Red Alert

Archive for the ‘international’ Category

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 She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any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.

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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Progress in international justice

Posted by on April 27th, 2012

The former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is the first time since the Nuremberg trials of former Nazi leaders in 1946 that a country’s leader has been held to account for crimes of this nature. It’s an historic and landmark decision.  It sends a message that the international community can track down and bring to justice tyrants who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It tells those who act in this way that they cannot do so with impunity. While this verdict is welcome, it was a long time coming and there is still a long way to go.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently on trial and former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is in ICC custody.

However there are dozens of other current and former leaders whose actions justify trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity who continue to be beyond the reach of the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals.

Taylor’s conviction is good sign, but there is still much to be done.

NZTE Focussed; Joyce Not.

Posted by on March 1st, 2012

NZTE has just presented a stellar annual report to the Commerce Select Committee. The new CEO Peter Chrisp and Chair John Mayson deserve credit.

Costs are down, focus is up, strategy is sharper. Performance measures are more rigorous.

NZTE’s emerging success gives the lie, however, to Bill English’s comment that there is nothing to be done about economic growth “it is what it is”.

And NZTE’s focussed success contrasts with the haphazard approach taken by Economic Development Minister Joyce’s to doing shady deals with individual corporates.

None of media (Canwest); Casinos (SkyCity) international film giants (Warner Bros) feature within NZTE’s strategy for target clients.

So if they are not prioirities for the experts, why is their Minister treating them so?

Likewise on FDI, NZTE is focussed on high-spillover investment that adds value to NZ, NOT selling farmland or assets that already exist. So why are National politicians doing the opposite?

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.

Release of Overseas Aid policy

Posted by on October 11th, 2011

Today I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy. This is one point of distinct difference we have from the Nats in the Foreign Affairs basket of interests and issues. The points are simple:

1. Restore poverty elimination as the primary focus of overseas aid, as opposed to economic development, as the Nats have prioritised. Get back on board with achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially here in the Pacific, and that includes education to improve literacy, access to health services like maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, sexual and reproductive health programmes.  Stop handing aid dollars out to business friends without tender, so they can line their own pockets AND feel good about themselves at the same time.

2. Redevelop a strategic partnership with the NGO sector and develop best practice again, as we were known for previously. If there are inefficiencies in aid delivery through NGOs, let’s sort that out, but let’s not alienate some of our experts by adopting McCully’s “4 legs good, 2 legs bad” approach to the sector. In other words, if it comes out of the private sector, it must be good. If it comes out of the not for profit or, god forbid, the public sector, it must be bad.

3. We will set up NZAID with semi-autonomous status, taken back out of MFAT and based on sound principles of development analysis and research. Stop the blurring of the boundaries between aid and foreign policy objectives where it is too easy to slip into chequebook diplomacy.

4. We will build on our experience in reconstruction and peace-making to develop a specialist capability in mediation and conflict resolution.

Those are the main points. You can see the whole thing here. Comments welcome.

Aid to Libya – what about the Horn of Africa?

Posted by on August 26th, 2011

A few days ago, John Key announced that NZ would be giving “millions” to the National Transitional Council representing the rebels in Libya, ahead of UN recognition of the NTC and any request from them for such aid.

What the hell is this about? Libya is an oil-rich country. The UN is right now moving to lift the freeze on Libyan assets to the tune of $US1.5 billion, so why does the NTC need money from NZ? Who is pulling Key’s strings here? And did he tell his Foreign Affairs Minister? Where is the money coming from? Are we going to cut even more of the aid programmes in the Pacific to divert money to a country which doesn’t need it? These questions need answering.

Don’t get me wrong – I think we should assist Libya as it moves towards democracy, even if it is not as we know it. They will need assistance by way of training people in the maintenance of the rule of law, the establishment of accountable public structures which are transparent to the people, governance matters, etc. That’s where we can help.

