Today, there are only 1059, and falling. Government has a role to play in setting a leadership example, that is why I am committed to no less 50 % of the Labour caucus being women by no later than 2017.

Labour has a strong record of working to address gender pay inequality.

I am committed to investigating legislative and policy changes to close the gap based on the work of the Human Rights Commission and the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. This includes, recognising the right to equal pay, a positive duty to advance equality, and a mechanism to determine work of equal value.

I am also supportive of ensuring information about pay rates are made available so that comparisons can be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women are revealed.


Government must break stalemate with plumbers

Posted by on July 3rd, 2013

Labour will this evening introduce an amendment to the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Amendment Bill to help break a stalemate between the National-Act Government and a large number of tradespeople in the industry.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, which was appointed by the Minster for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson, has been found to have illegally collected fees and levies from the industry.

The Bill, which is currently being pushed through Parliament under urgency, seeks to retrospectively validate the significant amount of money the Board collected unlawfully.

The Government’s failure to break the industry stalemate is a two-fingered salute to committed and qualified tradesmen just trying to get a fair deal.

The Ombudsman upheld Wellington plumber Wal Gordon’s complaints and recommended that the Board should negotiate an arrangement “whereby the excess levies paid could in whole or in part be refunded over a period or some credit could be given in respect of future fee or levy payments in compensation.”

But Maurice Williamson has openly snubbed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and instead adopted a closed and defensive approach and tried to fast-track the legislation. The National-Act Government is ignoring the industry’s valid concerns.

Labour’s Supplementary Order Paper implements the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“A five-year licence configured around the Board’s regime costs $10,000 in New Zealand – according to the Plumbers Federation. The same five-year licence in Australia costs only $330. It’s no wonder we are losing quality tradespeople to Australia.

We agree to the sector that this Bill is about more than the payment of money, it’s about unlawful activities. It is about the trust New Zealanders place in the Accountability Agreement between the Minister and his Board, and more importantly, in their Government and Parliamentary systems”.

Labour’s SOP seeks to find a midway but it is only the first step. We are encouraging a culture that is open and engaged with the changing needs of the sector. We acknowledge the problem with the Board’s activities are deep seated and we must get to the root of the problem from all aspects.

The Board has been subject to complaints to the Office of the Auditor-General, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee, the Office of Ombudsman, the Charities Commission and the Inland Revenue Department.

The Campbell Live show, the Politics of Plumbing, featuring particularly the “Minister Williamson artwork” is not a good look for his National-Act Government. Actually, it is a bad look for all politicians. I feel sorry for the Minister.


Are we all John Key’s playthings?

Posted by on July 2nd, 2013

Despite a consistent chorus from lawyers, civil rights organisations, telecommunications companies, and many others arguing that John Key’s new GCSB legislation (and the accompanying telecommunications interception bill) will increase the GCSB powers and sanction its role as a domestic spy agency, this is what the Prime Minister had to say in answer to question from me last week in parliament:

Intelligence Agencies—Sharing of Information on New Zealanders

10.CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement of 11 June 2013 that “I can assure the House that we do not use our partners to circumvent New Zealand laws”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Clare Curran: How can he justify his statement this week that his new laws will not expand the Government Communications Security Bureau’s powers when three telecommunications network companies, an international service provider, and the New Zealand Law Society all told a select committee today that these powers will be expanded and that they do not support this?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is correct.

Clare Curran: How can he continue to deny the expansion of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s powers through his new legislation when the major New Zealand – based telecommunications companies, which invest millions of dollars into our local economy, told the select committee today that this will have a chilling effect on their investment and development in new networks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is showing her ignorance by confusing the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill with the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

Clare Curran: Are there comparable protections in his new legislation for the privacy and rights of New Zealand citizens and businesses alongside the expansion of the bureau’s powers to become a domestic spy agency?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I reject the member’s premise.

