Public opinion pulls Key back from reaching for the Sky scam

Strongly expressed public opinion in opposition to a suggestion that the Government hand out money to Sky so they can pretty up their pokie attraction has got through to John Key.

He gambled on Sky and has quickly realised it was no dice. Yesterday he rapidly backed off reaching for the State chequebook.

Vernon Small writes John Key in retreat on SkyCity convention centre.

Prime Minister John Key has toughened up his opposition to putting taxpayer cash into the planned SkyCity convention centre.

In a further retreat from his earlier stance that a cash top up would be necessary to prevent “an eyesore” being built, Key today said he would take a lot of persuading to top up the $402m SkyCity had pledged.

“We structured the deal in such a way that the taxpayer didn’t have to put in money and that’s what I would prefer to see and I’d need a lot of convincing if any other position was going to be adopted,” he said.

‘In the world we live in … in the perfect world  … we would like to see them build a convention centre for $402m.”

Bill English’s prudence seems to have been more convincing than Steven Joyce’s corporate generoasity, along with most of New Zealand. The day before yesterday Govt at odds over SkyCity convention centre.

Finance Minister Bill English today appeared to distance himself from signals the Government will put money into the planned SkyCity convention centre to avoid it being an “eyesore”.

English said more taxpayer cash was the least-preferred option in the convention centre issue and so it was “logical” that walking away would be better option.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday all but confirmed the Government will stump up cash for the project, which was now “flasher” than originally proposed.

In the wake of English’s comments, Key today said he agreed with his finance minister’s view.

“It’s our least-preferred option to put in more money,” Key said.

“He’s confirmed that and I’d agree with him.”

‘Least preferred’ was repeated a number of times yesterday as the ‘not preferred at all’ message got through.

Belatedly a Dominion Post editorial  has slammed the handout scam in Pokies paradise a folly Nats should let go.

The SkyCity pokie deal with the Government was never a good one. Now it goes from bad to worse.

This is a shambles and it has clearly caused a schism in the Cabinet at the highest levels. Finance Minister Bill English says hitting the taxpayers for more cash is “the least preferred option”.

The deal was badly managed from the start. The tender process was not open and transparent. Cost control has been woeful. And it is truly astonishing that John Key is now suggesting that the $400m centre would be “an eyesore”. So now it seems the choice is between a “free” centre that is an eyesore or a non-eyesore costing the taxpayers as much as $100m or so.

What sort of choice is this? And why was the original deal so loose and vague that the cost could rocket and SkyCity could say that unless it got the extra money it would pull out?

They point out Steven Joyce’s folly has become his embarrassment.

The minister in charge, Steven Joyce, should also feel deeply embarrassed. He has been scathing about projects which require taxpayer subsidies, such as the proposed extension of Wellington Airport.

And an NZ Herald editorial says $402 million enough to buy us the centre we need.

If as Mr Key suggested this week, the added cost arises mainly for aesthetic reasons, SkyCity should be told not to worry. Some people are going to say the centre is an eyesore no matter how flash the building may be.

The design of the existing casino is not universally admired. A big convention centre adjoining it need not be an architectural stunner. Indeed, the artist’s impression made public by SkyCity suggests it will not be.

A $402 million centre, as agreed between the company and the Government two years ago, will do just fine

$402 million may not be enough but that’s Sky’s problem. They sold the deal at that price. They must have known that prices would rise (it was priced two years ago).

They gambled that Joyce and Key would roll over and hand out cash. They misjudged the potential reaction badly.

Key is a close follower of public opinion. He got a resounding message of opposition quickly.

An ugly convention centre now doesn’t seem so bad.

Key now seems to think the least preferred option is to be dragged down into the pokie pits this early in his third term.

The winner here is public opinion expressed strongly. It can make a difference.

(Note to opposition parties – while you did your bit on this it was genuine widespread disapproval rather than manufactured mayhem that turned the tide on this).

Metiria Turei versus John Key (Ratana speech)

Metiria Turei continued a tradiotion of “the Māngai spent his life confronting politicians” in her prepared speech for Ratana yesterday.

In fact due to time constraints she didn’t get to make her speech but she distributed her speech notes.

Here is the part of Turei’s speech that referred to John Key.

I want to speak today about one aspect of that legacy, and that is the Māngai’s efforts to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Māngai spent his life confronting politicians and Pākehā society about the need to provide redress for past injustices and to move forward as a true partnership.

Even now, in 2015, we are still struggling to truly honour the agreement that lies at the foundation of our nation.

This came to a head last month, with the release of stage one of the Waitangi Tribunal’s inquiry into the Treaty claims of Te Paparahi o Te Raki. The decision reflected decades of scholarship and affirms what we, as tangata whenua, have always known: that the Māori text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi never ceded the tino rangatiratanga of Māori over our lands, peoples and resources.

To have this stated, once and for all, was huge. It was an enormous step forward. But the Prime Minister’s response was to knock us several steps back.

John Key had the gall to claim that NZ was settled “peacefully,” as if all Māori grievances evaporated into irrelevance on his command.

But he didn’t finish there. In an attempt to really put us in our place, John Key said Māori would have been grateful for the injection of capital early Pākehā brought with them when they settled in Aotearoa.

Māori would have been grateful. For the capital.

The Prime Minister’s warped and outrageous view of history is deeply offensive to Māori but it also undermines decades of effort by Māori and Pākehā, including even by his own Government, to address some of the historic wrongs and to encourage an understanding of Aotearoa’s true history, both the good and the bad.

While in recent times Governments have made significant progress in completing historical settlements, all too often these are undermined as Ministers resort to cynical dog-whistle tactics that play to the widespread ignorance of Te Tiriti and, in so doing, shore up their Government’s short term political goals.

Sadly, this has long term consequences for all of us, Māori and non-Māori, by entrenching prejudice and wedging us further apart.

We saw this when John Key allowed Pita Sharples to sign the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples in New York, giving the Māori Party a token win and then immediately undermining that by telling journalists the declaration would have “no practical effect.”

And therein lies the rub. John Key can’t actually abide by that declaration because that would mean acknowledging that the Māori text of Te Tiriti is the only legitimate and legally binding text. That would mean conceding that tangata whenua never ceded tino rangatiratanga. That the Minister of Treaty Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson, was so quick to dismiss the Tribunal’s ruling and assert the Crown’s sovereignty, prove that National won’t do this.

I am proud that the Green Party has, for many years, held the Māori text of Te Tiriti as a core part of our party’s constitutional arrangements.

I was honoured, today, to walk on to this marae alongside Labour’s new leader Andrew Little. I am very much looking forward to working with, and getting to know Andrew better.

Our respective parties are focussed on changing the Government in 2017. The Greens are committed to creating a new Government which will be better for Māori and better for Aotearoa New Zealand.

That alternative stands in stark contrast to the current Government that believes New Zealand was settled peacefully and that our people were somehow grateful – grateful for the bloodshed, the loss of millions of hectares of land.

Grateful. For the capital.

From Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei’s Rātana speech

Interesting to see that Turei (with Greens ap;proval presumably) has chosen to start the year in attack mode.

NZ Herald reported Ratana: Turei launches stinging attack on Key

Ratana elders usually frown upon using the occasion for a political speech, but Ms Turei was unrepentant.

“This is a political event. We need to come here and front up to Maori about our Maori policy, our Treaty policy and explain ourselves. And that’s what I’m doing.”

She said Mr Key had to be taken to task for a “disgraceful way to describe New Zealand’s history”.

Green gloves are off.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is filling in for Mr Key and it was left to him to defend the PM.

Mr English said the Greens were “nasty” on occasion and it didn’t serve them well.

“John Key has developed a very positive relationship with Maori even though there isn’t very strong political support among Maori for National. He has focused on a lot of areas they want him to focus on. So I don’t think the audience will be too impressed by it.”

Time will tell whether this is blast at the past from Turei or whether it signals an intention for an aggressive approach by Greens this year.

The elusive surplus threatens poverty measures

It looks like the Government won’t make their promised surplus next year due to reduced tax take and pressure from reducing milk prices.

NZ Herald reported No surplus this year – Treasury

Treasury this morning delivered a body blow to the Government’s hopes of returning to surplus, saying it now expects a deficit of over half a billion dollars for the June financial year.

At this morning’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, Acting Treasury Secretary Vicky Robertson said despite solid growth in the economy, the Crown’s finances would take a hit from lower than previously forecast tax take.

That had seen Treasury change its forecast operating balance before gains and losses (Obegal) for the 2014-15 year from a slim surplus of $297 million to a deficit of $572 million.

Treasury said softer outlook for economic drivers of the tax such as lower dairy prices and interest rates had seen the expected tax take for the year fall by $600 million.

The changed forecast isn’t a big deal on it’s own, changing economic conditions and revisions are to be expected.

Unless there’s a significant turn around and the surplus is achieved this is embarrassing for National and Bill English who have put a lot of emphasis on reaching a surplus after some very difficult years since the Global Financial Crisis.

Generally English deserves a lot of credit for managing the country’s finances prudently, this played a significant part in National doing so well in the election.

But English has not been so prudent on two counts – staking so much of his reputation on reaching a surplus by 2015, and leaving no room for mistakes or unexpected changes in his last budget.

English cut the surplus too fine, leaving virtually no margin for a negative change. Mr Reliable gambled and looks like losing this bet.

It isn’t a major problem for National at this stage of the electoral cycle. But it will make their promise to address poverty in next year’s budget challenging.

Bill English on dirty politics

There’s a number of tweets reporting comments from Bill English about dirty politics.

Bill English visibly uncomfortable today answering questions allegations, partic those regarding Judith Collins.

English [on Collins giving Simon Pleasants’ name to WO]: “That’s a style of politics, it’s not a style I like and I don’t participate in it”.

Bill English says it is not the sort of politics he engages in.

Bill English does not condone attack politics outlined in Nicky Hager’s book but won’t be drawn on whether Judith Collins should face consequences.

It’s not English’s call (in public at least) on the possible fate of another Minister.

It’s good to see someone in National speaking up against dirty politics, albeit seemingly reluctantly.

UPDATE: Radio NZ Report:

English critical of colleague’s behaviour

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has criticised the behaviour of Justice Minister Judith Collins, as outlined in the book Dirty Politics, saying it is not how he operates.

The Nicky Hager book outlines how Ms Collins passed the name of public servant Simon Pleasants to right-wing blogger Cameron Slater, believing Mr Pleasants had leaked information in 2009 about Mr English double-dipping on his housing allowance.

Mr Pleasants had not leaked any information but was subject to abuse on Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog and also received death threats.

Mr English said today he had nothing to do with it and did not condone blog attacks on public servants.

However, he would not be drawn on whether Ms Collins should be reprimanded.

“The Prime Minister (John Key) has expressed confidence in her. She’s a minister, you know. We’re all answerable for how we deal with things, just like I was over the housing issue,” he said.

“I was publicly answerable for that. It wasn’t a matter of legality or otherwise, it was a matter of judgement, and people make up their minds about it.”

The Prime Minister has also since reprimanded Collins.

National on immigration – no change

On The Nation yesterday Bill English said projected significant increases in net migration were due to less New Zealanders going overseas and more New Zealanders coming back, plus the normal about 50,000 new immigrants, slightly under maximums allowed.

English acknowledged pressure on schools and hospitals from the increase in net migration, but said National  had no plans to tighten the rules.

Lisa Owen: Good morning Mr English. I want to start with immigration. Treasury is predicting that by December net migration will be about 38,000. So that means more growth, more taxes, more people and more skills coming into the country. Do you welcome that?

Bill English: Well the turnaround is a reduction, a sharp reduction in the number of New Zealanders leaving New Zealand. And that’s what gives you the shift in the net figure. The number of people coming in has been pretty steady now for a number of years in New Zealand and that does bring skills that we need, it brings family members for existing migrants. And that number hasn’t altered. In fact most years we don’t quite meet the limits that have been set.

But it has been steadily high-

It has been. It’s around 50,000, 60,000 and it’s been steady for a long time. But look it’s part of a growing economy. It’s a measure of success with the economy that more New Zealanders decide to stay home.

But even you would accept that brings challenges. Just this week you were saying that you were seeing pressure on schools. Tell us about that –

Well we see because people aren’t leaving, there are schools where is there’s roll growth pressure and the Ministry of Education is working on that. There are other challenges. I mean a lot of people have mentioned that it puts a bit more pressure on the housing market and that’s why it’s so important that we continue with our measures to improve the supply of housing as quickly as possible.

Presumably on things like hospitals as well too when you have a growing population?

That’s right. And there’s always been pressure on our hospitals with migrants turning up with people who may or may not qualify for free care. There’s nothing particularly new about that.

But in saying that we have had this steady flow of people coming into the country, what planning have you done to prepare for that?

Well there’s always planning to prepare for it, particularly around government infrastructure, to make sure there are enough hospital beds, that there is growth in school classrooms.

But specifics here, you’ve said that there is pressure on the school roll. So what specific planning have you done in relation to schools? Can we expect more schools? Whereabouts do we need them?

Ah yes. The answer to that is yes. The Ministry of Education has working on that. In any case in our growth population areas there has been pressure on schools for years and they are doing a better job now of getting ahead of that growth. Although the turnaround in the number of new – the reduction in the number of New Zealanders leaving has been fairly sharp and so the Ministry of Education is running pretty hard to keep ahead of it.

So how are you in the short term going to keep pace with that?

Oh just more classrooms. There’s money allocated in the Budget as part of an overall programme for the year to get more classrooms to the schools where the children are turning up.

So do you have a number for how many more schools we might need?

Look I couldn’t give you the number off the top of head. There is an ongoing growth programme and the Ministry of Education and the Government have agreed that rather than wait until growth turns up and there’s a problem, they are trying to get ahead of that. Money is not a constraint to that. Often it’s a simple as finding the land and getting the classrooms to the right schools.

So in light of all of this, do you think it’s time to start considering a cap on immigration?

Well there is a cap on the number of people coming in. What we don’t have rules about is how many are leaving. And in fact we like them staying, it’s a good thing. We don’t regard that as a problem. But it is a challenge for the economy.

To counter that, should we be taking less other people? Fewer other people coming in?

Well in our view we don’t see a strong case for changing that right now. A steady inflow that allows us to get the skills that we need, also bringing close family members for people who are already here, has been a steady successful policy for New Zealand. It’s helped grow our economy.

But if you don’t see a need right now to do that, that leaves the door open to the fact that you can see in the not too distant future, that may be something you have to address?

No we don’t see a case for that because what is happening is less New Zealanders going overseas. That’s a development we welcome.

From Lisa Owen interviews Bill English

Plain English – Labour MPs “lazy and weak”

It may be the words of a competing politician, and it is likely to fall on in denial deaf ears in the Labour caucus, but Bill English doesn’t usually mince his words and there seems to plenty evidence of his accusation that Labour MPs are “lazy and weak” and are failing to support their leader.

John Armstrong points this out in It’s past time for Cunliffe to get Labour moving. He criticises David Cunliffe but also points out that “according to one expert, Cunliffe’s looming problems are not solely his fault.”

They say it takes one to know one. And Bill English sure knows better than anyone else exactly how it feels to be David Cunliffe right now.

Although English’s voice was its usual mixture of dry humour and sarcasm, it had the occasional tinge of sympathy as the Minister of Finance spoke in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, doing what he loves doing – dissecting the Labour Party, diagnosing its various ailments and predicting it will fail to overcome them before voters roll up to the polling booths.

English blamed “lazy and weak” Labour MPs for failing to take the pressure off their leader. He said Shane Jones gaining headlines with regard to his allegations against Countdown had only served to show up the poor performances of his colleagues.

In fact there have also been accusations that Cunliffe is lazy and weak, and there is some proof of that. When that is combined with lazy and weak MPs in his caucus that doesn’t auger well for Labour’s chances in this year’s election.

And worse, Duncan Garner reported on Thursday that some Labour MPs are being deliberately lazy and weak, expecting Cunliffe to lose the election, after which he will be dumped and replaced – see Garner – Labour MPs to lose the election then roll Cunliffe.

Armstrong concludes:

It is something English understands full well. It was from the same uncomfortable but potentially rewarding position that Cunliffe now occupies – Leader of the Opposition – that English led National in 2002 to its worst defeat in the party’s history.

Labour had their own worst ever defeat in the last election under Goff’s leadership. Two leaders later they still have the same MPs with no sign of any significant retirements (except Charles Chauvel who has already resigned in disillusionment).

The Shearer experiment failed miserably – and he was only installed as leader to keep Cunliffe out.

But Cunliffe hung in and when Shearer gave up Cunliffe was installed despite the majority of his fellow MPs opposing him.

If Cunliffe had performed well his colleagues would have been happy with a sniff of power but instead there’s a growing stench. With ongoing mistakes, weak performances in parliament and failing to keep in the spotlight Cunliffe quickly lost their tenuous backing.

There are Labour MPs who are not just lazy and weak, some of them are choosing to shit in their own nest, oblivious to or not caring about the stink.

English and English

Dene Mackenzie (ODT) has suggested a possible coincidence of Bill English resigning from the Clutha-Southland electorate…

English to transfer to list next year

5 November 2013

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will seek nomination for the National Party list and step down as member of Parliament for Clutha-Southland, which includes the Wakatipu, at the election next year.

…and his brother Connor English resigning as CEO at Federated Farmers.

Conor English resigns as Federated Farmers Chief Executive

“I grew up in a household that talked a lot about the three “P’s” – the Prime Minister, the Pope and the President of Federated Farmers. It has been a great privilege for me to lead this organisation in the capacity of CEO and to serve our fantastic farmers and rural community.

“2014 will be a year of change and excitement for me,” Mr English said.

We can be fairly sure it won’t be trying to go for Pope that is exciting him anyway.

Paddy’s politicians of the year

Patrick Gower makes his political awards.

POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR: Bill English

Key is 52, English is 51 – the prime of their lives in some senses. They are not going to hand over power lightly.
The political reality is that to take down National, the Opposition will have to knock out English too. And that’s what makes Bill English Politician of the Year.

A good call, Bill English has kept a steady hand on Government and on the economy. English works well with and complements John Key.

RUNNER UP (OPPOSITION POLITICIAN): David Cunliffe

Cunliffe went from unwanted backbencher hated by much of his own caucus, to Labour Party leader with a better than even chance of becoming Prime Minister.

Also a fair call. Cunliffe has successfully turned around his political career. Next year he needs to find a way of turning around Labour’s prospects.

RUNNER UP (MINOR PARTY POLITICIAN): Colin Craig

What to say about Colin Craig? Not much, because so much has been said already. But Craig is far and away the Minor Party politician of the year. That’s partly because he’s still standing as the others dropped like flies.

An interesting choice. Craig has finished the year with a flurry of media attention, not all of it positive. The media should be co-winners of this award because they have chosen to promote Craig. His Conservative Party hasn’t lifted in the polls yet.

RUNNER UP (BACKBENCH MP): Louisa Wall

Louisa Wall did what many backbenchers or MPs never do – she changed a law. She got same-sex marriage introduced. Quite an achievement – and it deserves to be saluted.

