Insight and Incite

The latest edition of Incite Politics includes some political insights and incites, but overall seems quite lightweight and I think it’s questionable whether it’s deserving of a premium subscription except for devoted fans of Cameron Slater and perhaps political obsessives who must have everything.


In this month’s edition we have contributions from Chris Trotter, Don Brash, David Farrar and Jock Anderson, as well as the usual contributions from Simon Lusk and myself.

  • Chris Trotter asks a very hard question
  • David Farrar provides some long-term predictions
  • Don Brash investigates Auckland’s affordable housing issue
  • Jock Anderson discusses a very interesting case before the courts

We will also be looking at potential leadership options, what Labour can do about their dead wood and John Key’s not-so-secret strategy that is bleeding resources and support from Labour.

We make more recommendations for our Political Read, Political Video and Political Websites so you can stay as informed as we do.

Farrar’s predictions of the chances of various coalition arrangements after the 2017 election are detailed and interesting but there’s no surprises.

Trotter’s contribution Should Labour Be Euthanased is not much different to his prolific output via media columns, The Daily Blog or his own Bowalley blog.

Don Brash writes about ‘the blindingly obvious’ and ‘the solutions are now well understood’ on the affordability of housing in Auckland. Again it’s interesting but not remarkably enlightening.

Jock Anderson’s ‘A Most Curious of Cases’ is a curious inclusion in a political newsletter. He writes about serious charges against two men, one “an extremely rare one”, and how everything about the case are suppressed. There should be very good reasons for justice not to be seen to being done. This may or may not all remain a secret as the trial progresses.

The rest comprises items and comments by Slater and Simon Lusk. For me this is the biggest problem with Incite, as these two have known histories of providing services to politicians and aspiring politicians for fees.

So it’s fair to ask whether Incite is independent of fee paying customers or if it is in part at least a service to customers.

Much of what Slater and Lusk write is not much different to what would have been seen as posts on Whale Oil in the past, so it appears as a move to paid content by moving to another outlet.

But in doing this they may be reducing the potential effectiveness of their political promotions and hit jobs because Incite will have a much smaller audience than Whale Oil.

There’s little point in trying to spread scandal to a very limited audience, unless they think it might be useful as veiled threats that could be publicised more widely.

Lusk and Slater continue a series on potential leaders of National and Labour. Curiously it states ‘Please note that these comments are considered accurate at the time of writing, but time and events may result in them changing.’

Their comments on Jacinda Ardern are not much different to what you might expect in a Womens’ Weekly article.

Their National target is Paula Bennett. I think this has to be looked at alongside the knowledge that both Lusk and Slater have or have had political and financial ambitions and interests, especially with the National party, National MPs and potential candidates for Parliament or for leadership.

Both of them pile dirt on Bennett. This wouldn’t look out of place on the old Whale Oil. And if Bennett’s political career and ambitions took a dive it would not look out of place for Slater to claim credit for it.

Without another Rawshark type there’s no way of knowing whether this is just political skulduggery or if it is also undisclosed services rendered for fee paying opponents.

Farrar has already indicated he’s happy to provide services for Incite for payment. Brash, Trotter and Anderson are presumably also doing it as professional writers and their contributions look much like columns you might find in a number of media outlets. That’s up to them

But they risk being seen as padding out a newsletter  that has other services involved.

Lusk and Slater could do something about this – they could declare that Incite: Politics was totally independent of any other business interests and not a part of paid for political services. But I haven’t seen them declare their interests before, so question marks are likely to remain.

Poverty not black and whyte

Poverty in New Zealand is examined again, this time by ex ACT leader Jamie Whyte in Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense (NZ Herald).

There is no poverty in New Zealand. Misery, depravity, hopelessness, yes; but no poverty.

The poorest in New Zealand are the unemployed. They receive free medical care, free education for their children and enough cash to pay for basic food, clothing and (subsidised) housing. Most have televisions, refrigerators and ovens. Many even own cars. That isn’t poverty.