And while John Key is distributing unnecessary largesse to an organisation which has yet to get full international recognition, Murray McCully has been dragging his heels in disbursing aid promised 6 weeks ago to the relief effort in the Horn of Africa. Children are dying by the thousands from the worst drought in 20 years and a call on our aid budget in this respect is legitimate and compelled by any humanitarian impulse.

But McCully has dicked about with disbursing this money – only just an hour or two ago, putting out a release that says he has made the decision on which NGOs will get the $1million promised 6 weeks ago. Provoked by bad press. How principled. What about the $1million promised to the World Food Programme? When did that get paid, if it has been?

Not good enough, Murray.


Posted by on August 9th, 2011

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of the massacre of 3000 protesters who wanted democracy in Burma. They were Buddhist monks, students, activists and workers. They were gunned down by the military regime for daring to want freedom, peace and democracy. 2200 political prisoners still languish in Burmese prisons. In Norway or Burma, democracy is a threat to some people.

I went to my fifth commemoration of this event in Nelson yesterday. It gets bigger every time. We have more ethnic groups arriving from Burma and they bring new horror stories of murder, rape and persecution.

One woman who knows about perpetual struggle in a way to which I will never have to become accustomed, is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Here is a message from Aung San Suu Kyi – yes, to us in NZ – about the Burmese struggle. Enough said.

Fiji – our neighbourhood – our concern

Posted by on August 7th, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if New Zealanders who continue to visit Fiji for its sun and resorts really understand how serious the situation is, especially when it comes to human and workers’ rights. Perhaps if they did, they might not be so keen to visit.

In the past months, the regime has turned its guns on free trade unions and it’s going from bad to worse. This week the President of Fiji’s Trades Union Congress, Daniel Urai was arrested for holding an “unauthorised” union meeting and a new decree placing further restrictions on workers’ rights was introduced. This comes after the recent arrest of the internationally respected Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, Felix Anthony, who recently visited New Zealand to talk with unions about the situation in Fiji. There are mounting concerns he will be arrested again shortly.

The decree adopted this week is called “Essential National Industries Employment Decree” which appears to:

  • Ban all strikes, slowdowns, sick actions or any action that may negatively impact on the employer
  • Ban unions from representing workers in negotiating collective bargaining outcomes
  • Void all current collective agreements within 60 days
  • Provide that after 60 days period any strike or lockout may take place only with the written authority of the Minister
  • Prohibit overtime payments, including for weekend work, work on days off, and work on public holidays unless agreed to by the employer
  • Cancel all current Wages Council Orders regarding minimum terms and conditions of work in designated industries
  • Require that all members, office bearers, officers and executives of the union be employees of the designated company.

The decree applies to all Government owned industries and any other that the Minister may designate.  Individuals who break the decree can be fined $50,000 and five years imprisonment. Unions can be fined $100,000.

This is another attempt by the military regime to suppress dissenting views, using intimidation tactics designed to instill fear in workers and unions.

And in a bizarre twist, KFC has closed its three stores in Fiji, claiming Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s regime has blocked imports of ingredients until the secret recipe was revealed.

I think the tourists will survive the demise of KFC in Fiji, but the attack on workers’ and human rights in our own Pacific neighbourhood is something we should all be very worried about.

I hope our government will see it that way and let the regime know that this is unacceptable to New Zealand.

And if you are planning to visit Fiji, I don’t begrudge you a nice holiday, but you do need to go with your eyes wide open.

Treasury wants us to be happy too

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

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

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

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

Now our Treasury wants in :

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

The Framework recognises the following five elements:

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

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

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

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

Ugandan Parliament closes without passing anti-homosexual bill

Posted by on May 18th, 2011

Last week the Ugandan Parliament closed without debating the much feared anti-homosexual law being promoted by a single MP. People around the world rose up in protest. I went online to register my objection and lots of you did as well, I know. I have also raised this issue directly with the Deputy Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, when I met her last year.

All the effort has worked. Have a look at this video and be inspired!

