Technically it’s still the Key-led National government and he’s still out there ‘bouncing around from cloud to cloud’ as his own Finance Minister once put it, but to me this now feels like we’re living under a government dominated by the personalities of Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Justice Minister Judith Collins, exemplified by Joyce’s sweetheart deal with a multi-national casino company and Collins’ decision to dump the recommendations of the MMP review (making the entire exercise a gigantic waste of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and years of effort) because it handicaps her party’s (universally despised) rorting of the current system.
May 15, 2013
May 14, 2013
Prime Minister John Key yesterday claimed public support for his pokies-for-national convention centre deal as the Opposition reacted angrily to a 35-year compensation clause which protects the casino against future law changes.
The Government yesterday signed an initial agreement under which SkyCity will build and entirely fund a $402 million 3500-place international convention centre. In return, the casino company is allowed 230 new pokie machines and other concessions that are worth up to $527 million over the life of the deal.
Crucially, SkyCity gets its licence extended to 2048 and until then, if any future Government changes gambling laws and affects the profits the company gets from its new concessions, the taxpayer will have to pay compensation.
Again, National introduces an exciting new tactic into New Zealand politics that left-wing parties could have a field day with. How about stringent pro-worker labour laws where trade unions get paid massive compensations if a subsequent government changes them? Or environmental policies with multi-billion dollar pay-outs to Greenpeace if a future National government wants to open new coal mines or offshore oil platforms?
This part of the Sky arrangement seems pretty daft to me. National really needed to look like they negotiated hard and hammered out a tough deal with Sky, and this blows that perception out of the water. A thirty five year compensation clause? It makes them look like they rolled over for yet another multi-national, while a future government can just legislate the clause away at no political cost.
May 8, 2013
Back in 2007 the Labour Party introduced the Electoral Finance Act, the main effect of which prevented organisations that weren’t registered political parties from spending more than
$60,000 $120, 000 during an election year (it was a response to the Exclusive Bretheren’s multi-million dollar stealth campaign in 2005).
The New Zealand Herald went ballistic and ran a months-long campaign against the legislation, printing the banner ‘Democracy under attack’ across their front page and publishing literally hundreds of stories and columns and editorials attacking the legislation.
Flash forward six years: a National government has introduced legislation that radically reforms the state’s intelligence apparatus, allowing the GCSB to monitor anything in New Zealand that goes by the name of an ‘information infrastructure’. The bill is in response to revelations that the GCSB has been illegally spying on New Zealanders; it gives them sweeping powers to intercept domestic communications with virtually no oversight, rushed through Parliament under urgency, naturally.
It’s early days, but so far the Herald coverage is three stories and this editorial, which concludes:
New Zealand First, as a condition for supporting the legislation, wants every warrant to be reviewed within three weeks by an independent authority selected from the judiciary, the Defence Force and the police. This, it says, would give the public confidence they are not being unfairly spied upon. It is right. A little tinkering along these lines would help smooth the passage of what should be largely uncontroversial changes.
It’s also interesting to compare this mild response to the reaction against the Labour-Green power policy announced a couple of weeks ago. The Herald’s editorial went nuts, as did business editor Liam Dann, as did Fran O’Sullivan, attacking the policy as ‘the ghost of Hugo Chavez’. Fairfax journalist Colin Espiner insisted Labour had ‘literally gone insane‘. A impressively huge propaganda machine swung into action: Business New Zealand, energy company CEOs, fund managers, merchant bankers all came out fighting in a nicely staggered sequence of denunciations.
And that’s okay – it’s a controversial policy. It’s just a shame there isn’t any comparable propaganda machine that can stand up for the civil rights of New Zealanders not to be spied on by their politicians. It seems odd (to me) that establishment journalists aren’t very exercised by any of this. The National Party aren’t going to be in power for ever, and sooner or later the ‘literally insane’ Labour and Green Parties, haunted by the ghosts of Communism and Totalitarianism are going to be in government and imbued with the power to spy on them with impunity.
People might comfort themselves with the thought that they ‘haven’t done anything wrong, so they don’t have anything to worry about’. I keep thinking of the beneficiaries who protested against Paula Bennett’s welfare policy who were punished by having their confidential data leaked to the press. Bennett argued that by speaking out against her those beneficiaries were fair game. (The leaked information was published in the Herald).
So merely disagreeing with a politician’s policies can constitute ‘doing something wrong.’ And thanks to this law change, future governments are going to have a vast amount of power to gather embarrassing information about their adversaries and critics. It would be nice if we could debate that as vigorously as we’ve debated the rights of infrastructure companies to enjoy windfall profits.
(Header image courtesy of Joe Wylie)
May 5, 2013
I don’t think there’s anything interesting to say about Aaron Gilmore’s ‘waiter-gate’, or whatever the galley are calling it, but there is an interesting point to be made about why Aaron Gilmore was even a candidate who placed on the National list at all, given that he seems so unpopular within his own party.
Gilmore ran in a Labour Party safe seat. Now, the National Party knows that if they run candidates in their opposition’s safe seats then it boosts their party vote, and the party vote is really the only vote that counts. But campaigning for a seat is an expensive and time-consuming exercise, so no intelligent, aspiring politician is going to take six months off work, hit up all their friends and relatives for fund-raising, or pay for all their billboards themselves if they have no chance of actually winning that seat or making it in on the list.
Enter Aaron Gilmore, and hundreds of aspiring candidates just like him who are essentially just mugs that their parties are scamming for cash. I guess some of them know they have no political future and they do it because they believe in their party, but the rest think they’re going to ‘prove themselves’ and be promoted onto bigger and better things.
They aren’t, but they don’t have to know that, because then the money would dry up. Thus their placing on the list, way, way down where they’ll never get elected. Until we have an opposition like Goff-era Labour and an election like 2011, when even National’s hopeless cash-cow suckers make it in.
Doing so well in an election that even your unelectable buffoons make it in is a nice problem to have, but it can still be a problem as National is seeing this week.
May 1, 2013
I thought Maurice Williamson’s speech in favor of Marriage Equality was pretty funny, but I also think that it’s spring-boarded him forwards as the ACT-National cabal’s primary candidate for the Auckland mayoralty is an indication that there are no viable right-wing candidates for the Auckland mayoralty.
Being a good speaker counts for a lot in politics, but I don’t think it’s going to convince Auckland to vote for a libertarian who thinks that the leaky homes debacle was an act of nature and who will want to privitise every park and swimming pool in the city.
The related theory doing the rounds is that Williamson will have a chance because John Minto will ‘split the left-wing vote’. Yes, that would be the same John Minto that stood in Manukau East during the 2011 General election and won 461 votes to Labour MP Ross Robertson’s 19,399.
April 23, 2013
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig cuts a likable, boyish figure: whether managing his billion dollar property portfolio, canvasing for votes in his home turf of Auckland’s North Shore, or lathering himself with soap as he prepares to show me around his new hi-tech pleasure dungeon, Craig is unceasingly cheerful and energetic.
‘I bought this place to relax,’ he explains, a little sheepish about splashing out on such an indulgence. Craig is famed for his frugality, furnishing his home second-hand on Trade-me. But all the leather, chrome and rubber decor in ‘Colin’s Crypt of Agony and Ecstasy ’ is brand new and gleaming, ready for use. ‘At the end of the day I’m wiped out, and I needed a way to wind down,’ he added.
And is it relaxing?’ I ask.
He grins and tosses me a towel and a leather ball gag. ‘You tell me.’
Craig is in pretty good shape for a man in his mid-forties. There’s a hint of a belly, but his arm muscles are defined – ‘All that political hand-shaking,’ he says, rolling his eyes – and the snarling wolf’s head tattooed across his buttocks still conforms to the ripe curves of his gluteal muscles. ‘The tattoo artist warned me it would sag,’ Craig said, adding simply, ‘He was wrong.’
Many people have been wrong about Colin Craig, dismissing him as a political lightweight or a bible-thumping, homophobic misogynist reactionary dick, but Craig simply shrugs off the criticisms and when you see him squeezing into a red latex dress and tugging a chain-mail hood over his head you realise there’s more to Colin Craig than his critics are willing to allow. They underestimate him at their peril.
But what is it about the Conservative Party leader that sets him apart? I’d arranged this interview to try and solve this mystery, but as I hung upside down beside him, both of us screaming in exaltation and pain while hot wax from the candles strapped to our ankles ran down our thighs, I couldn’t decide what it was that separated him from other minor party political leaders. Was it his faith? His candor? His status as an outsider? Or his controversial statements about homosexuality and female promiscuity, which were as inflamed as our perineums after the wax pooled and hardened?
Craig denies that his statements on contemporary morality are dominated by his religious upbringing, or the fact that I was kneeling on his throat while grating his nipples with a citrus zester. ‘I stand by my statements, no matter how much blood I’ve lost,’ he explains, a little defiant. ‘And I’m very proud of my background,’ he adds, rubbing vinegar on his lacerated chest. ‘I’m not a regular church-goer, but I cherish the Baptist values I was raised with, and the Scottish emphasis on frugality which has been passed down to me.’
And Craig is certainly frugal, even in his hobbies. Every centimeter of electrical tape and every liter of urine that enters his pleasure crypt is closely monitored and accounted for. ‘And I’ll bring that same level of attention to detail to government if elected,’ he vows.
Craig also intends to repeal the anti-smacking legislation and get tough on violent criminals. He speaks at length about the need for greater efficiency in the public service, reducing waste, getting rid of red tape. The familiar litany of conservative policy platforms. Sometimes his voice fades as his knees press against my ears, but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Craig’s political agenda isn’t what makes him special. It’s something else.
Eventually I opened my eyes, expecting to find myself staring into the wolf’s head, but instead I found myself face to face with Craig, his eyes rolled back, his cheeks flushed and his teeth clenched, and I finally realised what made him different from, say, Peter Dunne or Hone Harawira. It was those eyes: glittering, chromatic, fragmented: they captured the light and threw them back at me, and I gasped in sudden comprehension.
His eyes were fifty shades of Colin Craig.
(Written in solidarity with The Civilian, who is being sued by Craig for defamation.)
April 21, 2013
I don’t think people realise the precedent that will be created if you allow a Government to nationalise the entire power generating industry, on the grounds that they are not competitive enough and charge too much.
First let’s address this question of whether the Greens-Labour proposal is a form of ‘nationalisation’, a term that’s been thrown out by National’s comms team and repeated by uncritical journalists.
A lot of left-wing critics of the Mixed Ownership Model have argued that it’s ‘looting’, or ‘theft’ of ‘the people’s assets’, and the problem with that is that National are selling shares in the power companies. The people are getting something back, probably several billion dollars. Likewise, nationalisation is when ownership of assets are transferred to the state, cf Air New Zealand, TranzRail etc. In this case it makes no sense to argue that the state is transferring ownership of the power companies, when it will still already have majority ownership of most of those power companies anyway. Regulation is not nationalisation, not even heavy-handed regulation. If you are, say, an arms company there is extensive government oversight into who you can sell your products to: does that mean that this industry is ‘nationalised’? Are tobacco companies ‘nationalised’? Bah.
But DPF is correct when he says that this is a significant development in New Zealand politics. Prior to the mid-1980s there was a general political consensus that the New Zealand economy should be dominated by state-owned industries, trade-unions and centralised bureaucracies over-seeing any private industry. This system was horribly flawed and in 1984 the Lange-Douglas government broke with the consensus, and for the last thirty years the pendulum has swung a long, long way the other way, far further than almost any other developed country in the entire world, and there’s been a broad consensus between Labour and National that our economy should be dominated by unregulated oligopolies.
The level of disconnect around this debate has been pretty funny, with various Ministers putting out press releases about the loss of share value in various energy companies, apparently oblivious to the fact that most of the country despise the power companies and see them as loathsome profiteers, and now DPF is warning that Labour and the Greens might introduce legislation to prevent price-gouging by the supermarket duopoly, an idea that is anathema to adherents of the cult of unregulated oligopolies, but probably sounds pretty good to about 90% of the population that have had to live with the spectacular failures of that ideology for the last three decades.
April 19, 2013
You can critique the Labour-Greens power-policy on a number of levels. Where do they pluck their estimates of 5000 jobs and $450 million dollar boost to ‘the economy’ from? What happens if our power companies respond to reduced windfall profits by sacking all their staff and scrapping expenditure on the maintenance of their assets?
You can even claim that it amounts to nationalisation of the energy sector and ‘North Korean style economics’, if you don’t actually know what nationalisation is and think that North Korea is a country where publicly listed companies own the electricity infrastructure and pay dividends to private shareholders.
But you can’t fault the politics. The government needs the partial sale of Mighty River Power to succeed. It’s their signature achievement. English needs the cash, and Key has bled so much political capital and invested so much time on this policy that it has to work. And now the shares are finally on sale to New Zealand buyers. It lists on the NZX early next month. They must have felt like they’d finally made it.
But now Labour and the Greens have announced that if they’re elected dividends from these companies will be minimal. How do you quantify that if you’re a risk analyst for an investment fund? No wonder National are furious, and Simon Bridges was close to tears in Parliament yesterday spluttering about the decline in Contact Energy’s share price.
Maybe the market won’t care, and the float will be a success. But if it isn’t, I don’t think the public will be sympathetic when the government blames the opposition. This is an unpopular policy, and government Ministers blame Labour every time they spill their coffee. It’ll also leave English trying to raise money, either through borrowing, spending cuts or tax increases, all of which would kick in in 2014. Election year.
April 18, 2013
Justice Minister Judith Collins is masking her disappointment over not being able to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral by throwing a wake. Government MPs “unable to attend” the London ceremony are invited to Ms Collins’ sixth-floor office tonight to commemorate the life of the former British prime minister. Ms Collins paid tribute to Baroness Thatcher last week as a “highly intelligent, brave, formidable woman”.
Dim-Post sources report that last night’s wake was a moving affair, which ended on the stroke of midnight when Attorney General Chris Finlayson solemnly led a white ox into the Justice Minister’s office. Collins then stretched the animal backwards over her blood-stained, heavy stone desk and deftly cut out its heart which she offered, still beating, to the massive basalt statue of Baroness Thatcher that accompanies her everywhere. Treasury officials estimate that this act of obeisance will keep inflation at less than 1% in the forthcoming quarter.
April 16, 2013
Via Andrea Vance, who is probably developing a healthy paranoia at about this point:
The Government is to beef up laws to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders – including to protect private companies.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced sweeping changes in response to a scathing review of the Government Communications Security Bureau that found it had illegally spied on more than 80 people.
He said the security threat was low but claimed there had been attempts to use New Zealand technology to build weapons of mass destruction.
“There have been cyber intrusions in New Zealand and we believe that the basis of those intrusions has been to retrieve information that could be used in the creation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Individuals here were funding, or had links to, overseas terror groups, he said.
Let’s game this out. Say you’re John Key, you want these law changes, the opposition has called for an inquiry into Intelligence, and you genuinely believe that there are serious attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction using New Zealand technology. Why don’t you just agree to the inquiry? No QC or Governor General or former civil-servant, or whoever ends up running it is going to ignore a serious, legitimate plot to aquire WMDs. If the threat is real they’ll almost certainly recommend the same changes Key wants to make, and he’d get to score a victory over his opponents instead of spend political capital pushing through changes that make it look as though he’s engaged in a cover-up.
So why wouldn’t he do that? Probably because he’s involved in a cover-up, thus the WMD card which is synonymous with political deception. Is the claim even remotely credible? Consider this Herald story from 2009:
The Security Intelligence Service has approached university lecturers asking for help to stop foreign states gathering information on “weapons of mass destruction”, says the union representing tertiary workers.
Dr Ryan said the letter to universities alludes to a meeting between the spy agency and the New Zealand Vice Chancellor’s Committee.
He said the SIS has also sent out a brochure called “A Guide to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Your role in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.
Dr Ryan said the brochure warns scientists and researchers to look out for people who could be trying to learn how to make “weapons of mass destruction”.
He said the pamphlet has been distributed widely and includes fax, email, and web contacts for the SIS.
“If any tertiary staff member sees something they suspect is illegal they should contact the police. Otherwise their job is to advance and share knowledge; it is not to create an atmosphere where colleagues and students don’t know whether they are being spied on or not. That can only inhibit genuine education and research,” said Dr Ryan.
Who wants to bet that this is the SIS’s critical operation against foreign acquisition of WMD technology case that the PM is citing? I’d put money on that, and also that the reason we aren’t getting an independent report is because said QCs – or whoever heads it – will just spray their coffee all over the rest of the committee with laughter when it’s used as a justification to increase the powers of the GCSB.