Well deserved recognition. Wall showed the benefits of working with MPs across all parties and got a far better than expected result with a resounding vote victory. Some of her bitter and twisted colleagues would do better if the followed her positive and constructive example.

GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT: GCSB

GCSB – the only Government department that will listen to you.

That award wasn’t from Paddy, I just heard it quoted on Firstline.

Paid Parental Leave could be extended

Labour MP Sue Moroney’s bill to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks had been threatened with a Government veto despite looking like having the numbers to pass with the help of Peter Dunne crucial.

Bill English has previously said that while it was interested in the bill that it wasn’t affordable. There have been claims that English overstated the cost.

NZ Herald reports

The Government appears to have softened its stance on Labour MP Sue Moroney’s members bill to extend paid parental leave to six months.

Ms Moroney said National had approached Labour “after the weight of public opinion convinced them to rethink its threat of using a financial veto to scupper the bill”.

The Government Administration select committee has now delayed its report on the bill until February 28.

English now says “The bill now looks substantially different and may be worth looking at.”

Mr English said the select committee had now done detailed work on it to come up with a version that wouldn’t be vetoed.

“We just haven’t had the opportunity to look at the detail of where they’ve got to.”

Delaying the date at from which the extension would apply was a possible concession that may persuade National to support the bill he said.

“The original bill just cost too much too soon to be acceptable or workable. Costings would be one issue where the Government would want to see where the committee’s got to.”

Changes may relate to timing – it would be difficult for National to keep claiming the bill is unaffordable while they promote their success at improving the economy and Government finances.

National won’t want the bill to prevent them from balancing the books as that has been one of their prime focuses.

But if the timing of the bill taking effect can ensure it is affordable without a deficit then it may get through – especially considering an election is coming up.

I personally think that targeted support of parents during the first six months of a baby’s life should be a priority.

Government must act on Invermay

Plans by AgResearch to create hubs and gut regional research facilities is contrary to advise from within their own organisation. They seem to be hell bent on empire building regardless of expert opinion from within their own organisation, ignoring a risk of serious degradation of agricultural research.

The ODT has obtained leaked documents: AgResearch executive overrules review team

There is anger in the South after leaked documents revealed AgResearch has ignored recommendations to save key parts of the Invermay agricultural research centre in Dunedin.

The documents, obtained yesterday, showed strong opposition to AgResearch’s ”future footprint” restructure proposal from more than 200 staff, including at Invermay.

It also showed AgResearch’s own change management team (CMT), appointed to consider the 245 staff submissions, agreed with many of the concerns.

Its recommendations included that key genomic, animal productivity and deer research scientists should remain at Invermay, rather than being concentrated at Lincoln.

The response from AgResearch’s executive team, contained in a separate leaked reply to the recommendations, was to reject them.

This sounds very shonky.

The ODT also rips into AgResearch in their editorial: AgResearch’s Invermay blunder

AgResearch, in its determination to concentrate research and administration in hubs in Palmerston North and Lincoln, is making a mistake.

From a purely parochial Otago point of view, the gutting of Invermay is bad enough. But, as is made clear in leaked documents obtained by this newspaper, AgResearch’s own change management team says it would be much wiser in a scientific sense to concentrate animal programmes at Invermay.

After receiving and analysing hundreds of submissions from staff, the change team came up with several recommendations which differed from AgResearch’s original proposal.

Yet, despite being charged with the task of considering in detail the plans, the group’s recommendations have largely been ignored by its own executive. AgResearch announced to staff this week that the original twin hub proposal stands, almost in its entirety.

The AgResearch executive seems to be at odds with everyone.

After all, as the change management team said about animal productivity, for example, ”location at Lincoln is likely to put capability at risk without yielding significantly greater benefit”.

Perhaps even more telling was the comment ”locations should be determined by science benefits rather than location head counts”. Surely no-one can disagree with that.

Not even the Government and it’s ministers should be able to disagree with that. Time for them to step in. Nathan Guy? Steven Joyce? Bill English? Michael Woodhouse? Jacqui Dean?

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