Ambitious tree planting policy lacking labour

The Government’s ambitious house building plans will be difficult to achieve unless sufficient trade labour is available, and there are insufficient numbers of experienced people available already.

The same problem faces another ambitious project – planting a billion trees.

Stuff: Labour shortage could create ‘significant issue’ for Govt’s 1 billion tree target

A shortage of labour and land could result in growing pains for the Government’s ambitious 1 billion trees programme.

Shortly after the Government was formed last year, it set itself the lofty goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2027 as a way to grow the regions, create jobs, offset carbon emissions, enhance biodiversity and reinvigorate New Zealand’s forestry industry.

The recent Budget allocated $258 million to the programme, and Forestry Minister Shane Jones said planting rates would increase from 55 million trees a year to 70 million in 2020, and 90 million in 2021.

“From there we will be aiming for 110 million a year over the next seven years of the programme,” Jones said.

However, finding people to plant trees let alone maintain and harvest them could prove difficult, he said.

​”We’ve got a challenge – we can’t find enough workers as it is.”

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes…

…said the 1 billion trees programme was “challenging but doable”.

A lack of labour would be the main thing holding the programme back, he said.

“It’s clear that there’s a significant issue out there and we are going to struggle to find the numbers. That’s going to have to be addressed or we’re going to have a problem.”

Unemployed people would need to be trained and migrant labour would be needed, most likely from the Pacific Islands, who had traditionally filled forestry roles, Rhodes said.

Horticulture already has a lot of trouble getting sufficient labour to pick things like grape and fruit, and to harvest vegetables. One problem is it is seasonal work, but another problem is that these jobs are often in more rural areas where there is little labour available and urban unemployed are unwilling to move to.

Forestry has a bigger potential problem, as most of that work wil be even more remote from civilisation and labour.

School donations another delayed promise

A Labour promise to pay schools extra so parent donations aren’t required has had an evolving target, from “in our first budget” to “three Budgets on which to deliver on them”.

Below the Beltway:

Education Minister Chris Hipkins – After promising repeatedly to offer parents relief from school donations in the Budget, Hipkins insists its omission is not a broken promise but a delayed one.

Labour policy: Schooling

  • Ensure that schooling is genuinely free by offering an extra $150 per student to state and state integrated schools that don’t ask parents for donations

Labour: Education Manifesto

  • Labour will provide all State and State Integrated schools that opt-in an additional $150 per student per year in exchange for their agreement not to ask for parental donations

July 2017: Labour taking action on school ‘donations’

Labour will end so-called voluntary school donations for the majority of parents across the country under its $4 billion plan to revitalise the education sector, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. James talks with Labour education spokesperson Chris Hipkins on this.

James: So the school will get this immediately, as soon as you become Government the schools will get this extra $150 per child?

Hipkins: Ah look it might have to be, obviously we’ve got to pass a budget first, so it probably won’t be the beginning of next year, it’s probably be the beginning of the following year but we’ll be doing it as quickly as we can.

James: How long does it take to sort that out, a year?

Hipkins: Well the government budget’s normally done in May, so you’ve got to appropriate the money first.

James: Haven’t you done the figures already?

Hipkins: Yep. The money, we’ve certainly done the figures but we’ve actually got to win the election and get into Government first, and then it takes a wee while to pass an additional budget. The budget for next year has been already been set by Mr English and Mr Joyce.

Almost as soon as they got into Government,26 October 2017: ‘We’ve got to fund schools fairly’ – Labour determined to take the axe to ‘voluntary’ school donations:

Incoming Education Minister Chris Hipkins said a new Labour initiative would be introduced in the 2018 budget that would see some schools given extra government funding instead of asking parents for a donation.

Hillary Barry: End of school donations, how are you going to ensure that those are gone?

Chris Hipkins: Well that’ll be in our first budget. We’ll be making sure that school funding is enough to deliver the curriculum so that schools don’t have to rely on the ability of parents to pay, because that’s creating real unfairness…

In November: Labour’s $150 per student per year promise ‘over and above current funding’, minister says

New Minister of Education Chris Hipkins…

The new Government would commit an extra $150 per pupil per year to any schools that agreed not to ask for donations, and that money would be “over and above their current funding”, he said.