Clare Curran: Given the revelations last week that the Government Communications Headquarters—the British equivalent of the bureau—is attaching intercept probes on to transatlantic fibre-optic cables where they land on British shores, does the bureau intercept the Southern Cross cable or any other transoceanic system that connects New Zealand’s internet to the rest of the world?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe it is in the national interest to talk about those matters.

Clare Curran: Is he aware of the concern raised in Google’s submission to the select committee that requiring global internet companies based outside New Zealand to undertake interception may put them in conflict with statutory privacy and confidentiality obligations in other countries—in other words, enforcing his law might force companies such as Google to break other laws?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member should direct her question to the Minister responsible. She is getting terribly confused between the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

I wasn’t confused at all. Both pieces of legislation are intimately linked. As John Key knows. Tomorrow will be interesting

The law (of NZ) according to Kafka

Posted by on May 21st, 2013

The world’s gone mad! I hear that a lot. Now I’m starting to believe it.

In our own parliament there are a series of laws being introduced (under urgency) which are not able to be properly scrutinised because the advice from officials about their impact is apparently too sensitive for us mere mortals to behold. The long term ramifications of this are not good for our rights as citizens; our privacy and our ability to trust our government.

Andrew Geddis has written eloquently about this, in particular with regard to a  law passed at the weekend which laid out the (deeply inadequate) terms upon which carers could be paid to care for severely disabled family members. The basis of the legislation  is highly questionable but the ability to debate that and any legal risks has been curtailed by the removal (or redaction) of this important official advice from the publicly released Regulatory Impact Statement (or RIS). Keith Ng at Public Address said much the same thing only in less words and in more colourful language.

There has been a growing and disturbing pattern emerging in this government to blatantly redact important information from publicly available documents. The removal of important information from a Regulatory Impact Statement reaches new heights however as it effectively nobbles the Opposition members of parliament in being able to debate and vote on the law in our parliament.

The Disability Bill was the third Bill introduced into the House within a week which removed large tracts of critical information and advice from the Regulatory Impact Statement. I say “critical information and advice”, but we can only assume it was important and critical because we simply don’t know, as it has been removed from the public eye.

The passing of these laws are therefore unable to occur with the full knowledge of their impact on our supposedly democratic and open society.

The first was a Bill which allows the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)  to assist the SIS, Police and Defence Force to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents, as long as it has the approval of the Prime Minister of the day.  Its Regulatory Impact Statement doesn’t even pretend to contain any real analysis of the risks for human rights, free speech and individual privacy. It boldly says there has been no consultation with the public. The hearings on this bill are very short and will be heard by a special select committee of party leaders. The likelihood is remote of all party leaders being available to hear submissions and then pay the required attention  to ensure good law-making about such an important and controversial matter in such a short time.

The second (which is linked to the first) is the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill which allow the GCSB and the Government extraordinary powers to intervene in a Telco network; from how it is designed, to how it operates in NZ. Should you be charged, then some evidence against you may be too secret (for you) to even hear. This Bill has two Regulatory Impact Statements: here and here. Both are heavily redacted.

In particular, look at page 9 of the  New Framework for network security which sets out the risks of the legislation: Unfortunately, the public is not allowed to know what most of those risks are because they are withheld. The period during which the public can provide submissions has been shortened from six weeks to five. We are now in week two. I urge everyone with an interest in our telecommunications frameworks and in robust democracy to submit.

It’s stranger than fiction. And immensely disturbing for our so-called Open Nation. Consider this:

In Franz Kafka’s The Trial; a man is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed to neither him nor the reader.

His guilt is assumed, the bureaucracy running it (the remote inaccessible authority) is vast with many levels, and everything is secret, from the charge, to the rules of the court, to the authority behind the courts – even the identity of the judges at the higher levels.

Under the passing of these two laws, this could be our new reality. How did we get to this place? And what are we going to do about it?


We used to be a country that valued protest

Posted by on March 31st, 2013

Today Energy Minister Simon Bridges announced new hefty criminal offences for protesters targeting ships in the EEZ, including for entering a 500 m exclusion zone.