Why then do we keep hearing that more than 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty? Those who tell us this do not mean by “poverty” what most people do. They have a statistical definition: you live in poverty if your household’s income is less than 50 per cent of the national median (after tax and housing costs, and adjusted for the number of adults and children in the household).

For example, the Herald recently published an article by Susan St John, spokeswoman for the Child Poverty Action Group, that claimed 220,000 children live in poverty because they “fall under the stringent 50 per cent after-housing-costs poverty line”.

Alas, the measure is not stringent; it is ridiculous.

Whyte goes on the explain why he thinks the claims of poverty in New Zealand are ridiculous.

Why would anyone use such a preposterous definition of poverty? Interviewed byThe Guardian, British poverty campaigner Peter Kenway defended it on the grounds that “it is a simple and reliable statistic which has played a huge part in propelling poverty up the policy agenda.”

It is far from reliable, and what it “pushes up the policy agenda” is not really poverty but inequality, which, in rich countries, is not the same thing. Poverty statistics based on this measure are misleading anyone who believes them.

Or the so called poverty statistics are being misused by people promoting an agenda with hints of socialism.

David Farrar agrees at Kiwiblog in Whyte on poverty.

And there is both strong criticism and agreement in a discussion at The Standard.


Good grief. Couldn’t get past the first paragraph. Since when has there been free ‘medical’ care in NZ? What a dick.

Quite a bit of medical care is free for quite a few people in New Zealand.


Looks like a pretty reasonable article, to me. He eventually does at the end say the statistic is measuring inequality, not poverty, which I think he should have mentioned much earlier (short attention spans and all that). Also his sudden overuse of the word ‘pauper’ was strange.

Yes, Whyte’s repeated use of the term ‘pauper’ was odd, it seems as out of place in a New Zealand context as ‘poverty’.

This exchange illustrates part of the problem with the poverty campaigning.


I think what the poverty campaigners are trying to highlight is the people going without proper housing and proper food (amount and quality). In the 1st and 3rd world’s I would say this is a pretty good definition of poverty.


Then they should talk about that, instead of talking about the number of people who live in a household with less than 50% of the median household income.

But even defining poverty as “going without proper housing and proper food” can invite debate over what is judged proper housing and food.

The poverty debate is far from black and whyte.

Edgeler explains – achievable versus futile

David Farrar thinks Graeme Edgeler’s attempt to abolish racist legislation – see Edgeler gets support for racist law reform – is a good idea in A bill for an MP to pick up:

There’s 20 or so MPs who don’t have a bill in the ballot. I hope one of them picks this one up.

Others want to be much more radical, eg wiseowl:

What about a private members bill repealing all the race based legislation that is dividing this country .

Who would be brave enough to try that?

Cameron Slater at Whale Oil also wants it to go much further Internet Lawyer wants racist Maori law repealed:

Why isn’t Graeme Edgeler concerned about all the laws that provide Maori with advantage over non-Maori?

The Treaty itself would be a great example of this.  Even though it is a partnership document, it splits the country into Maori and non-Maori.  We even have a Maori electoral system, and so on.

Surely if this law is of such huge concern we should be removing ALL race-based law making from the books, including the provision of Whanau Ora, Maori Electorates, local council Maori Statutory Boards, Maori Land Courts, the Waitangi Tribunal, all references to tangata whenua, removal of the treaty from laws, dissolution of Maori Wardens, and the dissolution of Te Puni Kokri, Maori Television and all other race-based media.

Edgeler explains the reality – he is trying something that’s potentially achievable as a sole person who isn’t an MP:

Doing many of the other things you discuss, some of which I may support, some of which I may not, would be complicated. Some would be impossible in a member’s bill, as they’re budget issues.

I would be wasting my time, and any MP trying to advance a bill on the issues would be wasting their time.

I’m a guy with a blog, and a twitter account. I had a couple of spare hours, and thought I could write something that might actually get an MP to advance a member’s bill and possibly change the law. I reckon this has a shot. And it seems you don’t really disagree.