Hipkins was confident many schools would prefer the new approach to asking parents to “dig ever deeper into their own pockets”.

“I know parents and schools will be keen for this change to be made as soon as possible and work is getting under way,” he said.

It had already softened to “as soon as possible”.

A month later Labour announced their first budget, a mini-budget that included major new spending like delivering on the free-fee tertiary policy. This was their first budget they chose not to address the school donation policy then.

In February this year Schools split on Government’s plan to overhaul donation system

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the policy would be considered for Budget 2018.  “No-one should be denied an opportunity to realise their potential through education because of financial barriers,” he said.

“As it is Budget sensitive I can’t comment further at this point.”

By then it was “would be considered”.

But it was absent from the budget announced this month (May).

In Parliament on Wednesday Nikki Kaye probed Hipkins:

7. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by all his promises in education; if so, does he stand by his statement in February 2018 regarding ending school donations, “As it is Budget sensitive I can’t comment further at this point”?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, and yes.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Why did he say, in January, to the Nelson Mail that a school donations proposal was working its way through Cabinet and “This restricts me from making any comment further at this stage.”, and when did that schools donations Cabinet paper go through?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because it was working its way through the process. It was called the Budget process.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he reimburse schools and parents who are contacting electorate offices saying they relied on his broken promise to end school donations in the first Budget, and how will they find funding from somewhere else?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government has been very clear that we have three Budgets in which to deliver the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. We have, thus far, delivered one of the three Budgets.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he promise that funding will be provided in Budget 2019 to end school donations?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: All of the commitments in the Speech from the Throne are subject to further Budget consideration if they weren’t funded in this year’s Budget. There are two further Budgets that the Government will be delivering over this term of Government.

Hon Nikki Kaye: How does he justify breaking his explicit promise to parents to scrap the school donations in his first Budget when his Government is budgeting a surplus of $3.1 billion, the tax take is up by $1 billion, and the Government can afford to give millions to wealthy students, Swedish diplomats—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: To be clear, the Government was never going to be able to deliver all of the commitments we made in our first Budget, and we’ve always been very clear that we weren’t going to be able to deliver those things in our first Budget. That’s why we have a three-year term, and three Budgets on which to deliver on them.

So it’s been a moving target:

July 2017: “Probably be the beginning of the following year” (2019)

October 2017: “Well that’ll be in our first budget” (not clear whether mini-budget in 2017 or full budget in 2018)

November 2017: “…this change to be made as soon as possible…”

February 2018: “would be considered for Budget 2018”

May 2018: “three Budgets on which to deliver on them”

If Labour gets back into Government in 2020 Hipkins will have another three budgets to deliver on his promise, sort of.

 

Ardern belatedly fronting up on oil and gas in Taranaki

On April 12 the Government announced that there would be no more oil and gas explorations issued – No more offshore oil permits, existing permits remain.

The Government was immediately criticised for a lack of consultation prior to the announcement, and the lack of details about how ‘transition’ from oil and gas might work.

Andrew Little was quickly sent to a meeting in New Plymouth to try to do some damage control in a region that relies heavily on the oil and gas industry.

The lack of consultation was raised again in Parliament yesterday. When questioned Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods said there had been “there were very strong signals” – but that isn’t consultation.

Jonathan Young: When she described ending new offshore permits as a “planned, measured and careful transition … towards renewable energy”, did she actually tell anyone in the petroleum industry her plan to ban new offshore permits, prior to 12 April?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a question that has been asked in this House and responded to in this House previously. What we have been very clear on is that both the Prime Minister and myself made very clear comments around the future of offshore drilling prior to 12 April. Indeed, two weeks before making that announcement, I went to the Petroleum Conference and gave a speech reassuring the sector that the changes coming would not affect their existing permits.