Photos: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Contempt for democracy

Posted by on March 2nd, 2013

Even supporters of National’s Charter Schools have asked for changes to draft legislation currently before the Education and Science Select Committee. While the overwhelming majority of the 2,000 or so submitters have opposed the idea, and presented compelling research, facts and arguments against them, a handful of supporters have put forward suggested amendments to the Bill that are practical and sensible.

I don’t agree with the whole concept of Charter Schools, and will continue to oppose them. Nothing I’ve heard from submitters has convinced me that we need them, or that our existing publicly-owned and operated schools can’t deliver the supposed ‘flexibility’ and ‘innovation’ these new for-profit schools are supposed to showcase. But if the government is determined to plough ahead, they could at least work to knock the rough edges off the legislation they’ve hastily cobbled together as payback for the Key/Banks ‘cuppa tea’ deal.

Sadly, the government isn’t listening. They’ve already kick-started the process of setting up these new privatised schools before the Bill has even been reported back from select committee, let alone debated and voted on by the whole House. We only finished hearing public submissions on Wednesday. The committee hasn’t yet had the chance to consider what changes to recommend based on them.

This whole process has been a sham. New Zealanders don’t want to see schools set up as profit making businesses. And they certainly don’t want to see Government funding used for schools that employ unqualified teachers, and don’t have to teach to the New Zealand curriculum.

The composition of the Board to oversee the schools establishment, announced yesterday by John Banks, makes it crystal clear that the Government’s real aim is the commercialisation of the school system – not lifting student achievement. National and Act are obsessed with the idea that competition will somehow improve educational outcomes. Even the Treasury doesn’t believe that.

We should be focused on making sure every school is world-class, instead of wasting time and effort on the ideological experiment of Charter Schools. There are some positive changes in the Bill to other areas of education policy (for example more flexibility around school opening hours) but they are being well and truly over-shadowed by National’s ideological experiment in privatising education.

Lockwood raises the bar, again

Posted by on January 22nd, 2013

At some stage over the next few weeks, possibly as early as next Thursday, parliament will elect a new Speaker. As an opposition MP I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but we’ll be sad to see Lockwood Smith go. As Speaker, he has raised the bar in terms of ministerial accountability in the House. His most significant ruling, that when asked a straight question ministers should give straight answers, has changed the whole nature of Question Time. That ruling will remain in place long after his departure, although whether the new Speaker has the ability to implement it with the same precision and diligence is yet to be seen.

Just before Christmas, Lockwood raised the bar again, this time relating to ministerial accountability outside the Debating Chamber. Under parliament’s rules MPs are also allowed to ask written questions of ministers. There are a lot more of these and they don’t always receive the same level of attention questions in the House do. But they’re a vital information channel for the opposition, and they’re another way we can hold ministers to account for their performance and the performance of their departments.

Late last year Labour asked a series of written questions about the Novopay fiasco. The Minister in charge Craig Foss tried to brush them off by saying they were ‘operational matters for the Chief Executive’. This reply has been used by successive governments to sidestep bad news. However, the days when Ministers could duck for cover in this way seem to be over. In replying to Labour’s complaint on the matter, Lockwood Smith ruled:

“I note that there is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters, but that a Minster is not prevented from replying in those terms. These rulings related to a minister being questioned on operational matters for which a crown entity had responsibility. I expect a higher standard for answering questions relating to a department for which the Minister is responsible. A minister should be able to give informative replies about the actions of such a department.”

“As you have noted, the record shows that the Associate Minister has provided the House with information on this matter in response to questions for oral answer. Ministers are no less accountable to give informative replies to questions for written answer.”

Craig Foss subsequently provided more fulsome answers to our Novopay questions. But the effect of this ruling will extend well beyond this one instance. If the new Speaker maintains this new high standard, the improved level of accountability we’ve seen at Question Time will extend beyond the walls of the Debating Chamber. That’s a good thing.

The new Speaker will have big shoes to fill. All the more reason for the government to nominate a candidate who will have the respect of all sides of the House.