Donald Trump – a prize chump

Posted by on April 21st, 2011

For the first time in a couple of weeks, I’ve had time to catch up with some international political news.

Even although times are tough in New Zealand, at least we don’t (yet) have candidates like Donald Trump for the top political positions in New Zealand.  Maggie Barry is a pale imitation of this kind of “celebrity” wanne-be politician and I’m sure she’s pretty harmless.

starsnaps_us_donald_trumpBut this man’s a chump.

The real estate magnate is readying himself for a run at the US Presidency, even although goodness knows what he stands for or believes in (although having said that, I would struggle to describe what John Key stands for or believes in as well).

Back in 2000, when Trump was strongly considering running for President as a third-party candidate under the Reform Party he said that he was a “Business Conservative, though socially moderate.”

In his book, The America We Deserve, Trump outlined a few policies he would propose as a 2000 Presidential candidate. One of the most noteworthy: universal health care. You got it. Of course now he, along with the rest of the Tea Party supports the repealing of President Obama’s universal health care law.

I particularly like this quote :

“It’s probably more refreshing to deal with the Teamsters than the AFT or NEA. At least the leaders of the Teamsters don’t blow smoke. The construction unions I deal with want more in the pay envelope for their rank and file. That’s what they tell you every time you sit down at the table. You can respect that-even as you push back to cut the best deal from your perspective. That’s the American way.”

Bet he doesn’t think that now he wants to be the Tea Party darling.

He’s getting down and dirty with his attacks on Obama’s birthplace. He’s sent his spies all over the place, he’s demanding to see the birth certificate and what hospital Obama was born in. I call that desperate and there’s another description for that as well, which I won’t use here.

Seems that Trump will make an announcement about his political future during the Celebrity Apprentice season finale on May 22. How sad, when it’s nothing to do with what someone believes in or wants to change for the better – when it’s everything to do with being a “celebrity”, a net wealth of $2.4 billion and the very scary Tea Party, who want to restore the rich and privileged in America to their rightful place.

And I know this is old, but no-one yet has revealed what is going on with that hair?

Trust in government

Posted by on March 18th, 2011

I’m in Singapore. On my way home. Taking some time to meet with media and technology people and understand the Singapore system a bit better. Met with someone late yesterday from the media regulator who was high up in a 36-story building in Tokyo a week ago when the earthquake struck.

His observations: Japanese building standards are very good. The building swayed and the experience was very scary and unsettling. But not life threatening.

Once it stopped and the enormity of the Tsunami was revealed, along with the nuclear calamity, he described the behavior and demeanor of the Japanese people as extraordinary and humbling.

He said where in many other countries there would be looting or stocking up on supplies, people were calm, forming orderly queues for supplies and only buying what they need for now. In Tokyo, where so many rely on public transport which has been badly affected, people are buying bicycles and just cycling home.

He said people have faith in their system and in their government.

And yet, there are mounting concerns that the Japanese people aren’t being told the full story about the radiation threats. The guy I spoke to was really concerned that they weren’t being told the truth and about the effect this would have, not only on their health, but on the national psyche, if their trust in government was eroded.

The news throughout the world is full of these questions, with few answers. There are mounting calls for more transparency from the Japanese Government.

In such circumstances, which we can only imagine with horror, surely we would want the truth.

PS: The guy I spoke to managed to get a plane out of Tokyo a couple of days ago.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin…..

Posted by on March 12th, 2011

I know it’s a long way from New Zealand and our sorrow about Christchurch – and now Japan.

But dramatic events have been taking place in Wisconsin, USA – so radical to democracy, we need to take notice.

After weeks of the Democrats avoiding a vote in the Wisconsin State Assembly, Governor Scott Walker and the Republican dominated Senate have used a legislative manouvre to pass a bill that will strip public sector workers of their fundamental international and human rights.  The bill is based on the scapegoating of public servants we are seeing around the world.   Somehow public sector workers are to blame for the economic meltdown and burgeoning deficits and they must be punished.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has  insisted that stripping the rights of public sector workers is essential to resolve the state’s budget deficit—and rammed through anti-union measures that take away the rights to collective bargaining for public sector workers.