Jonathan Young: Did she actually tell anyone in the petroleum industry prior to 12 April that she was planning to ban new offshore permits?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I just answered in the previous question, there were very strong signals. But we made an announcement; that was the point at which we told people in the petroleum sector. As that member knows, members of the sector received phone calls from myself, several colleagues, and officials the night before the announcement was made.

Phone calls the night before a planned announcement is not great consultation either.

Today prime Minister Ardern will meet with the oil and gas industry for the first time since the announcement.

Newstalk ZB: PM to meet with oil industry for first time since ban

The Prime Minister is heading to New Plymouth today to meet with representatives from the oil and gas industry.

It’s the first time she’s been to the region since the Government banned on any future offshore exploration permits.

Jacinda Ardern says the focus of her meetings today will be on what needs to be done to help the industry transition.

“There are decades left of work and exploration in this industry. What we need to think about is what happens in the 30 years after that, and that’s why we’re going to Taranaki to talk about that.”

The industry has been very critical, saying they weren’t properly consulted by the Government, but Ardern maintains that’s not the case.

“There have been changes in this industry for some time and anyone who listened to what we’d been saying about there not being a future for fossil fuels would not have been surprised by this move at all.”

Ardern and the Government have said quite a few things that they haven’t followed through on, or have deferred. They have cited the demands of being in a coalition as a reason for dropping or watering down some policies.

It looks like Ardern rushed into the oil and gas announcement to use as show piece action ahead of a trip to Europe, but she should have done far better in New Zealand, especially in Taranaki.

There will be pressure on Ardern today to assure the oil and gas industry that consultation on transition plans – if they have any plans of substance – will be given a far greater priority than sending signals via the media.

Twyford’s big little mistake

More trouble for Phil Twyford, self inflicted.

He was one of Labour’s most active and critical MPs in when in opposition. In Government he was given big and relatively many ministerial responsibilities.

He has struggled with the transition from Opposition, and with his new jobs, particularly the very demanding Housing portfolio in which Labour had been very critical, and made some big promises. As National had discovered as the number of houses kept falling behind a rising population, it can be a very slow behemoth to turn around, especially with our restrictive, time consuming and expensive RMA requirements.

Last week Twyford was reprimanded by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for referring to ‘kids at Treasury’ when he disagreed with a housing forecast. Ardern put on a show of telling him off but agreed with the thrust of his criticism. Twyford said “Some of these kids at Treasury are fresh out of university and they’re completely disconnected from reality”.

Interest.co.nz: Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says he is “disappointed” with the Housing Minister’s comments that his officials are “kids… disconnected from reality”

Now another controversy has flared, with Twyford being  reported by a member of the public for making a cellphone call on plane after the doors had been closed.

This may seem like a trivial offence breaching what seems like a pointless airline rule.

But it is highly embarrassing for Twyford, because as Minister of Transport he had responsibility for Civil Aviation.

Twyford has admitted his mistake. He also ‘offered to resign’ in a statement:

I recognise that I made the call when I shouldn’t have.

This is inappropriate for anyone, but particularly inappropriate for me as Transport Minister. I apologise unreservedly.

I have apologised to the Prime Minister and offered my resignation as Transport Minister.

She has declined my offer but chosen to transfer my responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority to Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

I have referred the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority who will follow whatever processes they deem appropriate,

So he didn’t actually resign, he left it to Ardern to make a show of declining it, and she also appropriately appropriately stripped him of Civil aviation responsibilities. Regardless of the offence reducing his workload seems like a good idea.

This is being compared to Gerry Brownlee’s breach of security at Christchurch airport in 2014 while he was Transport Minister. he was fined $2,000 for that.

It can be argued that Brownlee’s offence was worse, or potentially not as dangerous (if there is any danger from using phones on planes), but that’s largely irrelevant. This is four years later and Twyford is the current Minister and he has earned some flak.

This will probably blow over fairly quickly except for ongoing attempts to niggle away at the Government by opponents – unless Twyford keeps making mistakes and inappropriate comments. It’s time for him to measure up as a minister, or he could find more of his responsibilities slipping away.