Labour’s Summer School: the place to be

Posted by on January 13th, 2013

2013 is the year Labour will start to flesh out our policy process. In two weeks Labour members will get another chance to have in depth conversations about policy, social democracy and ideology.

Labour members from around New Zealand will descend on Wainuiomata in my electorate in to be part of Labour’s largest Summer School ever.

Summer School is Labour’s pre-eminent forum for Labour members of all ages to discuss, debate, and develop ideas on social democracy and how the Labour Party can realise and define its vision. Summer School has been an annual feature in January since 2003 and is organised by Young Labour. It offers Labour members a vital opportunity to think beyond day-to-day politics and to push the boundaries of what we can achieve.

This year is the largest Summer School ever and will culminate in David Shearer delivering a speech on Labour’s priorities in 2013.

The 2013 Summer School theme “Labour’s Unique Narrative for the Future” will encourage us to consider what makes (or should make) Labour unique among the political parties in Aotearoa and what values and history reinforce our uniqueness as the progressive party of change.

We will discuss a slew of interesting sessions on a range of policy, organisational and ideological issues with great speakers such as Rod Oram, Brian Easton, Gavin Ellis, Deborah Russell and Amanda Brydon.

Have a look at the Summer School flyer and programme. It is your chance to have an impact on Labour’s policy process and discuss the big issues: economic challenges of the future, the role of neoliberalism in Aotearoa, human rights and solutions to inequality.

If you would like to attend Labour Summer School you can click here to find out more information and register.

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Consultants for core administrative tasks?

Posted by on January 10th, 2013

Back in 2008 the then National opposition made two ‘key’ pledges when it came to public services. The first was to ‘cap but not cut’ the number of public servants, and the second was to ‘move resources from the back office to the frontline’. They didn’t keep either promise, but more importantly, evidence is increasingly emerging that their approach to public service provision is costing the taxpayer more, not less.

National’s cap on public service numbers has led to a blowout in consultancy costs, as government agencies continue to deal with the same, or in many cases greater, workloads with fewer people on board to do the work.

Take the Ministry of Education for example. This week I released data that shows they’ve been engaging expensive consultants to undertake core administrative tasks like processing official information requests, drafting ministerial documents, and writing business cases. I’ve got no problem with departments bring in outside expertise when a particular set of skills are required, but this is bread and butter stuff any department the size of the Ministry of Education should be able to deal with.

Between 2008 and 2011 ten of the biggest government departments spent a whopping $910 million on consultants and contractors between them. Those same agencies spent $114 million making people redundant during the same period. Increasingly anecdotal evidence is emerging of former employees being engaged as consultants to do the work they used to do for a lot less when they were employees.

National’s consultancy culture isn’t saving us money, it’s costing us more. It’s also leading to an erosion of the core capability of the public service, and some of the haphazard decisions ministers are making, often based on weak advice, reflect that.

Our democratic system relies on there being a quality public service with the expertise and capability to deliver on the priorities of the government of the day, whomever that may be. That includes the capability to deliver advice the government of the day might not like. Under National, that capability is being seriously eroded.

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.

Parata battening down the hatches

Posted by on November 11th, 2012

Hekia Parata now seems to be working on the premise that the less information she gives out, the less accountable she will have to be. After making such a hash of her proposals for school closures and mergers and Christchurch, Parata and her Ministry are now refusing to release the information and advice she received when making those decisions.

I understand officials presented the Minister with several alternative options, but requests for that advice to be released are being refused. That is wrong. In refusing to release that advice officials have argued it would compromise the consultation going on at the moment. How could releasing more, and extremely important, information undermine a supposedly ‘genuine’ consultation?

Similar requests directed to Ms Parata have not been actioned on the basis that she is too busy visiting schools in Christchurch to respond to them. That’s a bit rich coming from a Minister who has refused pleas from those very same schools to give them extra time to undertake consultation.

The Government should be approaching this process in an open, transparent and democratic way. Instead the Minister and her officials are promoting a culture of secrecy. In turn that cloak and dagger secrecy around the release of information is simply creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

That’s not a responsible way for the government to behave. I urge Hekia Parata to openly release all of the information and advice she has received regarding school reorganization in Christchurch. Any refusal to do so will leave people rightly asking what she is trying to hide.