It all happened so quickly and undemocratically  : a special conference committee that hadn’t existed just a few hours earlier called into session, and a brief statement from the Republican chairman that basically boiled down to “We’re allowed to do what we’re about to do.”

Apparently, it was over in seconds.

No discussion. No debate.

Other US States are endeavouring to follow Scott Walker’s approach.

Wisconsinites are stunned and outraged. Thousands have descended upon the Capitol. There will now be big efforts to recall all of the Republicans who voted in favour of this outrageous breach of fundamental rights.

While Libya and the Middle East are also in the news and causing real concern, we need to be aware that in the so-called” free world”, serious attacks on democratic decision making and the fundamental right of workers to join together and bargain with their employer are occurring.

It’s a trend that is extremely worrying.  It’s a deliberate attack on public sector unions, who, in countries like the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand have much higher levels of union membership and collective bargaining than the private sector.

We’ve seen a milder (but no less offensive) version of the rhetoric here – “bloated public services,” “backroom office staff,” “bureaucrats” etc.  We better take heed of the lessons of the US and what buying into this kind of blame this can lead to.

The Financial Elite have Gambled away our Future

Posted by on January 29th, 2011

Yesterday’s Press Editorial welcomed the PM’s announcement on the beginning of National’s privitisation programme for our country’s assets with the words “John Key was able to demonstrate…the value of his background in the financial industry”.  Excuse me?  Did the Press miss the Global Financial Crisis, where “the over-paid heroes of Wall Street and the City worshipped the gods of globalisation, financialisation and speculation”?   The quote is a teaser for the best of the five books I read over the summer break: “The Gods that Failed: How the Financial Elite Have Gambled Away our Futures” by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson.  The first edition of the book was subtitled: “How Blind Faith in Markets Has Cost us our Future”.  The second edition (published in 2009) has an extra chapter, which as one reviewer said could have been titled: We Told You So.  The authors of this book are economics editors, Elliott with the Guardian and Atkinson, the Mail on Sunday.

The metaphor that drives the narrative is inspired by the twelve gods of ancient Greece that lived on Mount Olympus.  Elliott & Atkinson have styled the super-financiers and the international organisations, (central banks, IMF, World Bank, WTO), the “New Olympians” and the twelve gods of the modern Mount Olympus: globalisation, communication, liberalisation, privatisation, competition, financialisation, speculation, recklessness, greed, arrogance, oligarchy & excess. 

“Greek mythology provides plenty of raw material for a book about the failings of modern financial markets.  There is the story of King Midas, who found the ability to turn all he touched into gold a curse. The tendency of markets to veer between the wild optimism of booms and the manic depression busts is akin to the life led by poor Persephone, condemned to live every six months of every year in Hades. But Pandora – a gift from the gods whose beauty belied her baleful influence on the lives of mortals – makes the best metaphor.”

As they said August 9 2007 was the moment the lid came off the modern version of Pandora’s box.  And the rest is history, which is why I believe this book must be read, because unless we learn the lessons of history, we condemn ourselves to repeating it.

This book is well-researched and easy to read.  It contains a chapter called ‘Last Tango on Wall Street” which has a very simple explanation of how the New Olympians (our Prime Minister’s background the Press values so highly) found ways to make money out of nothing – creating securitised financial products like “collateralised debt obligations” out of the subprime market and then hiding the risks behind AAA rated institutions.  The New Olympians made personal fortunes with bonuses they never had to repay when it all turned to custard.  And they were happy to see the taxpayers pick up the tab for their trillion dollar insanity. 

I conclude with this quote: ‘Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise.  But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation’.  That was John Maynard Keynes in 1936.  When will we ever learn?

