Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘gerry brownlee’

A future for biofuels?

Posted by on July 24th, 2010

In the House on Thursday I questioned Gerry Brownlee on his disastrous Biodiesel Grants Scheme. Only about $230,000 of the $36 million set aside for the scheme has been taken up. Five companies have signed up, but no new companies have joined since July last year. It’s a long way short of Brownlee’s promise to create 240 new jobs and ensure that biofuels play a big part in our ‘energy mix’ of the future.

Brownlee chose to blame the industry for the scheme’s lack of success, despite the fact that he was warned from the very beginning it wouldn’t work. One of his first actions as Minister was to remove the biofuel sales obligation that was put in place by the previous Labour government. That would have generated sufficient demand for the biofuels industry to develop sustainably without the need for government subsidies.

Brownlee’s approach as Minister appears to be to ignore all the evidence about what actually works, only listen to the advice of those he agrees with, and then find someone else to blame when things go wrong. But I guess that’s what we should expect from the guy who thinks New Zealand’s future prosperity depends on digging up our National Parks and exporting them.

A bit of a stretch

Posted by on June 17th, 2010

I sat through all of the hearings on Gerry Brownlee’s Electricity Industry Bill. A lot of submitters questioned his plan to take Tekapo A and B power stations off Meridian Energy and give them to Genesis Energy (both state-owned SOEs). The Institute of Professional Engineers argued that it could lead to less efficient use of water as competing generators tried to maximise their competitive positions against each other. The Treasury argued in a written submission to the Minister that there wasn’t a robust business case / analysis. Unfortunately the National MPs chose to block Treasury from appearing before the Select Committee to explain their concerns.

This morning Gerry Brownlee appeared before the Commerce Select Committee to discuss the estimates for Vote Energy. I took the opportunity to ask him what his basis was for concluding that the asset swap was a good idea. He claimed that because there had been several dry years in the past decade there was evidence that Meridian hadn’t been managing the Waitaki water catchment efficiently. Basically he tried to blame the lack of rain in the South Island on Meridian. I know they are the biggest generator, but I don’t think their market power extends to controlling the weather.

State Owned Enterprises aren’t toys. They’re multi-million dollar enterprises. Any changes the government makes need to be based on robust business cases and rigorous analysis. Gerry Brownlee hasn’t done that. Former National Party Minister Max Bradford made a real hash of his power sector reforms of the 1990s – which led to huge increases in prices. Sadly for price-wary Kiwis, Gerry Brownlee and National appear to have learned nothing from their past mistakes.

Aspiration needs more than lip service

Posted by on June 9th, 2010

Gerry Brownlee is quoted in this week’s Listener saying that the government remains committed to an ‘aspirational goal’ of having 90% of New Zealand’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2025. He states “What people don’t get is that this is a 15-year target and why would you be anything other than aspirational if you’re looking out 15 years?”

Unfortunately, this approach has become quite typical within the National government. Their approach seems to be: Identify a goal you think most people will agree with and then adopt an ‘aspirational’ target to be met at some very distant point in the future, by which time you’ll be long gone and nobody will be able to hold you to account for it. Then just continue on as you were before, or in Brownlee’s case, push policies that actually go in the other direction.

It’s hard to square Brownlee’s commitment to renewable energy with his passion for hydrocarbons. He seems to have made it his personal mission to find every ounce of coal, gas and oil in and around New Zealand and ensure that it’s extracted. In the case of gas at least, which is difficult to transport, that becomes economically more attractive to explorers when they know they have a growing domestic market – in other words, more gas-fired power plants.

I agree that we should be aiming for at least 90% of our electricity to come from renewable sources, but I think we need to do more than mumble ‘aspirational’ platitudes. My Electricity (Renewable Preference) Bill would prevent further non-renewable power plants unless they were essential for security of supply. That’s a firm step in the right direction. The next step is to look at how we promote the up-take of renewable, particularly on a more localised, smaller scale.

MPs should pay for their own court cases

Posted by on April 7th, 2010

The Herald reports that undisclosed amounts have been paid to cover at least part of Nick Smith’s $270,000 costs in one of his defamation cases to date.

It also reports the Gerry Brownlee made application for taxpayers funds to cover his costs, including the amount to be paid to the pensioner he assaulted and pushed down stairs at a national party conference.