If I wrote a blogpost calling for the abolition of the Treaty of Waitangi, there is zero prospect of that happening. And if it ever does happen, it won’t be because I tweeted it as a suggestion. I could draft a member’s bill to abolish Whanau Ora, but no MP would take it up.

This is one thing that’s simple to do that could actually change the law in a small way. So that’s why I’m talking about this and not something else: I reckon I have a chance of changing this.

Edgeler does have a chance of succeeding with what he has proposed. It’s a sensible and pragmatic approach

And Wiseowl and Slater have no chance of getting what they want.

Slater added:

I did read the post…and took it to its logical conclusion…that if we are against racism in our laws then let’s cleanse them all. This is one of those cases when racism is racism…you can’t remove one law because it is racist and leave others standing there…those are still racist laws…shouldn’t they go too?

There’s nothing logical about what he suggested. You can remove one racist law and leave others. A lot of legislation addresses specific things without being total reforms of multiple laws that have no chance of passing through Parliament.

Guide to political polls

One of the best sites to follow if you’re interested in US elections is Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight especially anything poll related.

They’ve just posted a good guide to US political polling. Some of this can apply to New Zealand polling as well.

Harry’s Guide To 2016 Election Polls

  1. Wait. Shrug off polls until just before primaries, or until after the conventions for the general election. Even within a week of a primary election, the polls are often inaccurate. The polls more than a month out are, at best, a guesstimate. General election polls are far more accurate on the eve of an election, and the candidate who leads after the major party conventions is likely to win.
  2. Ignore national primary polls – they measure nothing. (But state polls matter.) Unlike in general elections, when all states vote on the same day, the primary calendar is sequential; each state’s results often affect the next state’s. The national polls don’t add to your understanding of the race — just look at surveys of the upcoming states.
  3. Ignore hypothetical matchups in primary season – they also measure nothing. General election polls before and during the primary season have a very wide margin of error. That’s especially the case for candidates who aren’t even in the race and therefore haven’t been treated to the onslaught of skeptical media coverage usually associated with being the candidate.
  4. Look for polls of likely voters, not just registered voters. Voter turnout in primaries and non-presidential year general elections is often low. If you want to know who is going to win, you need to poll the people who are more likely to vote.
  5. Look for polls using live interviewers; they’re often more accurate. Although there are solid pollsters who don’t use live interviewers, studies show that pollsters who do tend to be more accurate in primary and general elections. Live-interview pollsters can reach landline and cellphone users, while robo-polls and Internet pollsters often miss big slices of the population.
  6. Be wary of Internet polls; they’re less tested. There are a number of good Internet pollsters, such as SurveyMonkey and YouGov, but these pollsters don’t have a long track record in primaries. In general elections, they tend to be at least as accurate as other types of pollsters.
  7. Know the polling firm – some are waaay better than others. Polls sponsored by major news organizations (ABC News, NBC News, The New York Times, etc.) are often the most accurate because more money is spent on them. If you haven’t heard of a pollster before, there’s probably a good reason for it. If you’re in doubt, check the FiveThirtyEight Pollster Ratings.
  8. Margin of error and sample size matter less than who’s in the sample. Good polling costs a lot of money, so many times the best polls have a smaller sample size (the more people you call, the costlier the survey). That raises the statistical margin of error, but the margin of error for a sample of 400 is less than double that for a sample size of 1,000. What you don’t want is coverage error, in which you’re polling people who won’t even vote or ignoring people who will.
  9. Beware polls tagged “bombshells” or “stunners.” Outliers are usually wrong. “Surprising” polls are usually outliers. Anyone remember when Gallup called for a Mitt Romney victory in 2012? That was wrong.
  10. Instead, look at averages or trends in polling. There’s a reason we aggregate polls at FiveThirtyEight: The aggregate is usually better than any individual pollster. That’s especially the case in general elections. In primaries, the trend line can be more important, as a candidate with momentum heading into a contest often outperforms his or her average.
  11. Asking people about their votes “if the election were tomorrow” is designed to heighten drama by reducing “undecided” responses. The average primary poll finds that only about 10 percent of voters are undecided, even months from the election. Yet, the vast majority of primary voters don’t make up their minds until the final month before voting. The true number of undecideds are far higher than polls indicate far out from an election.
  12. Consider the motives of the media reporting on polls. They want headlines. This one is self-explanatory. The media are interested in your readership. Moreover, partisan news outlets are more likely to give press to those polls that favor their preferred candidate.

Also consider the motives of political blogs that comment on polls. Most have an obvious slant. When a blog doesn’t comment on a poll it can say more than when they do.

Being a pollster with a very good (polling) reputation David Farrar at Kiwiblog is the most useful in New Zealand.

He also has poll summaries on the blog on his Curia website.

Polls can be interesting and useful but they can only ever be approximations of what might happen in elections or referendums in the future.

“If an election was held today” poll run over several days is quite a different situation to if an election was held today and we voted.

How do you know when to trust a poll?




Absolute Power, Hollow Men and authors

I found a post on Kiwiblog on a review of Ian Wishart’s Absolute Power (on Helen Clark). This is from 2008 but has some relevance now in relation to Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.

Farrar posted Review of Absolute Power.

Ian Llewellyn of NZPA has done a review of the Helen Clark biography “Absolute Power” by Ian Wishart. It’s a fair and balanced review in my opinion.

From the review:

The book, released last week, is a collection of articles which attempt to prove Wishart’s thesis that the current Government is corrupt and Prime Minister Helen Clark entered Parliament under false pretences to push a hidden agenda.

The book is similar in many ways to Nicky Hager’s book The Hollow Men, and they share many of the same strengths as well as flaws.

They also both reveal as much as about the author’s world view as they do about their subjects.

Both gathered exhaustive (and in places exhausting) material and did meticulous research, but the impression is the evidence has been gathered and presented to reach a pre-determined position.

In Hager’s case it was that National was controlled and driven by dark forces ranging from big business, the religious right and foreign interests.

Wishart aims at the other end of the political spectrum and sees Miss Clark as someone who would do anything to get into power and do anything to hold on to it, all in order to push a hidden feminist, socialist agenda on an unsuspecting New Zealand.

It is unclear whether political blindness or naivety colours both authors’ views as they often see quite ordinary political processes as something far more sinister.

In Hager’s case, the lobbying of big business and internal caucus power struggles were proof of conspiracy. …

The fact that people join or lobby political parties to push a view that they believe is a better way for the world seems to be lost upon both authors.

Much of the book is spent on Wishart’s arguments over whether it is ethical to get into the personal lives of politicians.

He concludes that it is necessary to expose hypocrisy.

Some of the material is an interesting take on political events, such as the downfall of former police commissioner Peter Doone and similar events.

It also documents the habit of many politicians to say one thing in opposition and another in government.

Wishart believes his book portrays a pattern of behaviour that makes Labour and Miss Clark unfit to hold office.

For his followers and those who dislike the current administration, the book will be a gospel.

Miss Clark’s supporters will dismiss it as the ravings of an obsessed individual.

The vast majority of the population will simply not care either way as they accept things are not black and white; instead there are many shades of grey.

Most people accept that others are prone to make mistakes and get things wrong, as much as they get things right.

In the end Absolute Power is not Absolute Gospel, but neither is it entirely Absolute Nonsense.

Farrar’s responses:

 Ian Wishart didn’t just form a view as he started to put his book together that Helen Clark was no good – he has been of that view for some time.

I can’t agree too strongly here. Hager would have you believe that every business donor and supporter is motivated by self interest and greed, rather than a genuine belief in their views and policies being best for NZ. Likewise Wishart does fall down when he reads too much into fairly predictable stuff such as the PMs Office not being very helpful too him.

This is not to say that Wishart’s compilation of all the scandals under Clark is not valuable. People have become so used to them, they hardly register now, and the one thing they all have in common is that in almost every case Clark or her coterie lied and covered up – from paintergate to corngate to speedgate (yes I know all those gates sound lame but they make for easy reference) to doongate.

NZPA should be congratulated for doing a review of the book, rather than just ignore it. I suspect those on the left will not like the comparisons to Hager’s book (which is treated like the Koran by some Labour Ministers as they refer to it daily), but likewise some on the right will not like the dismissal of much of the book as reading too much into everyday politics.

Books that attack parties in power will always be controversial.

INCITE review

The first newsletter from INCITE: Politics, edited by Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater, ws distributed yesterday. It has been promoted on Whale Oil and on Kiwiblog.

Whale Oil gave a summary of content. I’ll give some of my impressions.

In short it may be of interest to people keen on the machinations of politics but at $35 per newsletter the market may be limited.

Little in trouble – David Farrar writes about the fundamental problem for Andrew Little, his negative approval rating, and contrasts it with the very popular John Key.

This is backed by some interesting poll results but from a barely adequate 500 sample size, as shown by this.

M.E. = margin of error.

Farrar doesn’t provide any details of margin of error, polling method, polling period.

The Route to Victory – Simon Lusk considers the potential routes to victory and the relative institutional strengths of both the Labour and the National parties in the 2017 election.

Interesting but fundamental politics. Labour’s problems with fundraising have been well known for years. Little you wouldn’t see in public commentary.

Ten Questions – Winston Peters takes the time to give some thoughtful answers to some important political questions.

Peters sounds typically cagey, not much revealed here.

Politician of the Year – Review our choice for the inaugural INCITE: Politics Politician of the year.

Awarding this to Winston Peters seems funny, having got him to answer some questions. Sure Peters pull off a by-election heist but doesn’t seem to have built on that.

The Advent of the Media Party – Cam Slater writes about why the media have moved from neutral, dispassionate observers to players in the political game, and why the public no longer trusts them.

This is a continuation of a series of posts at Whale Oil that includes swipes at Dirty Politics, Nickey hager and Kim Dotcom so it’s more same old rant than revelation.

I don’t think it’s just in “recent years” that media have decided to engage in political activity.

Pundits & Media –  Cam Slater’s view on the New Zealand media, with a counter view from Simon Lusk.   

Little that he hasn’t been saying over and over on Whale Oil.

The Grey Economy – Carrick Graham writes about the massive amounts of taxpayer money that goes to nanny state promoting NGOs.

Interesting and informed comment.

How to win at Politics – Cam Slater builds a case for the need for politics to be meritocratic.

Slater dissing MPs he has slated on Whale Oil and promoting others  is a real problem, given that it’s known that Slater has promoted some MPs and attacked others for payment.

Maori Politics – Willie Jackson makes observations about the future of the Maori Seats, and whether the Maori Party can regain the seats it lost in 2014.

A bit of insight from a Maori perspective but little more than personal commentary.

Future Contenders – Simon Lusk explains the election process for Labour & National party leaders, providing background for a future series of articles on aspiring Prime Ministers and Leaders.

Mostly well known information with a small bit of commentary.

Sex Offenders –  David Garrett from the Sensible Sentencing Trust discusses how the justice system is still skewed towards the rights of sex offenders, not victims.

This looks odd in the mix promoting some policy by someone who doesn’t seem to have much say in party policy any more.

Local Politician of the Year – We have two contenders and people may be surprised by our choices.

Interesting but just commentary on the past year, which is funny given Slater’s comments promoting INCITE two days ago:

Firstly this report and the coming monthly reports are a bit different. All the contributors in the first issue and contributors in coming issues have signed up to deliver their thoughts in this report because it is going to be different. We are going to be forward looking not backwards looking. Have a look at all the political commentary since parliament rose for the break. It is all about what happened in the past year and nothing at all about what should happen.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back, as INCITE does naming  Politician of the Year and Local Government Politician of the Year, but Slater looks silly here.

Recommendations: Book, Podcast, Video & Web Site recommendations for those serious about politics.

Could be of interest to some people.

Another section called Dirty Rat is half a dozen snippets of political gossip without naming anyone. This seems odd.

Overall there’s some interesting sections in INCITE but it also seems to be an extension of Slater’s posts at Whale Oil that dtreact more than add value.

Spme will be happy to pay for this. Most probably won’t.

First INCITE: Politics newsletter today

The first monthly newsletter from INCITE: Politics is due out today. As it is by subscription, and as it is  featuring political and business mercenary Cameron Slater I won’t be paying for it and won’t be quoting it here.

The name INCITE is a curious choice – at a glance it might seem like it’s taking the piss but editors Cameron Slater and Simon Lusk appear to be serious about this project.

Lusk allowing himself to be promoted on Story with Duncan Garner recently may not have been a coincidence.

When launched launched last week – see Incite Politics by subscription announced – contributing commentators were listed:

Comment will be provided across the political spectrum with contributions from:

Carrick Graham, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, Chris Trotter, Jordan Williams, Cam Slater, Simon Lusk, Willie Jackson and many others.

Graham, Lusk and Hooton are well known political and business lobbiests who promote business or political interests for fees. It is known that Graham and Lusk have paid Slater for posts at Whale Oil – there have been claims that they have written material that has been posted under Slater’s name.

There must be some scepticism about the claim INCITE will be “a practical, dispassionate analysis of politics”.

By yesterday the contributor list had shrunk.

Carrick Graham, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, Cam Slater, Simon Lusk, Willie Jackson and many others.

There had been questions asked about why a political subscription newsletter would be launched just as politics is winding down for the long summer break. Slater tried to explain yesterday:

Well, there are a number of reasons for that.

Firstly this report and the coming monthly reports are a bit different. All the contributors in the first issue and contributors in coming issues have signed up to deliver their thoughts in this report because it is going to be different. We are going to be forward looking not backwards looking. Have a look at all the political commentary since parliament rose for the break. It is all about what happened in the past year and nothing at all about what should happen. In due course Fairfax will do their annual prediction post but that is more about flippancy than about accuracy.

Politics for me has been a life long addiction/hobby/career. Just because lazy and inept politicians and the equally lazy media have gone on holiday doesn’t mean we should stop talking about politics. The issues that matter to voters don’t go away over Christmas.

But interest in thinking and talking about the issues does dissipate for at least a month. It’s bills that don’t go away, and some have suggested this is an alternative revenue attempt as Whale Oil business model seems to be waning.

The launch of INCITE on Whale Oil last week didn’t attract much attention, with only ten comments, five of which were by Slater and Pete Belt. Yesterday’s promo only attracted one comment.

That suggests a lack of interest in paid content from Slater. His free content has hardly been riveting lately. Whale Oilers will also be aware that any criticism or questioning would be inviting bans. Message control has been draconian there for the last eighteen months.

In what looks like vote of no confidence in the Whale Oil readership yesterday David Farrar posted a discount promo: 15% off for Kiwiblog readers.

Kiwiblog readers who want to subscribe to the monthly newsletter can get a 15% discount at this link.

Discounting via a rival website just prior to the first edition is certainly an interesting move. The on Kiwiblog will not be encouraging for INCITE.

One example, from Jimbo:

Most of those named commentators are well known for pushing unacknowledged interests and crafting opinions for murky paymasters.

Not sure why you would want to keep that sort of company, DPF. I certainly won’t subscribe.

Currently 20 upticks, 1 downtick.

Farrar responded:

I am happy to write and do polls for whomever will pay me.

That confirms presumptions that Farrar’s Curia polling company will be involved in “exclusive polling and polling analysis”.

The cost to produce INCITE won’t be insignificant. Contributions from Slater, Lusk and possibly Graham may be for free – cynics may suggest that Lusk and Graham may pay to have their client’s views promoted as has happened at Whale Oil.