How do we keep our media free from political interference?

Posted by on November 9th, 2012

The case for a strong, independent, modern, commercial free public broadcaster is strengthening. The appointment yesterday of Richard Long, by Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss to the board of TVNZ at the very least creates a perception of a political appointment.

Long was chief of staff to Bill English and Don brash. He is competent and qualified for the position.

But this is our state broadcaster.

Media independent of political interference is a critical cornerstone of a functioning democracy. I contend we have crossed a line in the last four years. This is a deeply important issue.

Nothing to fear, nothing to hide

Posted by on October 16th, 2012

Its been a couple of weeks since we have had the chance to test what standard of Ministerial behaviour is acceptable to John Key. I had another opportunity today in the House, armed with some new information.

It pays to remember that one of the things John Key campaigned on in 2008 was to instill high standards of ethical behaviour for Ministers. That’s one of the reasons that we have pursued the John Banks debacle because by any measure his behaviour has not reached the standards that I think New Zealanders would expect of their Ministers.

When the Police file on John Banks was released in September Mr Banks was the only one of the major players who’s witness statement was missing. And even in the summary report the three paragraphs referencing it were withheld. At the time Mr Banks claimed it was the Police who had made that decision.

Mr Banks said it was the police who decided keep his statement under wraps. Press secretary Shelley Mackey said: “Mr Banks is not responsible for what the police have released.”

We asked for all the correspondence between Mr Banks and the Police on the release of the report, and lo and behold we found a letter from Mr Banks’ lawyer that said

Accordingly, disclosure of any material relating to Mr Banks, or indeed any part of the investigation file, is opposed.

More lies, half-truths and obfuscations from John Banks. He has gone to great lengths to ensure that New Zealanders can not read what he told the Police about the donations to his Mayoral campaign. This from the man who said he had ‘nothing to fear and nothing to hide’. And all the while John Key clings on to Mr Banks to uphold his Parliamentary majority. At the expense of not only increased Ministerial standards, but almost any Ministerial standards at all.

Some might ask is this really damaging John Key. I think it is. The beginning of New Zealanders sense of disappointment in John Key can be traced to the “cup of tea” with John Banks, and his wilful ignorance of breaches of Ministerial standards just adds to the growing sense that he has failed to live up to his own hype.

Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Bill

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

One of the Bill’s that was drawn from the ballot today is unlikely to gain as much attention as others, but it could have quite a significant impact on the way government operates. The Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill, in the name of Shane Jones, allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated.

Sound pretty uninteresting? Consider this: the Ombudsmen are the people who investigate alleged breaches of the Official Information Act (among other important roles). If the government is trying to hide something, they are the ones who can force it into the open. They play a vital ‘safeguard’ role within our governing system. But currently they can’t keep up with demand.

During the 2011 financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Chief Ombudsman stated that the office was ‘in crisis’ due to its high caseload and inability to meet demand. Only a minor increase has been recommended as part of this year’s Budget. This extra funding will cover increases in salary costs but will do nothing to address the more than 300 cases that are presently unallocated and awaiting further consideration.

This Bill allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated. This will ensure that resourcing constraints do not deny access to due process, and will promote greater compliance with legislative requirements by government departments and agencies.

Providing the Ombudsmen with the ability to charge those departments or agencies who are the subject of Official Information Act 1982 investigations is likely to improve compliance with that legislation (which currently contains very weak compliance provisions).

So, not the sort of stuff that’s going to set the political world alight with excitement, but a very important debate to have all the same.

Timor Leste – Progress in a new democracy

Posted by on July 16th, 2012
The Fretilin party's election campaign cavalcade

The Fretilin party's election campaign cavalcade

For the people of Timor Leste, there was a lot more at stake in the 7 July parliamentary elections than simply the party they chose to govern for the next five years.  If the process was successful and there was acceptance of the results, it would mark a level of political maturity and stability vital for the country to tackle the huge development challenges it faces.