Just to make it absolutely clear, I paid all costs (about $10k from memory) in the case where Tau Henare and I fought in the lobby of the house.

And in the Tuku Morgan defamation action, the amount of which has been knocked down from over $1m to $700k, about which I will be a bit circumspect because it is still live, I received about $15k of support from colleagues and one other generous individual (who also gave me excellent  non legal advice) towards expenses of about $50k. I also received substantial voluntary legal and factual research support the value of which was certainly over $100k.

In the Crosby Textor case I received pro bono support from a local QC.

That is the deal. MPs don’t represent the crown, they aren’t part of the government, and should take at least the same care as any other person when speaking out on an issue. Ministers are in my opinion in another category and hardly a week would go by without a threatening letter being received by a Minister, mainly from nutters who can be ignored, but often there needs to be legal advice sought and sometimes cases defended.

I’m sure I will get a call from Margaret on this but I just do not understand why the taxpayer is funding Nick Smith, and I’m very pleased that the National party rather than the taxpayer ended up paying for Brownlee’s assault.

The Herald cartoon below is a bit unfair as I assume there is no suggestion that the taxpayer is in any way indemnifying Smith.


Pitcairn Island Council

Posted by on March 27th, 2010

Having a quiet coffee after ride this morning when I was approached by a woman who I had never met before, originally from Canterbury but recently returned from UK.

She had watched Parliament the other day and specifically mentioned how Bennett, Brownlee and Tolley had struggled and as she put it – “just aren’t intelligent enough to do the job.”

Then the line which I’m sure will become a classic – “they reminded me more of members of the Pitcairn Island Council than the New Zealand Parliament.”

I suppose we have become used to it and are too accepting.

Good call Gerry

Posted by on March 19th, 2010

Gerry Brownlee has made the right call in deciding to back Rally New Zealand. It’s a great event, providing huge exposure for New Zealand internationally and opening up heaps of tourism opportunities. I hope the govt’s backing of the event will help to secure it a place on the international Rally calendar.

It’s a pity the Nats had to be embarrassed into doing something though. They didn’t hesitate to give $300k to the All Whites, who are already getting $10 million to go to South Africa. Maybe they’ve decided the Rally offers Key a good photo-op too…

Gerry’s dumb decision on smart meters

Posted by on March 14th, 2010

Gerry Brownlee has decided not to specify a standard for smart meters, denying householders the opportunity to get a little more control over the cost of their electricity. The technology on offer is quite exciting, and it’s a real shame the new meters electricity companies are fitting won’t make use of it. The meters being installed don’t have a HAN (home area network) chip, so they won’t be able to communicate with other in-home appliances to allow consumers to take advantage of using power when electricity is cheaper.

Brownlee’s decision is good news for the electricity companies, who now have ministerial backing in their quest to deny households the opportunity to save money on their power bills. It’s a shame he didn’t listen to the advice of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who recommended last year that he specify a standard, as many overseas jurisdictions have done. Brownlee is defending his decision by saying that the ripple control system for hot water heaters is an adequate substitute. As my colleague Charles Chauvel has stated “In technology terms, that’s a bit like saying you don’t want an iPod because you still have a perfectly good collection of 78s”.

However, he has got one thing right in that he has agreed to regulate some of the basic data exchange protocols. That will ensure that consumers will be able to make use of new meter technology even if they switch retailers. As an example, I’m currently with Meridian but my meter was installed by Genesis. Meridian read my meter every 2nd month, but if I was with Genesis they would do an electronic reading monthly so I’d never need to worry about ‘estimate’ readings. Hopefully the new rules will ensure that Meridian will be able to use the meters electronic capability, even though they didn’t install it themselves.

It’s a real shame Gerry Brownlee hasn’t used his 3 and a half months deliberating on the issue (the Electricity Commission presented their recommendations to him in early December) to make a more gutsy call. As usual he’s sticking with his head in the sand, stacking up more problems that will have to be dealt with in the future rather than showing leadership today. In the meantime consumers miss out on an opportunity to save money on their power bills. So much for National being the party of choice…

Brownlee gets details wrong – again!