But polling isn’t cheap. Farrar says he will be paid for his contributions, and others may want something for their efforts sold as exclusive as well.

Unless special mate’s rates and deferred payments are involved the cost of each edition must be in the thousands.

One hundred subscriptions at the monthly premium of $35 is only $3,500 which presumably includes GST.

On subscriptions, Tom Barker at Kiwiblog:

Annual subscribers beware. Slater was appointed editor of “Truth”- and it folded five months later. Don’t expect a refund on the balance of your subscription when his latest venture does the same.

A three month subscription has no discount, so those who are curious and not winding down for the year may take a one off look. They may be satisfied enough to keep paying for more. Or not.

The last comment currently on Kiwiblog: “I dunno. I admire the chutzpah.”

NOTE: If anyone has subscribed it will be interesting to hear what you think. Quoting examples is fine (I think Slater quotes paywalled NBR articles) but as it is subscription not too much please.

The Taxpayers’ Union

David Fisher has profiled the Taxpayers’ Union at NZ Herald – The Big Read: So what’s this Taxpayers’ Union, which purports to represent us all?

The Taxpayers’ Union is seen as a right wing activist group, but having a Government spending watchdog has the potential to benefit all taxpayers, not matter what their political leaning might be.

Political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards:

“I think it’s a valuable entity for New Zealand politics and society. I think they are a legitimate part of the political scene.”

I agree.

But, he adds, the group’s actual purpose is not one reflected by the wider society it purports to represent. “I think it’s disingenuous in the way it represents itself. It has the appearance of standing for wider society when it represents the far right of politics. It’s some sort of proxy for those with a neoliberal agenda.”

I disagree. Identifying and limiting wasteful spending benefits everyone.


It’s two years since the launch of the Taxpayers’ Union, which was the realisation of “an ambition that burned hot and hard in the minds of Jordan Williams and David Farrar”, as chairman John Bishop (father of National MP Chris Bishop) said at the recent annual meeting.

Isn’t calling it a “union” a bit cheeky? “Yeah,” says Bishop snr. “David Farrar said he liked it because it annoyed the left. Union is not a term which is owned by the trade union movement.”

Annoying the left seems an odd ambition for a group like this.

The Taxpayers’ Union is about reducing “waste”, says Farrar. He claims there are “a thousand spending groups” calling for more taxpayer money, citing Amnesty International, the Nurses Organisation and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association as examples.

There needed to be a group that would push back, he says.

Farrar and Williams are co-founders and directors. Williams is the executve director.

Williams doesn’t actually know how many OIA requests the organisation has sent, although says “whatever it is, it’s not enough”.

“The fact that we have exposed so many rorts, wastes of money and cost overruns more than justifies any costs to officialdom. The more information requests we put in, the more likely they are to think that a wasteful spend could be exposed.”

The OIA responses received are used to generate press releases – almost one every two working days. Farrar recently published a spread-sheet of releases showing the Taxpayers’ Union sent 285 press releases in the two years since it launched. By Farrar’s count, 78 per cent were about the Government and of those 82 per cent were “negative”.

The press releases carry Williams’ name at the bottom and an invitation to call the Taxpayers’ Union’s 24-hour media line.

Williams is almost always at the end of the phone, able and bright with well-practised soundbites. Fairfax and NZME publications have carried about 600 articles mentioning the group since it launched.

Both Farrar and Williams are politically controversial, both being closely linked to Cameron Slater in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.

Farrar does all National’s polling, something said to be a major tool of John Key. He also runs Kiwiblog.

Farrar: “It’s fair to say we want to change where the so-called centre is. There’s been all these voices calling out for more spending. My hope is by having a strong voice calling out wasteful spending … that provides a better environment. You will then get spending restraints and tax cuts.”

Why is calling out wasteful spending going to shift the political centre? I have no idea.

Born in Hawke’s Bay, Williams was raised by his mum and subject to early political influence. There was contact with high fliers such as Dr Don Brash, and those who shun the limelight such as the curious Simon Lusk – credited with successful campaigns by a handful of National Party MPs.

