- Or maybe not. I dunno. I do believe that the big mistake the opposition parties made in 2014 was to talk about things that a handful of activists and political nerds (like me) cared about, and not things that might have persuaded voters to vote for them like, say, what a credible alternative government might look like. So this feels like a big step in the right direction.
- The obvious historic parallel here is Clark speaking at the ’99 Alliance conference. But contemporary opposition politics are complicated by the fact that Winston Peters was part of the National government back then, and now he’s also in the opposition but could easily be part of either a future National or a future Labour government. Which has constrained Labour until now, I think. But I suspect they’ve calculated that the cost of not looking like a credible alternative to National is greater than the cost of not placating Peters. I guess we’ll see if they’re right.
May 31, 2016
May 26, 2016
Busy afternoon here, but glancing over some of the documents and turning into the House for a bit my first impressions:
- It seems like the budget a Labour government would pass under similar fiscal circumstances
- The Prime Minister is a ridiculous buffoon who is no longer fit for office.
About a year ago someone I knew at work told me a story that suddenly seems relevant. They were from China and fairly new to New Zealand, and they were in the process of selling their house and buying another one (as we all know cunning Asian folk are wont to do). The real estate agent explained that in New Zealand they needed to pay to get their home tested for meth contamination as part of the sales process. They did, the test came back positive, and the agent then explained that they needed to get the home decontaminated at some vast cost before the house could be sold, which the estate agent was very happy to personally arrange.
It seemed like a total rort, and so the seller got another meth tester in to check for contamination. The test came back negative. They wasted a bit of time trying to make a complaint to the estate agency, but nothing happened and they sold the property through another real estate company.
Which makes me wonder how widespread that scam is and the nature of vertical integration in the meth testing/meth decontamination industry, and how that might feed into the sudden moral panic going on around Housing New Zealand homes and meth contamination:
As many as 600 state homes will need P decontamination this year, amid claims retirees are now smoking the toxic drug.
The Housing New Zealand figures, released under the Official Information Act, show the number of state homes decontaminated for methamphetamine, also known as P, has skyrocketed in the past two years.
Two years ago 28 state homes had to be decontaminated but in the first quarter of this financial year alone 174 homes were decontaminated.
In the comments to the previous post someone linked to this comment from a toxicologist at the National Poisons Center:
“When addressing problems associated with contaminated houses, we are dealing with two separate issues: a house where someone smoked methamphetamine, or a house that was used to manufacture methamphetamine.
“People living in a laboratory environment risk suffering adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and dermal effects following the exposure to organic solvents, acids, alkalis and other chemicals.
“However, people dwelling in a house where previous tenants had smoked methamphetamine, and there is some evidence of low concentrations on surfaces, have minimal risks of toxicity.
“The risks would be similar for people who live in a house that had previous dwellers who smoked cigarettes or marijuana. They will have exposure to these drugs but the concentrations will not be sufficiently high enough to cause either psychoactive or toxic effects to people who may have had inadvertent, and brief, dermal contact with these surfaces.”
Decontaminating 174 homes in four months sounds like a serious cost to the taxpayer which is, obviously a huge profit to some folks out there. And there’s the social cost that the houses are unavailable, and that the people living in houses that test positive are then being made homeless, and housed in motels, again at vast cost.
Maybe these houses are all so contaminated with toxic by-products of meth manufacture that all of these costs are totally legitimate. But that isn’t clear at all from the media coverage. It actually sounds an awful lot as if these houses are being decontaminated and made unavailable merely because meth may have been smoked inside them, which the expert quoted above specifically says poses minimal risks of toxicity.
Hopefully all of this stuff is being OIAd by opposition and media as we speak. Because it sounds like Housing New Zealand is being scammed out of (a) performing their core role and (b) a ton of our money.
May 24, 2016
There’s a 2009 sci-fi novel by China Miéville called The City and the City. The action takes place in two separate cities which overlap each other geographically, but the denizens of each city is compelled to ‘Unsee’ things they see happening in the other city, even though they’re clearly visible. To notice the other city and react to it is to be in Breach and draws the attention of the secret police. It’s a pretty good book.
It’s also kind of what’s happening in New Zealand right now. Some of the media and public are in a state of Breach. ‘Oh yeah,’ we’re saying, ‘Now that you mention it, I have noticed that our cities are filled with homeless people. What’s up with that?’ Meanwhile the government is enthusiastically Unseeing:
Housing Minister Nick Smith is calling the recent surge in homelessness a figment of people’s imagination.
Newshub spoke to a group of 50 social workers who said families living in garages is common, including one case of a family with two young kids who had been living in a garage for two years.
Some families are paying almost $400 a week to put a garage roof over their heads, and a social policy analyst says one in ten south Auckland properties has a garage tenant.
Many who can’t afford a house are finding themselves having to take out loans from Work and Income NZ (WINZ) to pay for motel accommodation.
There’s a lot of deliberate Seeing and Unseeing going around. We have record high immigration and thus economic growth, purely because increasing the population creates more economic activity. The government chooses to see this as the country getting wealthier, even though on a per capita basis we obviously aren’t. The increase in population and lack of increase in houses is (predictably) contributing to the housing crisis, but also makes the nominal value of existing homes increase in value. So home owners seem a lot richer, even though they haven’t done anything or created any value. And they are, historically, far more likely to vote than non home-owners. Benefits have to be withdrawn so the benefit numbers can be kept artificially low, so we can ‘see’ that the welfare reforms are succeeding. Housing New Zealand has to evict current tenants so that it can house new ones even as the housing stock deteriorates, and the dividends are maximised so the government can be seen to be running a surplus.
But all of this has social costs, and all those children growing up in garages and cars and overcrowded homes will, eventually have staggeringly gigantic fiscal costs, which is why its so important to Unsee it. The Finance Minister claims to be committed to a ‘social investment’ model of welfare, in which the government seeks to invest to minimise downstream costs, and if his government were really throwing families with eight children out of their homes and then burdening them with staggering debts then his model would be an utter failure.
His family tease him by calling him Johnny English. He has a 3000-strong record collection – not classical, but some “out there” 1980s indie rock.
Andrew Hampton is also a government fix-it man – though he prefers to call himself a “continuous improvement” specialist. And he happens to be the new face of the Government Communications Security Bureau, the country’s foreign intelligence agency.
Hampton took up the job a month ago, and has been spending that time getting his feet under the desk, and also getting up to speed with the cloak and dagger world of terrorism, cyber threats and, yes, “Five Eyes”, the shadowy five country intelligence sharing arrangement which has been at the centre of international controversy in recent years.
Given that controversy, it’s not surprising Hampton wanted to reassure himself that, no, the GCSB “don’t actively monitor the emails and internet use of the general population”, the allegation that has been central to much of the debate about the role of our intelligence agencies since the “Snowden leaks” forced their secret activities out into the open.
Snowden has never made the allegation that intelligence agencies ‘actively monitor the emails and internet use of the general population’. He’s claimed that they harvest it or have back-door access to it all so they can spy on whoever they target at will. Intelligence agencies find it very convenient to pretend that a different allegation was made so they can indigently deny it, because that’s preferable to admitting that yeah, actually they can spy on us any time they want with little accountability or oversight. Also amusing how he leads with terrorism, even though nothing that ever comes to light about what these agencies get up to ever has anything to do with terrorism.
May 13, 2016
In a shock twist that will shock the nation, Bachelor sweethearts Jordan Mauger and Fleur Verhoeven are getting back together again! And you won’t believe what caused it!
‘Sometimes stuff changes your mind about stuff,’ quipped Jordan, the hunky film director who broke Fleur’s heart just days ago, before calling her last night to arrange a surprise, intimate date that will screen on TV3 tonight and be live simulcast online.
‘Sometimes you have to listen to your heart when it tells you to follow your dreams,’ said Fleur, the willowy dutch beauty who won the show but lost her man. Or has she? You go girl! Fleurpower!
So what prompted Jordan’s change of heart?
According to sources inside the TV3 publicity department, the sudden change of heart was brought about by a sudden illness. No, it wasn’t heartbreak or love-blindness. It was a mystery virus that causes rashes, convulsions and a non-responsive coma! Yikes! And it has struck down none other than Bachelor runner-up Naz, who confirmed that she slept with Jordan several times during the show. Naz is confined to be gravely ill with the as-yet-unnamed highly contagious disease; the feisty contestant has also previously confirmed that her large D cup breasts are the result of breast augmentation. What a handful!
‘Naz getting sick just made me think,’ quipped Jordan. ‘So I called Fleur.’ That’s our man!
As of press time seventeen of the bachelor beauties were confirmed to be seriously ill. Sounds like a serious case of love-sickness all round for these girls!
We spoke to a doctor at Auckland’s glamorous Greenlane hospital where Naz, who used the f-bomb live on TV, is being treated, and asked her if she was worried Jordan would break Fleur’s heart all over again.
But this doctor didn’t have love on her mind. ‘Stay away from the hospitals. They’re a vector for the pandemic,’ she yelled down the line, adding that Bachelor fans eager to wish Naz well should avoid Greenlane hospital which she described as ‘Hell on earth. Worse than anything you can imagine.’ That sounds like our Naz!
‘The government is lying to you,’ the doctor replied when we asked if she was Team Fleur. ‘The military-‘ But then her phone cut out! Sounds like the phone company are too busy watching re-runs of the Bachelor to keep the phone network running! We know it’s a great show guys, but get back to work!
True to his word, Jordan took Fleur for a romantic moonlit walk around Auckland’s fashionable and exclusive waterfront. Tens of thousands of Bachelor fans had slept outside all night waiting to get a glimpse of the couple as they strolled together along the romantic viaduct basin. But when the magic moment came the fans had all fallen fast asleep in their identical black sleeping bags zipped up over their faces. But there were plenty of soldiers about, waving and calling out to the happy couple, and they fired their rifles over their heads in celebration. Stay away from Fleur fellas! She’s taken!
Not all of the Bachelor beauties were playing hard-to-get. We texted feisty super-yacht masseuse Erin and asked her if she wished the happy couple all the best. True to form, she texted back right away from a traffic jam on the Great South Road, writing: ‘All the roads are blockaded. There are ditches filled with bodies. And now I’ve got blotches on my hands. I’m so scared. Can you help me?’
We CAN help Erin, by telling you to be yourself and stand strong. Don’t be scared! You have a big heart and a beautiful smile! You’ll find true love one day. Maybe Jordan could call one of his mates!
None of Jordan’s mates responded to our calls for comment.
True Love Reunited: The Fleur and Jordan Reunion Special will screen live at 8:30 on TV3 tonight, immediately after a reassuring message of calm from acting Prime Minister Lt-General Timothy Keating. It’s a date!
May 11, 2016
My new book has come back from the printers. Opening paragraph:
Danyl stepped off the bus then stepped away as it pulled out from the kerb, splashing up sheets of spray. Its tail lights mixed with the lights reflected in the wet black streets. The hiss of its tyres mixed with the rain.
And the rain was cold. So cold. He took shelter under a leaky shop awning and watched the bus continue to the end of Aro Street then turn left and vanish. It was just past midnight. Mid-winter. He’d been away for six long months, but now he was back.
Back in the worst place in the world.
The launch party will be at Unity Books Wellington on the evening of June 14th. Everyone is welcome! Even everyone from the comments section!
May 10, 2016
Here’s the opening par of his story today:
Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca used a bankrupt Elvis impersonator from Tauranga to provide a sham residential address for the alleged bagman in a major bribery scandal in Iraq.
Also, via Stuff:
United Future leader and former Revenue Minister Peter Dunne says Inland Revenue never told him of any concerns about New Zealand’s foreign trust industry, raising concerns about whether it understands the scale of the problem.
Guyon Espiner did a story about the explosion of the foreign trust industry for TV3 back in 2012, and he confronted Dunne with pretty much all of this. Dunne’s reply was that this was all ‘legitimate tax avoidance’.
May 9, 2016
A Labour government would ban foreign trusts from operating in New Zealand if they are found to be of no value, Labour leader Andrew Little says.
That sounds excessive. Why not just tax them at the same rate we tax domestic trusts? That way all of those offshore trustees who, we’re assured by the industry, are using our trust system for totally legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with tax avoidance can continue to do so. Everyone wins!
RNZ has an overview of the NZ based Panama Papers documents here. The gist is that Mossack Fonseca has a New Zealand office run by a former IRD staffer called Roger Thompson, and markets itself mainly to wealthy Central and South Americans. This made me smile.
Roger Thompson rebutted any notion that the trusts and companies his company set up were used to dodge taxes, and said claims they were had been exaggerated.
“I don’t see NZ is a tax haven. I would describe it as a high quality jurisdiction for trusts with a benign tax system in certain circumstances.
Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse is using much the same line, his quote on the RNZ audio went something like, ‘New Zealand is definitely not an offshore tax haven because we demand disclosure and charge tax on trusts, except for foreign trusts which are none of our business.’
No explanation yet of why Key was singled out by ‘John Doe’, or if any New Zealanders avoiding tax are implicated in the overall document release. Although, obviously, if they were it probably wouldn’t be via New Zealand.