Posted by on March 3rd, 2010

The government’s great details man Gerry Brownlee was reported in the DomPost this morning (article not online) making more claims about the government’s home insulation scheme that just don’t stack up. An Otago University report has argued that the standard of insulation provided isn’t sufficient for homes in colder areas (eg. lower South Island), so Brownlee side-steps the issue by saying there isn’t the capacity to insulate more homes. Actually Gerry, that wasn’t the question! Even then, his claim isn’t true either.

249 businesses applied for approval to deliver home insulation and heating under the government’s scheme but only 60 were approved. I know of a number of businesses that meet the quality standards but were turned away because they weren’t big enough. Gerry ‘bigger is always better’ Brownlee argues there isn’t capacity to insulate more homes but that just isn’t true. If he wasn’t distorting the market by creating monopoly providers there would be plenty of capacity to insulate more homes.

Gerry Brownlee should take the concerns being raised about the scheme seriously. Last month an initial audit by EECA into the scheme said that 63 per cent of the insulation retrofits audited have “problems”, half of which are described in the audit report as “serious”. There have been a string of reports from providers who have had to lay off staff because they were excluded at the last minute. There are suggestions providers who are approved aren’t passing on the full benefit of the subsidy to consumers.

The government needs to look at all of these issues carefully. Brownlee can’t keep bluffing the details. We all want to see more homes properly insulated, but it needs to be done properly. Enough of the cutting corners and PR spin.

Rally New Zealand

Posted by on February 28th, 2010

I was disappointed to learn this week that the draft 2011 world rally calendar doesn’t include the iconic Rally of New Zealand. The official position of RallyNZ appears to be to wait until the draft schedule is confirmed, but it now looks unlikely we’ll make it.

I was particularly disappointed to learn that the government had turned down backing for the event. This week Gerry Brownlee was trumpeting the fact that the government was sponsoring the World Paralympics Athletic Championships, so I asked him why he wasn’t backing Rally New Zealand. In response he questioned the economic benefit of the event.

The world rally championships is a huge international event, bringing huge TV audiences and offering considerable tourism potential. Media reports suggest those involved in the motorsport industry feel other governments give better backing to the event, no doubt that played a part in our being excluded from the 2011 schedule.

Major sporting events bring huge economic benefits to New Zealand. While we’re all focused on the Rugby World Cup, we’d be mad to overlook events like the Rally of New Zealand, which appeals to a very different (and possibly bigger) international audience.

So was the urgency worth it Gerry

Posted by on February 26th, 2010

Sometimes you can get too smart for your own good. Gerry Brownlee did this week. He put far too much in an urgency motion. He was offered a deal that included questions. He has now revealed that he wanted at least one Select Committee to sit at Parliament by leave at the the time the house was sitting.

Labour said no. Gerry lost his cool rejected the deal and ended up getting much much less through than he would have otherwise.

He found out that if the opposition decides to go into a no co-operation phase hours can be spent with no progress whatsoever.

He also found out that Christopher Finlayson (no QC) notwithstanding his FIGJAM approach doesn’t have the brains to stand and take a call even when he has his instructions wrtitten down for him.

Hope that Brownlee enjoys explaining to the next Cabinet and caucus what happened and that Hone Carter can give advice as what to do next time.

What I would have asked Tolley

Posted by on February 25th, 2010

Because it looks like the Nats have decided they don’t want to expose their Ministers to questions today I thought I would share with Red Alert readers and in particular Anne Tolley (because I know that her office and several of her Cabinet colleagues read Red Alert on a daily basis) the question I would have asked. Looks like I will now have to wait three weeks but thought that giving notice will allow her to swot.

Does she understand the asTTle reporting system and the process leading to it?

Btw – one point of order yesterday took 75 minutes – Gerry would have been better off having questions and co-operation over times of debates.

Update  Gerry Brownlee has folded – has now woken up and there will be a question time today.

Brownlee’s shambles cuts jobs

Posted by on February 24th, 2010

One of the first things the new National government did when coming into office was scrap the $1b home insulation fund that the previous Labour government had planned. Later in the year they finally woke up to the huge value better home insulation can bring and announced their own scheme, albeit smaller. Personally I was pleased they’d seen the value in warming up kiwi homes, but as the weeks and months have rolled on, more and more of the rushed schemes weaknesses have been revealled.