Update: This irony is being reported on RNZ, from July 2014: PM too quick off mark – Labour

Labour transport spokesperson Phil Twyford said John Key had been too quick off the mark in deciding not to accept Mr Brownlee’s resignation and should have waited for the outcome of the CAA investigation.

“The Prime Minister did say that he was going to hold National Party ministers to a higher standard of accountability, so I would have hoped that the prime minister would have waited for the facts to be on the table about what regulations Mr Brownlee might have breached.”

Mr Twyford said it was important Mr Brownlee was held to account, and pointed to the prosecution of John Banks when he was Police Minister for using his cellphone during a flight.

“Well I think it’s very important, for the public, that politicians are seen not just to make the laws but to follow them, as well, and that’s a pretty fundamental principle of our democracy.”

 

 

EU to start trade talks with New Zealand, Australia

The European Union has announced it will open trade talks with new Zealand and Australia in June.

Reuters: EU agrees to start Australia, New Zealand trade talks

European Union countries cleared the way on Tuesday for the bloc to begin free trade talks with Australia and New Zealand in a drive to forge new alliances as trade tensions with the United States increase.

The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the 28 EU members, said EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom would visit both countries to open talks in June before negotiators convene in Brussels in July for a first round of discussions.

The EU forecasts that ambitious and comprehensive agreements could boost its exports to the two countries by a third in the long term, although there are caveats about opening up EU markets to farm produce such as butter and beef.

The bloc is the third largest trade partner of both Australia and New Zealand.

Trade Minister David Parker: EU and New Zealand to start free trade talks

A free trade deal between New Zealand and the European Union (EU) has taken a major step forward with the announcement overnight that the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council has approved its negotiating mandate.

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker has welcomed the news, saying it opens the way for a free trade deal with one of the largest economies in the world that will boost jobs and incomes.

“Credit must go to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern whose strong advocacy for New Zealand’s interests during her recent trip to Europe helped tip the balance,” David Parker said.

“It is also an endorsement of our strong backing for the talks as the next priority on our extensive free trade agenda, that includes the CPTPP, the Pacific Alliance and RCEP.

“These negotiations offer significant economic gains for New Zealand and the EU. They are an example of like-minded countries working together at a time when the world faces a rising tide of protectionism,” David Parker said.

“The EU is our third largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth more than $20 billion. Even excluding the UK, our trade with the EU is worth about $16 billion annually.

“Our recently-announced inclusive and progressive Trade for All agenda aims to benefit all citizens – an approach in line with the EU.

“At the start of negotiations, we’ll be releasing a package of information outlining our negotiating priorities for this agreement and how we will be engaging with New Zealanders as negotiations progress,” David Parker said.

A good step in the right direction with the EU on trade, but with 28 countries involved it will take some time to negotiate and approve, if successful.

“The role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility”

It is difficult to understand what this is about let alone what benefits may come of it.

Julie Anne Genter: Minister to speak on women and transport at international events

Minister Genter will give the keynote address at the Women Mobilise Women conference, organised by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative. The initiative aims to generate a debate on the role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility.

“This is the first conference to empower women in transport and I am excited to be addressing this event focused on implementing sustainable mobility solutions on the ground by women, for women,” Ms Genter said.

I guess Genter will explain to the conference what she means, or maybe attendees already understand this sort of language.

I don’t know why women need to look separately at sustainable mobility solutions in urban areas. Separate women’s carriiges, buses or cycle lanes?

Genter will then go to something that looks more understandable and worthwhile:

The Minister will then join Ministers and government officials from around the world at the 2018 International Transport Forum Summit (ITF). This year’s theme is transport safety and security.

Minister Genter will participate in sessions addressing climate change and transport, ensuring long-term resilience of transport infrastructure funding, and how to increase safety on city streets.

Following the ITF Summit, Minister Genter will travel to Denmark and Sweden to meet with officials and experts on transport safety, particularly to discuss their implementation of ‘Vision Zero’ which aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries.

“Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world having cut its road death rate by investing in safety infrastructure and setting safer speed limits. Earlier this year I announced that the Government will investigate adopting Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ approach to road safety in New Zealand. I am looking forward to learning from their experience while I am there,” Ms Genter said.

It is good to look at successful road safety initiatives elsewhere in the world.

I hope Genter learns a more realistic approach than “aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries”. Goals are best when they look achievable.

I think a better goal would be to halve deaths and injuries in x number of years. If successful that can be repeated to slash the road toll, but it can realistically never reach zero.

And a focus on men might make sense where road safety is concerned, given they are generally more dangerous on the roads.

Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Concerns of abuse of the Official Information Act by Government Ministers have been growing for years.

Last December: Clare Curran is planning a few shake-ups

Broadcasting aside, Curran has also been given the newly created role as the Minister in charge of ‘open government’.

Falling under her Associate State Services portfolio it’s a natural fit for Curran who during her years in opposition was a loud campaigner for greater transparency.

She repeatedly criticised the National-led coalition for refusing to improve government practice in the area and for gaming the Official Information Act (OIA).

But, of course, when the shoe is on the other foot those strong views can sometimes mellow.

Curran was apparently “half-hearted” when asked by the Otago Daily Times if she agreed the OIA was being manipulated for political purposes but is clearer now that it has happened in the past, but won’t in the future.

How can she be sure that a Labour Minister won’t do the same thing a year or two down the line, once they’re feeling more secure in their power?

“Through better processes and protocols being in place that we all sign up to and agree to. I don’t think it is being made to agree to it (formally), it’s about a will and getting things right.”

To push through this change, she and Justice Minister Andrew Little will review the Act and previous recommendations from the Law Commission and the Ombudsman and take a policy to Cabinet.

While the final result may not be a major legislative change, Curran is supportive of a former Labour Private Member’s Bill that called for the Ombudsman to be given the power to fine departments and Minister’s offices that inappropriately withheld information.

Real change will take time, she says, with a culture shift within the public service needed.

“To change the way that advice is provided, to the way in which it is released to the public, is not something that can be turned around overnight.

“It’s hugely frustrating, it means that people feel there’s a deliberate attempt to keep every piece of information withheld from public scrutiny. That is the thing that has to be turned around.”

But it now appears that no review of the OIA will happen.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act


Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future.

Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle says:

We’re very disappointed that the Government won’t be reforming the OIA, it’s a vital tool in holding governments to account. The OIA has been steadily weakened over the years by both changes in how government works, and gaming of the law by Ministers and public servants.

Among other things, the Council would like to see serious consideration given to:

  • Further encouragement for extensive pro-active publication of documents.
  • Removing commercial sensitivity as a ground for withholding information, particularly for outsourced government services.
  • Giving the Office of the Ombudsman more resources and powers to enforce the Act.
  • Restricting the use of the “legal privilege” grounds to times when matters are actually before a court.
  • Reducing Ministerial interference with OIA requests.

We believe that the Official Information Act does need substantive reform, and that the reform process should include significant public consultation and participation. “The Official Information Act needs to be updated so that it can continue to be used to deliver open and transparent government in service of our democracy. We call upon the Government to reconsider its position and start the OIA reform process now,” says Thomas Beagle.

Budget “a ringing endorsement of the Defence Force from the Coalition Government”

It is notable that this refers to ‘Coalition Government’ – Greens are not a part of the coalition. While NZ First and Grant Robertson have tried to talk up the Defence budget it has been described as “money for a frigate upgrade cost overrun, some joint training and another 800 LSV trainees”.

Minister of Defence Ron Mark talked up the budget allocation for the Defence Force.

Enhancing Defence Force capability

New Zealand’s Defence Force can continue making meaningful contributions to global security and peacekeeping efforts, and respond effectively to events like natural disasters, as a result of Budget 2018 funding, says Defence Minister Ron Mark.

Budget 2018 provides a $367.7 million operating funding boost to the Defence and Veterans portfolios over the next four years, underpinned by an extra $324.1 million for the New Zealand Defence Forces’ operating budget. In addition, Budget 2018 provides $42.3 million in new capital funding for modernisation.

“The extra funding is going to go a long way towards helping the Defence Force meet increasing demand across a range of tasks,” Ron Mark says.

“The funding announced today is also a huge win for conservation, the environment and fisheries protection.

Alongside the increase of $324.1 million in the Defence Force operating budget, Budget 2018 also sees:

  • $41.3 million additional capital investment for the first tranche of investment under the Defence Estate Regeneration Programme Plan
  • an additional $22.6 million operating funding over the next four years and $1.0 million capital funding for the Defence Force to deliver the enhanced Limited Service Volunteer programme (supported by a related investment of $4.2 million over the next four years for the Ministry of Social Development to administer the programme)
  • as announced earlier, $1.1 million in grants to the Royal New Zealand Returned & Services Association (RSA) and No Duff Charitable Trust over the next four years to support the services they provide to veterans – $250,000 for the RSA and $25,000 for No Duff Charitable Trust annually (This initiative was announced before Budget Day.)
  • $6.3 million in 2018/19 for the repatriation of the remains of service personnel and their dependents for those buried overseas since 1955
  • $13.6 million over the next four years set aside for new capabilities.

“This is a ringing endorsement of the Defence Force from the Coalition Government. It recognises the value it provides New Zealand and its meaningful contributions to peace and security around the world,” says Ron Mark.

Defence got a few mentions in the budget speeches in parliament on Thursday.

Grant Robertson:

New Zealand’s Defence Force will be able to make more meaningful contributions to global security and peacekeeping, and better respond to natural disasters, with a $345 million operating funding boost to the Defence and Veterans portfolios over the next four years, including, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, funding to expand the Limited Service Volunteer programme for young people under 25.

It didn’t rate a mention from Simon Bridges

Winston Peters:

Can I just say it was clear as daylight that the National Party had been hiding the costing—$20 billion, for example, when it comes to the Defence Force, was a fiscal risk. It wasn’t even budgeted for. Then he had a frigate that was overrun by, and costing, $148 million, and they kept it quiet from the public from July last year all the way to election day.

We’ve got, for example, the things that also matter in defence. That’s a substantial boost in a critical area, which means that our defence capacity in the Pacific—so desperately needed by so many Pacific Islands and by the Pacific itself—can now show up responsibly.

That’s it.

However on his ‘National Security’ blog Simon Ewing Jarvie is quite scathing.

Politics, Defence & Budget 2018

The political fate of New Zealand’s Defence rests in two simple questions. The first is how important defence is in the scheme of the current government’s political priorities and the second is how much influence the current Defence Minister has.

Take a look at past behaviour of Government parties as an indicator of the future. Labour’s choices have often seen a reduction in combat capability – think air combat force for example. NZ First talks tough but, when in coalition with National, vetoed the acquisition of the second two ANZAC frigates. At least the Greens are up front in their disarmament desires.

It is clear that Defence is not a high priority for this Government. That’s concerning because there are some important decisions to be made about platform replacement. Good ministers can get money for their portfolios. Putting aside this year’s abysmal budget result, how is Ron Mark placed in the machinery of Government?

First, the general view is that Ron, Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson aren’t exactly drinking buddies so there’s not likely to be any favours done for Defence in that department. The relationship between NZ First and Greens is toxic at the best of times and Defence is right in the middle of that.

I can’t see Ron Mark and Golriz Ghahraman (Green’s Defence Spokesperson) nutting out an accord over a herbal tea anytime soon.

So that brings it back to how Ron is able to leverage NZ First’s support for the Government. Unfortunately, Ron Mark’s star, within his own party, appears to be waning. Were it not, Peters wouldn’t have stood back and let Fletcher Tabuteau roll Mark as Deputy Leader. NZ First got heaps of concessions out of Labour in Budget 2018 but they weren’t going to die in a ditch for Ron Mark or Defence. It’s unlikely that anything is going to change there.

For all the bold election campaign statements by NZ First, Ron Mark got money for a frigate upgrade cost overrun, some joint training and another 800 LSV trainees.