International ratings a load of old cobblers

Posted by on January 18th, 2011

The weekend Herald Business had an article headlined “NZ rates fourth in the world for economic freedom”, so I had a closer look.

Turns out it’s from the Heritage Foundation, a US based Right wing Conservative based group who boast among their membership Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Their mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

While I did wonder why the Herald bothered to report on a poll like this, it does say something that this outfit rates NZ fourth after Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

New Zealand could have been higher on the index, but our government size is rated at 49.3 (eighth ranking) because

In the most recent year, total government expenditures, including consumption and transfer payments, increased slightly to 41.1 percent of GDP. The state maintains significant stakes in the transportation, electricity, and telecommunications industries. Past surpluses had reduced net public debt before the global crisis struck, leaving New Zealand room to enact a fiscal package measuring 6 percent of GDP over two years.

Putting aside the obvious that the right think we should sell everything, it was interesting to see the last sentence acknowledging Michael Cullen’s paying down of debt and Labour leaving New Zealand in a good position to cope with the global financial crisis. The NACTs are in denial about this of course.

We rate at 86.2 on the labor freedom index because “New Zealand’s flexible labor regulations facilitate its dynamic labor market, increasing the economy’s overall productivity. The non-salary cost of employing a worker is low, and dismissing an employee is costless. Regulations on work hours are flexible”.

Apparently, we rate well because we have almost no working hours regulations, we can fire workers for redundancy with no compensation and sacking a worker is easy.

On the other hand, Australia rates higher than New Zealand on this measure, even although their minimum wage is higher, they have statutory severance pay and working time regulation, including overtime pay. And they just introduced 18 weeks paid parental leave.

Go figure.

Meddling Murray McCully

Posted by on December 17th, 2010

Mismanagement and meddling by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has disrupted the humanitarian work of dozens of New Zealand NGOs.

Marie McNicholas of Newsroom:

Aid agencies waiting on the first tranche from a new $21 million Sustainable Development Fund have learnt nearly 60 percent of the applications have been rejected.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully abruptly announced in April that the fund would replace existing community development funding, but a promised September decision on the new allocations has run nearly three months late.

Projects to have missed out are in some the world’s poorest countries from Africa through Asia and the Pacific.

The decision has dealt a blow to charities which have struggled all year to understand what was required under the new funding criteria, and several report bewilderment and shock at the outcome.

Caritas chief executive Mike Smith has described it as  fiasco, with the agency now forced to lay off staff and cut funding to aid projects in the week before Christmas.

New Zealand, like most aid donors, channels some of its aid budget through NGOs. Because they rely on volunteers NGOs are extremely cost effective. And by matching funds raised from New Zealand donations this funding encourages Kiwis to give out of their own pockets. The  former scheme had been running for a couple of decades, had stringent accountability standards, had been praised by successive evaluations and cited by the Auditor General as a model for funding NGOs.

Nevertheless Murray knows best, and he wanted a new scheme that was open to the private sector, and focused on his new mantra of private sector economic development. It has been a chapter of errors in the following months with successive delays.

We are almost halfway through the financial year and until a week ago, none of the budgeted $21 million had been disbursed. Last year at this point $18 million had been spent. This means aid projects relying on commitments of New Zealand funding have been left hanging.

McNicholas reports the NGOs saying Mr McCully’s ministry keeps changing the goal posts, that the process has been marred by delays, poor communication and breaches of the spirit of partnership through which such aid programmes have been delivered successfully for years.

Last month I am told the Minister threw a fit when the first batch of projects was sent up to his office. He threw them back at officials and threatened to have the running of the scheme contracted out.

It is a fiasco. And it is a direct result of the Minister’s meddling and micro-management of the half-billion dollar overseas aid programme.

This is the Minister who personally intervened to slash the funding to the aid NGOs’ umbrella organisation Council for International Development causing 10 staff to be laid off, and to the excellent Wellington-based Global Focus development education centre which is facing closure.

Read on for Marie McNicholas’ full story: