The Dim-Post

November 18, 2012

Labour leadership open thread

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:39 am

Interesting times at the Labour Party conference. I’d be keen to hear from those who are there – put your take on things in the comments and I’ll aggregate salient points into a post.

My take on this is that it’s been in the pipeline for a while. The Labour members I talk to have been really unhappy with the Parliamentary wing of the party for a long time. Generally speaking, they see it as being dominated by under-performing – or non-performing – list MPs, or electorate MPs in formerly safe-seats who are now letting those seats slip away. These people should have retired years ago, but they have no career prospects outside Parliament, and the power structure and leadership choices of the party have been about maintaining the salaries of these MPs, rather than winning elections. And once Shearer became leader – against the wishes of the members – he made the fatal error of pivoting to the right with stunts like the Dole-Fiddler-on-the-Roof speech without ever gaining the trust or support of Labour’s rank and file.

Obviously Cunliffe and his own ambitions play a huge role here. But Cunliffe is merely the one who identified the discontent within his own party and spoke to it effectively. If it wasn’t him it would have been someone else.

November 14, 2012

Education Minister translated redux

Filed under: education,Politics — danylmc @ 8:08 pm

The Gunning-Fog index is a commonly used algorithm to determine the readability of English writing. (Details on the wiki page here. See also the comments section.) I wrote a perl script that reads in Hansard transcripts from Question Time and looks for sentences that score an 18 on Gunning-Fog, which ranks as incomprehensible, and then replaced that sentence with the word AAARRGGGGGH! Here’s how Hekia Parata’s most recent oral question plays out.

6. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: What specific criteria were used to determine whether a school in Christchurch was identified for restoration, consolidation or rejuvenation?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) : Tena koe, Mr Speaker. AAARRGGGGGH! However, it is important to note that those categories describe learning community clusters, and not individual schools.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister’s answer has given me an explanation of what each of the categories are. I have asked for what the criteria were in order to put schools within those categories.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has got a legitimate grievance because the member actually asked what specific criteria were used to determine whether a school was identified for restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation. The Minister, in answering, gave criteria for clusters. If she could clarify for the House whether that applies to individual schools, that would be helpful because that is what the question asked.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: AAARRGGGGGH! They do not relate to individual schools.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Schools were specifically listed in her proposal under one of those headings, and I have asked the criteria on which they were listed under those headings. That is a primary question, and it is not an unreasonable question.

Mr SPEAKER: I accept absolutely that it is not an unreasonable question, and that is why I sought clarification from the Minister. What the Minister seems to be pointing out to the House is that those three classifications—restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation—did not actually apply to individual schools. As to what the Minister has told the House, I have got to take the Minister’s answer at face value. I cannot second-guess that. The Minister has given an answer to that question.

Chris Hipkins: What specific criteria were used to identify whether a specific school was proposed for a merger or a closure?

Hon HEKIA PARATA:  Sorry, could the member repeat the supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question.

Chris Hipkins: I will try. What specific criteria were used to identify whether a specific school, an individual school, was proposed for a closure or a merger?

Hon HEKIA PARATA:  I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. AAARRGGGGGH!AAARRGGGGGH!

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I am going to help members on this matter, they should be a little silent. I think it is not unreasonable—the primary question asked what specific criteria were used to determine whether a school in Christchurch was identified for restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation. The Minister in answering that question pointed out those three categories applied to clusters of schools, so the member has not unreasonably now dug further into that answer and asked then what criteria were used to identify schools for, I think his language was, merger, which is similar to consolidation, or closure, which is highly relevant to some schools in Christchurch. That is not an unreasonable supplementary question, and I am ruling that it is not an unreasonable supplementary question.


Hon Members: What are they?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: AAARRGGGGGH!AAARRGGGGGH! Those are some of the criteria.

Chris Hipkins: Were the assessment of earthquake damage and the likely cost of repair for each of the schools proposed for merger or closure based on a physical inspection of each site and building; if so, who conducted that assessment?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: AAARRGGGGGH!AAARRGGGGGH! Some of them involved book assessments. AAARRGGGGGH!

Colin King: Was the change in demographics taken into account when developing the criteria?


Chris Hipkins: Was a physical assessment of the earthquake damage done on each of the schools that she proposed for merger or closure before she proposed that; if not, why not?


Mr SPEAKER: Tracy Watkins [Interruption]—Tracey Martin. I beg your pardon. My goodness.

Tracey Martin: Kia ora, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon.

Tracey Martin: Kia ora—

Mr SPEAKER: My apologies to the House.

Tracey Martin: Can the Minister assure the House that parental elections for boards of trustees will be held within 6 months of any consolidation or merger of schools in Christchurch as per the requirements of the Education Act 1989?


Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise. Perhaps I missed it. I understand the time line around mergers might not be quite clear at the moment, but my question was whether the elections for boards of trustees would be held within 6 months of any consolidation or merger as per the Education Act 1989.

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Minister to actually answer that question.


Chris Hipkins: Did she review all of the information prepared by the Ministry of Education on the likely or estimated cost of repairing schools that she was intending to propose for merger or closure, before she made the decision to propose those schools for merger or closure; if not, why not?


Audrey Young trolls the left-wing blogosphere

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 8:17 am

By profiling Josie Pagani. It’s a good article. A couple of highlights:

“I got very involved in the miners’ strike in England on the picket line. Being radical when I was in my 20s meant having ‘Coal not Dole’ stickers and standing on the picket line. Nowadays … you’re standing outside the mines with a ‘Keep the Coal in the Hole’ sticker.”

Almost as if there had been some horrible scientific discovery made about the impact of coal on the environment between Thatcher’s first term and today.

She happily debates right-wing opponents such as Matthew Hooton, Deborah Coddington, David Farrar and Cameron Slater. There is no personal invective; they are often complimentary about her.

She wonders jokingly if they are trying to destroy her career “by showing me so much love and support”. The most severe criticism is from the left of politics’ left, usually by anonymous bloggers who question her left-wing credentials at best and can be personally abusive. A “neo-liberal apologist” is one of the more constructive criticisms. “Useless” and “loathsome” are more typical.

Why do so many see Josie Pagani as New Zealand’s answer to a ‘Fox News Democrat’? (ie, someone who provides the illusion of balance by advocating for a left-wing party, but is incapable of making a robust argument or articulating left wing values?). You can’t go past the impressive triple negative opening line of her debut opinion column in Cameron Slater’s Truth:

People who say there’s no such thing as unaffordable housing are out of touch

Now how could anyone not on the left not fail to struggle to not disagree with that?

November 13, 2012

Rating the Ministers

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:42 am

The Herald’s gallery team ran a report card rating government Ministers a year into their jobs, and I saw some bafflement on Twitter about how anyone could possibly look at, say, Paula Bennett and think that she’s doing well in her portfolio.

It’s true that if you look at Bennett’s performance in terms of statistical indicators – unemployment keeps rising, her welfare reforms are costing $400 million dollars and the total number of beneficiaries is only down marginally since last years election, not to mention the massive data breach in her department – she’s been a total disaster. But from a purely political perspective she’s done an amazing job of selling the urgent need for her welfare reform to the public. National has comprehensively won the debate on welfare; it owns it as a political issue and that’s mostly down to Bennett.

To my mind their most impressive Minister has been Tony Ryall. If National can run a more effective health system for less money than Labour, why would anyone vote them out of government? (The answer to this question is Hekia Parata.)

November 12, 2012

How David Shearer can shore up his leadership

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:01 am

DPF points to a spate of anti-Shearer posts on the Standard and concludes:

While each is by a different author, I have been around politics far too long to think for a second that this is not part of a co-ordinated strategy to destabilise Shearer in the leadup to the Labour conference.

Well, maybe. If there’s a blog-based anti-Shearer putsch then nobody told me. It could just be that loads of people on the left don’t think Shearer is a very good leader, and the week before his conference is a salient time to point that out.

Anyway, team Shearer has been talking up his up-coming speech at the conference as a make-or-break moment for him. If Shearer’s speech does bomb it won’t be the first time his team over-promised and under-delivered on a speech by this leader. But even if he exceeds expectations, all it’ll prove is that as opposition leader he has the luxury to get a week of media coaching and outsource his speech-writing to a professional. Being Prime Minister is a more improvisational and reactive job.

That’s why I think the best thing Shearer could do for his leadership is perform well on the week leading up to his conference. This means coherent, articulate interviews on Morning Report that set the news agenda for the day. That means getting into the top stories on TVNZ and TV3 news and delivering strong quotes that hurt the government and advocate for Labour policy and values. It means moving on from his pointless ‘gotcha’ questions in the House and holding the PM to account. Shearer needs to show he can ‘win the day’ consistently, not just win one speech a year.

November 11, 2012

Three times is enemy action

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 4:39 pm

It’s Shane Jones vs Gareth Hughes again.

Northland-based Labour list MP Shane Jones has again hit out at the Green Party for opposing development of the regions’s resources, including oil and gas, which he says could help reduce spiralling Maori unemployment.

Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the Government was “gambling with New Zealand’s economy” by allowing the exploration in deep water, “because if there is a leak there is no sure way to stopit”.

Promotion of the petroleum industry was “not a smart way to run the economy”, he said.

But Mr Jones, who has clashed with the Greens before over the prospect of mining in Northland and also over the party’s criticism of the fishing industry, said Mr Hughes’ opposition was premature.

“Let the information be uncovered first. It may be that the area is commercially barren, not unlike the minds conceiving that Green rhetoric.”

So this is clearly a Labour Party strategy rather than Shane Jones spontaneously going off the reservation three times in the past month. And it’s pretty smart: Jones is high profile but not on the front bench, so he can’t be seen as speaking for the party. I guess they think this will help him capture one of the Maori seats in 2014. And the Greens can’t really retaliate because they need to promote the idea that the Greens and Labour are a viable coalition partner.

November 10, 2012

Set the controls for the heart of the sun

Filed under: economics — danylmc @ 8:11 am

Fran O’Sullivan puzzles over the Prime Minister’s completely bizarre (non)reaction to the rise in unemployment over the September quarter:

For Key to simply shrug his shoulders on this score doesn’t cut it.

If he was gazumped by the awful statistics, so too were the nation’s economists when official figures confirmed the unemployment rate was the highest it has been since June 1999. “A true shocker,” said Westpac.

Fundamentally you would have to wonder if they have all had their eyes wide shut in recent months while export-orientated companies have cut heaps of jobs in response to more difficult environments overseas.

Key – and the economists who have been caught short by the official statistics – will be hoping the September outturn in the Household Labour Force Survey is a statistical aberration. Westpac has pointed out the survey has a history of throwing up “wild false signals”.

The Reserve Bank was also caught out by the September quarter figures. The central bank has been urged to slash interest rates further in the hope this will depress the value of the NZ dollar, boost export competitiveness and spark firms to hire more workers.

If I understand the new RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler – already dubbed ‘Asleep at the Wheeler’ by financial journalists – correctly, he doesn’t need quantitative easing or any other macro-prudential tools because he still has room to cut rates, but he can’t cut rates any further because it would probably lead to increased indebtedness in the household and dairy sectors.

So we have high and rising unemployment, an over-valued currency, very low inflation, our central bank won’t lower rates and it doesn’t want any additional tools to address this situation. The Prime Minister’s reaction is to hope that the statistics are wrong, and keep on doing what he’s doing, which doesn’t seem to be anything. This seems completely insane.

I do wonder if there’s a feedback loop operating here between the Treasury forecasts and the National government. Treasury predict growth, low unemployment and high inflation because there’s a right-wing government in power, and the government reads the forecasts and does nothing, because they don’t need to – prosperity is on the way, Treasury said so!

UPDATE: Matt Nolan has a substantive reply. Short version:

The RBNZ currently believes that, after loitering at a high level for a few more quarters, the unemployment rate will come down sharply.  Furthermore, they believe that current high unemployment IS due to weak demand – so if they could go back in time they would cut rates but RIGHT NOW cutting rates looks inappropriate.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting field trial for central bank independence. Many of the opposition parties would currently direct the RBNZ to act . . . if they could.

November 8, 2012

Turns out scorn is not a growth multiplier

Filed under: economics,policy — danylmc @ 11:19 am

The latest HLFS survey reveals a very high level of unemployment – higher than during the GFC in 2008. And it also reveals that the number of manufacturing jobs in the New Zealand economy declined again during the last quarter.

I find this slightly surprising. Sure, it seemed like manufacturing was in trouble: just about every week saw announcements of factory closures and job losses, and the opposition parties made a very big deal of this in the media and in the house.

But Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce’s reaction to this talk about a crisis in manufacturing was so dismissive, so withering, so contemptuous that I wondered if the opposition parties had over-reached. This was Joyce’s area, he has his vast new MoBIE Ministry to advise him of real-time conditions in the economy. He must know something the opposition parties didn’t.

Well, he didn’t. The manufacturing sector has lost a net 17,000 jobs this year. The opposition was right, and the Minister, for all his mocking, dripping scorn, was dead wrong.

It’s been a bad two days for the government and its claim to be a credible manager of the economy, which means it’s probably going to be a bad couple of weeks for beneficiaries, or whoever else they decide to get tough on as a smokescreen.

Only known color photograph of Tolstoy of the day

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 9:06 am

I didn’t follow the US election too closely, and I don’t have anything interesting to say about the outcome. So here is the only known color photograph of Tolstoy, taken in 1908 when he was eighty years old. When I saw it I thought the photograph looked very modern: the color palate, the slightly saturated light. Then I realised it looks like an instagram picture, so a look I think of is modern is really a digital imitation of a very, very old look.

November 7, 2012

Cognitive bias and self-regulation

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:50 am

The Prime Minister was asked about Pike River in Question Time yesterday, and the impact of deregulation on the disaster, and he made a statement to the effect that no company is ever going to put profits over the lives of their employees.

Which is true, in the trivial sense that if the Board of Directors is offered a million dollars to kill ten employees they’re (probably) going to decline the offer. But decision making in modern corporations is diffuse. If the mine-safety officer asks for more money to ensure safety, and the CEO goes to his financiers to ask for an increase in operating costs, and they refuse because their risk manager won’t let them put any more money into the venture until revenues improve, then the CEO is unlikely to close down the mine and sack all his staff. Instead he’s going to tell his Safety Officer something like ‘do more with less or I’ll find a Safety Officer that can’.

And the Mine Safety Officer might even something to the effect of ‘I’ll make a cut-back that will make our mine 0.1% more dangerous’. That’s not very much, and the Safety Officer and CEO can agree that they’ll re-implement whatever gets cut when they have the money. Only that day never comes. Instead the operating budget shrinks, the financiers get very unhappy, the CEO’s job and the jobs of all the employees are on the line, and the easiest way to balance the books is to make further tiny incremental cuts in safety, because, after all, nothing bad happened the last time.

All those cuts might add up to a 1% chance of a major disaster per day, which still seems like pretty good odds until you realise that means three to four major disasters per year. But everyone involved is strongly incentivised against coming to that realisation.

John Key’s perspective on workplace regulation is that of orthodox neoliberalism: a business understands itself and its operating environment better than any government department ever can, so will always make superior decisions about how to balance issues like safety vs profit. But that assumes that the people running the business are rational, impartial agents with wide scope to make decisions when they probably don’t have any of those qualities. Any rational, impartial decision makers are going to be employees of a government regulatory body, who don’t have huge financial and emotional stakes in the continued operation of the company.

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 351 other followers