He highlights a lowlight:

$148 million over four years is listed as a new initiative. It is actually the value of the cost overrun for the ANZAC frigate upgrade so it’s not generating any capability that wasn’t already signed up to.

Not only is this not new spending, it’s actually caused a degradation in other Defence capability development. That’s because as part of their ‘kiss and make up’ exercise, the MOD agreed to reduce the specs on the new littoral operations vessel from a purpose-built military specification to a commercially available hydrographic and dive support vessel to ‘save’ a similar amount of money. In December, Mark attacked the previous Government over the frigates saying “it means the lives of men and women were now being compromised”. How can he possibly reconcile that with sending sailors into threat zones in a vessel not designed for self-defence and survivability? You can’t paint it grey and call it a warship.

Grey lipstick on a war pig.

The bulk of the money allocated for acquisition to MOD is for the construction of the new maritime sustainment vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa. Apart from a few legacy projects, there is nothing for the big ticket items listed in the 2016 Defence White Paper.

Finally, but very important, is personnel costs. These are currently about $1b of the cost of running defence. Is there, in effect, a pay freeze? Or, will the operating funds have to be used to retain ‘he tangata’. NZ First campaigned on this and has delivered nothing.

Don’t forget, also, about the ‘drag’ that capital charge and depreciation is having on NZDF’s funds.

 

 

 

 

 

Peters and a handsome horse called Neoliberalism

This week’s budget highlights a big contrast between what Winston Peters has said and what he does. Talking the bucking the system bronco talk in opposition, but trotting along with the establishment for a dividend of baubles.

In past years Peters speeches has condemned National, capitalism and ‘neoliberalism’, but this week’s budget has been described as business as usual, National-lite and a continuation of neo-liberalism.

Not that this sort of duplicity will bother Peters – he has a history of talking a big change talk, but is walking a same old walk.

Winston promised radical change but is helping to deliver more of the same old. He campaigns as an anti-establishment politician, but props up the establishment given half a chance.

Peters has a history of cosying up to whoever will give him a share of power. He worked a coalition with National from 1996-1999, and did it again with Labour in 2005-2008. Neither of those Governments wavered from the same old capitalist approach alongside some state assistance. All Governments since the 1980s have been bitterly described as ‘neo-liberal’ by some on the left.

Peters in a speech in 2010:

New Zealand First was born from those who rejected the radical reforms of National and Labour and who wanted a party that represented ordinary New Zealanders – not overseas interests or those of a few ever mighty subjects.

So, after the blitzkrieg neo-liberal policy destruction of Labour between 1984 and 1990 – and National until 1996, New Zealanders decided they wanted change.

In less than two years Jim Bolger was rolled by Jenny Shipley whose mission was to smash the centre-right coalition and to continue the neo-liberal experiment supported by the Business Round Table and any other stragglers they could cobble together.

We saw some of this recently in the economic prescription of a failed politician who simply could not see that pure neo-liberal economics is a pathway to economic servitude for all but a small privileged elite.

Or maybe he does know this – which makes he, and his ilk, even more dangerous.

Dripping with irony. Peters enabled both the Bolger government and the Clark government prior to making that speech.

In 2016 Government a ‘bum with five cheeks’ – Peters

“Unless we get a dramatic economic and social change as a result of our efforts at the next election, we would have failed. That’s our objective. We know that unless we’ve got a dramatic change from this neoliberal failure that every other country seems to understand now but us, then we as a party would have failed.”

There is scant sign of anything like a dramatic economic and social change in the current Government or in the budget, apart from vague assurances it will be ‘transformational’ at some time in the future.

Also from 2016 – Winston Peters: ‘Most Kiwis are struggling’

“Everyone in New Zealand First knows that our duty, our responsibility and our mission statement is to get an economic and social change at the next election. Otherwise we will have all failed. It was a challenge to my caucus members, my party delegates and everybody else.”

He said there was no use in pursuing the major parties’ neo-liberal economic policies, which he described as being like “Pepsi and Coca-Cola”.

Peters provided the froth for both, and continues to do so.