For the international community, a successful election would confirm that after a false start seven years earlier, the UN would be able finally to pack up and go home, confident that the new country was in shape to determine its own destiny.

We were in Timor Leste to observe the end of the campaign, election day and its immediate aftermath.  Five New Zealand parliamentarians from four parties, we participated in both a bi-lateral New Zealand team and an Asean Regional Forum group, marking its first role in a political process of this nature.

For me personally, it was my tenth visit to a country which 37 years earlier had been subject to a brutal invasion and occupation.  This had resulted in an estimated loss of life of up to 200,000.   The world had left the people of East Timor to their fate with many countries including ours effectively complicit or turning a blind eye to what had occurred.


Goodnight Kiwi. RIP TVNZ7

Posted by on July 1st, 2012

TVNZ7 is no more. New Zealand is worse off for it.

Killing off public broadcasting will be one of the legacies of this National Government.

Back Benches carries on… for 3 more episodes

Posted by on June 8th, 2012

Received tonight:

The TVNZ 7’s political pub programme, “Back Benches” is gutted about the fire which has damaged our home pub, The Backbencher. We were hoping to end our programme where we began four years ago but look forward to seeing her glory restored in the coming weeks. In the meantime, however, “Back Benches” will be filming its final shows from The Shepherds Arms & Speight’s Ale House on Tinakori Road in Thorndon. We hope our fans will join us in our new location.

Personally, I think the last episodes should have been at parliament. Would have been fitting.

Meanwhile the fight to Save TVNZ 7 continues. More than 200 at last night’s meeting in Dunedin. That’s close to 1500 people who have attended meetings around the country in the last three weeks. More than 28,000 signatures on the petition. Hundreds of emails to John Key and Craig Foss. One thing is clear; public broadcasting television is valued in New Zealand. Just not by this government.


26 more days to Save TVNZ 7

Posted by on June 4th, 2012

Last week, Danya Levy in the DomPost reported that:

Labour is accusing former broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman of deliberately misleading the public over the audience size of the soon-to-be-defunct TVNZ7 and claims the reason for scrapping the free-to-air channel is flawed.

However, Dr Coleman says there was no attempt to manipulate the audience figures.

On Monday he admitted that he incorrectly said last year that TVNZ7 had a weekly audience of 207,000.

It came just after the Government decided not to extend its $79 million funding to the channel over six years, $70m of which came from a special dividend from TVNZ.

Coleman said he made no attempt to manipulate the figures. This is wrong. He either doesn’t read his Cabinet papers,  he was lying, or  he undertook some disingenuous maths. He certainly did manipulate the figures.

On 23 February 2011 a Cabinet paper to him on Revised Options for the Future of TVNZ7 said:

“Unlike TV ONE and TV2, the channels (6 & 7) are not reliant on commercial advertising revenue and are therefore able to schedule a range of content aimed at audiences outside of the demographic cohorts targeted by advertisers.

The channels’ combined average cumulative audience (individuals accessing at least one programme) is around 2.1 million. This compares with a monthly figure of approximately 1.6 million for Maori Television Service and 2.2 million for the combined Radio New Zealand National and Concert audiences. Currently 6 and 7 can be accessed by around 70% of the population on the Freeview and SKY platforms.”

The Cabinet paper (produced by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage) recommended no further funding be made available to continue TVNZ 7 when the current appropriation ended in 2012.

This recommendation came just days after a meeting attended by John Key, Jonathan Coleman, Steven Joyce and the TVNZ CEO and senior executives where a clear proposal to keep TVNZ 7 was laid out. I understand that Key warmed to the idea. Steven Joyce however, didn’t.

The result is that funding for TVNZ 7 ceases in just 26 days.

The Save TVNZ 7 campaign has organised two public meetings this week.

  • Wednesday night in Palmerston North All Saints Church Hall, cnr The Square & Church St
  • Thursday night in Dunedin at the Colquhoun Theatre, at the hospital.

Make the effort and come if you can. And support the campaign.