Williams went from NZ Lotteries as an “assistant accountant” to Franks & Ogilvie, the law firm at which former Act MP Stephen Franks is a partner.

Williams, Slater, Lusk suggests a political agenda won’t be far away,

Williams is also caught up in the defamation serves and counter serves involving himself, Cameron Slater and Colin Craig over, ironically, Craigs own booklet version of ‘Dirty Politics’.

But while politics is interwoven with the Taxpayers’ Union it should be able to do a useful for service for all of us as long as it targets wasteful spending in a non-partisan way.


Genter versus Robertson, Greens versus Labour

David Farrar has also posted on Chris Trotter’s hopes for a Trudeau type leader emerging on New Zealand’s left (see Scouring Labour for some Trubro magic posted here on Tuesday).

In Does Labour have a Trudeau? Farrar talks of an interesting observation:

I was listening to RNZ’s The Week in Politics today while running. It was on the budget surplus. What struck me was that Julie-Anne Genter came across as far more reasoned and logical on the economy, than Grant (Robertson).

He was still arguing that somehow the seven years of deficits were caused by National while also attacking National for not spending more. It was very weak, while Genter actually made quite reasonable arguments.

Green finance spokesperson Genter has always made quite reasonable arguments, especially on her speciality transport. Someone who is smart and eloquent and makes sure they know their stuff can shift their strengths to other issues.

Last week I posted about observations made by Colin James:

Little versus Shaw, plus the Winston factor

Colin James has made an interesting observation about Andrew Little and James Shaw in his latest column. He wonders if Little may struggle to look like Leader of the Opposition alongside Shaw.

Add to that Genter alongside Robertson as finance spokespeople and Labour versus Green could get very interesting.

Especially if Genter is elevated to co-leader alongside Shaw.

TPPA success and how to lobby

David Farrar has an excellent post at Kiwiblog – The battle for the IP chapter – on how a number of groups lobbied on IP issues on the Trans pacific Partnership, engaging with with MFAT and MBIE negotiators, with lobbyists and negotiators from other countries.

He details a number of proposals on IP that he (and others) opposed and wanted to do what they could to exclude them from the TPP, and it seems with some success.

These provisions would have been truly horrible, if they had been agreed to. The good thing is that with the exception of the extension of the term (which is more a copyright than Internet issue) the US got beaten back on pretty much all of this. I’m not saying the IP chapter is great (there are still a couple of areas of concern which we need to see the detail on) but this truly horrible stuff is not in there – software is not patentable still, parallel importing remains legal, you can circumvent TPMs for legal purposes, ISPs don’t face extra liability, no changes to our three strikes law for filesharing infringing (which rights holders don’t like).

So why did the US not get its way on much in this chapter? Is it because it was an unimportant chapter? No, far from it. For several years it has been said that the IP chapter will be one of the most difficult. Many in the media thought the big battle was Pharmac, but in reality that was never at great risk. The PM and others had often said that the IP chapter was one of the big challenges.

This was a concern, as those of us against the US demands, were worried that the IP chapter would be traded at the lost moment with the US, in order to gain a better deal elsewhere. We wanted to stop that happening, and make the price of compromising on the IP chapter too high, so what did we do.

By we I mean groups such as InternetNZ, IITP, TUANZ and NZ Rise. I don’t speak for any of them, this is just my views as someone who was involved.

It’s well worth reading through. This post makes a good template for practical politics and effective lobbying.

Farrar also points out that those opposing the TPP outright because they don’t like trade deals or they don’t like the Key Government are unlikely to be taken seriously by decision makers and negotiators.

So in the end these opponents do not get much traction either, because their opposition is more about who the Government is, than what is in the TPP. That doesn’t mean their criticism do not have validity, just that their motivations are more about bashing the Government.

Activist opponents may have some successes but more often than not they are wasting their time and energy.

Positive engagement is far more likely to have some success than marching in the streets.


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