One of the most concerning is the impact it has had on small specialist businesses. It would be natural to assume that a small specialist home insulation business delivering a quality product would stand to benefit from a significant expansion of the market and increase in the number of government subsidies available. Not so, in fact the opposite has happened. The government has arbitarily capped the number of providers, favouring big players like The Warehouse or Hire a Hubby, rather than small specialists. Of the 249 businesses that sought approval, only 60 got it.

I think this is totally unfair. Many of these businesses were previously able to access government subsidies and some had, in good faith, scaled up their operations, taking on new staff (many off the dole) in anticipation of the increased demand. I’ve had many firms tell me about how they’ve had to lay off staff because they can’t compete with the big providers who are getting government subsidies.

I’m very keen to see more homes insulated, and I’m pleased the government is putting some money into it. It’s a real shame that they aren’t doing it fairly and properly. It’s kind of ironic that the ‘pro-competition’ National Party seems to be going out of their way to distort the market and choke off any competition when it comes to home heating and insulation.

Brownlee’s Bungled Bill

Posted by on February 4th, 2010

Opposition to the National government’s plans to carve up the electricity ‘market’ even further continues to grow. Gerry Brownlee, meanwhile, continues to think he can just bluster his way through without dealing with the many substantive and valid concerns being raised.

The Press reports that Meridian Energy have written to SOE Minister Simon Power and Finance ministers Bill English and Steven Joyce informing them that the cost to the taxpayer of Brownlee’s proposed transfer of assets from Meridian to Genesis could be $80 million plus. Brownlee’s pitiful response was to say that the issue had been ‘extensively canvassed’. He then resorted to attacking the messenger, in much the same way he attacked PowerShop when they also raised concerns.

The Press also quotes Institute of Professional Engineers chief executive Andrew Cleland who argues forcing Meridian to hand over the Tekapo A and B power stations to Genesis would compromise the Waitaki system, making it less efficient resulting in a “lose-lose” for the consumer. Labour raised this very point during the First Reading of Brownlee’s Bill.

Gerry Brownlee seems to be playing with the energy SOEs as if they are toys. He has no real plan to deal with the flaws in the existing electricity market, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the detail of the portfolio and seems totally unwilling to engage with any reasoned argument. Unfortunately, it’s the consumer/taxpayer that will suffer the consequences.

Brownlee muzzles power co boss

Posted by on January 13th, 2010

Late last year in the pre-Christmas rush Gerry Brownlee unveiled some pretty dramatic changes to the electricity market. They were contained in the Electricity Industry Bill which received its first reading in Parliament.

At the time, the CEO of Powershop, a subsidiary of Meridian Energy, was very critical of the reforms proposed in the Bill. Brownlee complained to Meridian and it now looks like the CEO has been gagged.

It’s a shame that the National Party only seems to be in favour of freedom of speech when it likes the message being delivered.

Update: Hat tip to The Standard who first posted on this yesterday.

Question watch #2

Posted by on December 22nd, 2009

My post yesterday on John Key’s non-answer to some of my written parliamentary questions certainly got the Key apologists worked up. When Key does finally front up with the answers I’ll post the info here and people can then judge whether they were fair questions to ask.

The Key apologists seem to have forgotten that National MPs used to routinely ask tricky questions of the then Labour government. One of their favourites was to ask about staff Christmas parties and presents. Most government departments do some sort of end of year function for their staff, so National’s questions were basically intended to find examples of where they’d gone a bit over the top so that they could shout from the rooftops about “waste”.

Interestingly, they aren’t so keen to answer now that the shoe is on the other foot. I asked a written question of each Minister that’s almost identical to one Brownlee, McCully etc used to ask and they have all come back with the same answer: “The question the member asks relates to an operational matter which is the responsibility of the Chief Executive.”

Interesting to note that when Labour was the government and National was the opposition the questions were OK, but now that National is in government they seem to think a lower standard of accountability should apply. In 2005 Annette King even went so far as to compile all of the answers into a handy little table for the Nats, so why are they suddenly ducking for cover?

No relief from rising power prices

Posted by on December 9th, 2009

Gerry Brownlee has announced changes to the electricity sector. National are returning to their ‘market knows best’ ideological roots. They’re gutting the Electricity Commission, forcing asset swaps on the SOE generators that will do little to promote effective competition in the electricity market, and doing a bit of window dressing about customer switching beween retailers.

Before the election Brownlee and Key were blustering about electricity prices being too high. Now they seem content to talk about limiting price increases. After their year long review they have done nothing that will help to cut power bills for hard working Kiwi families. In fact their demand that the SOEs return even bigger dividends to the government could send power prices up even further.

I’m still working my way through the reports and will blog more on the detail in due course. Suffice to say I’m disappointed the government have once again ducked taking the tough decisions.

Key & English break the law

Posted by on December 8th, 2009

Once again the National-led government have been caught out changing the rules so that they can live the high life while they ask everyone else to stomach cuts. John Key has changed the rules so that Ministers are allowed to have a self-drive car in Wellington instead of at their primary place of residence.

The big issue though is that Bill English had a self-drive car in Wellington before the rules were changed, thus placing both him and John Key (who is the Minister responsible) in breach of the law. All year John Key has refused to take action against English on the basis that he hadn’t broken any laws. Now they both have. They have both breached the Civil List Act 1979.

When my colleague Pete Hodgson questioned Key about this in the House today he ducked out, leaving Gerry Brownlee to answer on his behalf. They must know they’ve really stuffed up on this one.

Gerry’s biofuels shambles

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Continuing with the theme set this morning by Colin James (see Grant’s post) I’ve found another example of how governments get things wrong when they rush things through. Late last year the newly elected National government rushed through a repeal of Labour’s biofuels obligation under Urgency. The obligation would have meant that the fuel you purchased at the pump would have had to have a certain percentage of biofuels within it. It would have been a useful step in reducing our carbon emissions.

National decided to rush through a repeal, thus pulling the rug out from under the biofuel industry that had been scaling up to take advantage of the new obligation. Labour MPs presented examples during the debate of businesses that would suffer, we presented the cost to NZ in terms of higher carbon emissions, and we argued, as we have with the ETS, that ultimately it should be the polluter that pays.

Gerry Brownlee argued, as National have done with the ETS, that the taxpayer should pay. In this year’s Budget National introduced a Biodiesel Grants Scheme as a partial replacement for the sales obligation. It set aside $36 million in taxpayer subsidies to encourage the production of Biodiesel. So how has it panned out? Well so far they have spent less than $44,000 of that money. In other words, it’s been a total flop. Another example of a bad law rushed through. Another example of National not looking at the evidence of what actually works.

The shoddy home insulation scheme

Posted by on October 17th, 2009

In recent weeks I’ve been getting a constant stream of complaints about how shoddy the government’s Warm Up NZ home insulation scheme is becoming. To be clear from the outset, the Labour Party has been campaigning for better home insulation all year and we’d committed to a $1b investment before the last election. But it has to be done properly and all evidence suggests the National government are cutting corners.

One of the most common complaints I’ve been getting has centred on changes the Nat govt have made to the standards insulation providers have to meet to get the subsidy. For example, before October homes that had been previously fitted with foil insulation under the floor were having it replaced with cavity insulation (eg. polystyrene). The Nats have changed that so that now the foil will just be repaired, despite the fact that studies have shown foil to be a lot less effective.

Seems a waste to put heat pumps into homes that will lose a lot of that extra heat because they are poorly insulated (not to mention the huge power bills that could be racked up).

I’ve also had a lot of complaints from insulation and heating providers who have had their contracts abruptly ended. In some cases these firms had scaled up their business to meet increased demand, investing in capital and more staff, only to find the funding tap suddenly turned off. If they were getting the subsidy before the govt’s big push to warm up kiwi homes, why are they left out in the cold now?

I challenged Gerry Brownlee on some of this in the House this week. His response, as usual, was to attack me and deny everything. Gerry ‘Details Man’ Brownlee clearly has no idea what is going on in his own portfolio. It’s such a shame. What a waste to be insulating all these houses poorly rather than doing it right the first time.

House tactics – Wiremu Pakeha missing

Posted by on September 24th, 2009

So we have had urgency for each week of the current session.

Last night the house finished four hours early because the government had run out of business.

And now we are back in urgency doing the ETS.

But we are also doing the Remuneration Authority legislation, the policy for which was announced months ago, and the Money Laundering legislation which as been around forever. Both these could have been done on Tuesday if Brownlee got his act together.

Trying to work out why they are doing these two. Maybe it is because Bill English is away. Possibly trying to see if he remembers the way back to Dipton.