Leading in to the 2017 election campaign: Winston Peters dismisses ‘irresponsible capitalism’ of other parties with new economic policy

Winston Peters is positioning NZ First as the party of difference and says his policy announcements today will steer away from the “irresponsible capitalism” that every other political party is selling.

The neo-liberal policy adopted by New Zealand politicians in the 1980s is a “failed economic experiment”.

“We want to confront what’s going on and set it right,” Peters said.

“I look at Parliament today and the National party, the Labour party and now the Greens are all accepting of that with a little bit of tweaking. That is astonishing, particularly in the case of the Greens – they’ve done it to try and look respectable – it’s totally disrespectable economic policy.”

Peters has enabled a Labour led Government whose first budget is little more than a bit of tweaking, with the Greens getting a  modest modest bit money for tweaking environmental policies.

Once negotiating power with Labour and the Greens Peters was already talking less radically.

October 2017: Winston Peters wants ‘today’s capitalism’ to regain its ‘human face’

“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong.

“That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.”

So he moved from radical change to supporting a tweak to capitalism.

And this weeks budget has been barely a tweak. Guyon Espiner calls it a A ‘triumph of neoliberalism’

It turns out you can’t judge a book by its colour either. Labour’s first Budget in nearly a decade came with a bold red trim, rather than the royal blue Treasury uses to present the documents when National is in power.

But inside this was a blue budget not a red one. It’s a description neither Labour nor National would like bestowed on Budget 2018 but this was a triumph of neoliberalism or at least a continuation of it.

A continuation of neoliberalism enabled by and supported by Peters, with a bit of crony capitalism for him and NZ First.

This looked like National’s tenth Budget rather than Labour’s first.

It is the seventh National/Labour budget that NZ First has played a hand in.

Much more largesse has been lavished on the New Zealand First relationship with $1 billion for foreign aid and diplomats and another $1 billion for the Shane Jones provincial growth fund.

Even Winston Peters’ racing portfolio gets a giddy up. The government will spend nearly $5 million on tax deductions “for the costs of high quality horses acquired with the intention to breed”.

It has to be a handsome horse though. The rules say it will be tax deductible if it is a standout yearling “that commands attention by virtue of its bloodlines, looks and racing potential”.

What next? A handsome horse called Neoliberalism? Peters is probably a bit old to ride it, but he is providing the hay.

NZ First’s colours are black and white, and Peters campaigns with black and white rhetoric, but when he gets the chance to get some power he is a kaleidoscope of collusion, whether it be with National, Labour, capitalists or neoliberalists.

Perhaps like Grant Robertson he has a few transformational tricks up his sleeve, holding them back for next year, or next term.

Or maybe his the same old political charlatan, talking a maverick talk in opposition but given half a chance walking the same old establishment walk.

Pharmac funding not cut

Amy Adams and National may have been a bit hasty in claiming that Pharmac funding had been cut.

Adams is still claiming this on RNZ this morning.

That seemed odd, but Grant Robertson has pointed out that it is inaccurate.

Pharmac: Budget 2018/19

PHARMAC is pleased that the Government has announced an uplift in PHARMAC’s funding.

The Combined Pharmaceutical Budget (CPB) will be increased to a record level of $985 million in 2018/19 – an increase of just under $114.2 million on the 2017/18 CPB level.

From 1 July 2018, PHARMAC will manage all public expenditure on medicines – whether used in the community or in hospital, and this means that all remaining DHB’s expenditure will be part of the CPB.

Due to the power of the PHARMAC model, this is likely to provide future savings of around $200 million over four years for Vote Health – achievable by applying the PHARMAC model to the full portfolio of medicines.

PHARMAC will continue to invest in new medicines and technology that best meet the health needs of New Zealanders.

PHARMAC has proven its ability to return savings for the health sector, while at the same time funding new treatments, as well as managing the growth in usage of existing funded treatments.

So the Pharmac budget has been increased, and ” the power of the PHARMAC model’ means that DPB spending on drugs could be reduced by $200m.

That’s if Donlad trump doesn’t force up the international price of drugs so that US drug companies can make even bigger profits.