Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update – economy “better than predicted”

The Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update has been released today. Minister of Finance Grant Robertson’s take on it:


  • PREFU shows economy doing better than forecast
  • Unemployment to peak at 7.8%, down from 9.8% forecast in the Budget
  • Year-to-June accounts show tax revenue, debt and OBEGAL better than forecast
  • Global forecast downgraded as COVID-19 second waves and uncertainty grows
  • Balanced plan to support critical public services, manage debt and reduce the deficit caused by COVID-19

The Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update released today shows that the near-term economic recovery has been stronger than the Treasury and many economists predicted at the May Budget, as the economy bounced back strongly out of lockdown.

“The Treasury now forecasts the unemployment rate to peak at 7.8%, down from 9.8% forecast in the Budget, because the economy is stronger than expected. That compares to an expected peak of 10% in Australia, while countries like the US and Canada have already recorded unemployment peaks above 13%,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

“The unaudited Crown accounts for the year to 30 June 2020 back up the evidence of a rebounding economy, with core Crown tax revenue of $84.9 billion coming in higher than the $82.3 billion forecast, indicating more activity than expected.

“Net core Crown debt was 27.6% of GDP at 30 June, compared to the Budget forecast of 30.2%, and the OBEGAL deficit of 7.7% of GDP at 30 June was lower than the 9.6% forecast.

“These are signs that the New Zealand economy is robust, and that our plan to eliminate COVID-19 and open up the economy faster is the right approach. We can see this in the forecasts, with the New Zealand economy predicted by the Treasury to grow by an average of 4.2% across 2021 and 2022, compared to Australia at 3.6% and the US at 3.5%.

“The Treasury – similar to other economists – initially forecast June quarter GDP to fall by about 23.5% in June from March. In today’s forecasts, the Treasury has reduced that to 16%. All this goes to show is that forecasting month-to-month, let alone years in the future, is incredibly difficult with such an uncertain global environment and an unpredictable virus.

“However, global headwinds and this 1-in-100 year economic shock caused by COVID-19 will have a long-term effect on the Government’s books.

“The forecasts illustrate our balanced plan to manage debt and reduce the deficit caused by COVID-19, while protecting our investment in services like health and education.

“COVID-19 is hurting economies around the world but because New Zealand went into this with low debt and a growing economy, we will come out better than other advanced countries,” Grant Robertson said.

“Policies like the Wage Subsidy, business tax refunds and small business cashflow loans protected jobs and kept businesses going. We’ve also invested to secure PPE and ventilators, and make sure our testing and contact tracing systems are world-class. Taking on debt to fund this response is the right thing to do as we fight COVID-19.

“There is no free lunch here.These measures require significant investment. It has been necessary to use the Government’s strong financial position to do this.

“What counts is our strong track record. Before COVID-19, despite constant urging to the contrary we stayed disciplined with our spending and reduced debt below 20% of GDP while successfully investing in critical public services.

“Our strong starting position that means even at its peak of around 56%, New Zealand’s net debt will be considerably lower than other economies around the world – advanced economies went into COVID-19 with net debt averaging about 80% of GDP.

“The PREFU’s long-term projection model shows debt reducing to 48% of GDP by the end of the projection period. The difference between debt of 56% and 48% at the end of the projection period represents $46 billion less debt than if debt just remained at its peak.

“The projections show the deficit caused by COVID-19 reduces steadily each year from 10.5% of GDP this year, to less than 1% of GDP by June 2028.

“The PREFU also shows the benefit of locking in low interest rates for the long-term debt that has been used to fund the response, with annual core Crown finance costs forecast to reduce by around $800 million over the next four years.

“Because the Government can borrow for 20 years or longer at rates below 1%, it makes sense to lock these in now to fund the response before interest rates rise. Because the Treasury has already been able to secure more funding at lower rates, and because the Government’s cash position has improved since the Budget, the Treasury today announced it has reduced its debt programme over the next four years by $10 billion.

“There are challenges ahead, but we have a five point plan to grow the economy, support businesses and seize the opportunities created by our world-leading COVID response.”


While the economy may not be as bad as predicted the effects could have been delayed and may be yet to bite. Or not.

Dunedin hospital rebuild delayed further, another Labour commitment failure

Before the last election Labour criticised the then National Government for delays in building a new hospital, and committed to starting the rebuild of in their first term. But the Labour Government has kept pushing out a decision and the rebuild to further than National had indicated, and have just announced they won’t even make a final decision until next year.

Before the 2017 election Labour stated: Rebuilding Dunedin Hospital

All New Zealanders should be able to get the healthcare they need, when they need it. Dunedin Hospital serves 300,000 people in the city and the surrounding regions, but it is no longer fit for delivering modern healthcare to a population with increasing health needs.

For years, Dunedin Hospital has needed to be rebuilt.

The current Government has finally committed to making a decision on the rebuild but Cabinet won’t consider the details until sometime next year and it plans for the new hospital to be up to 10 years away.

Up to ten years away then was up to 2027.

With Labour’s approach, Dunedin will have a new hospital as soon as possible, and the taxpayer will get the best value for money. Avoiding further delay will minimise costs and mean patients get better care more quickly.

Labour will: commit to beginning construction of the new Dunedin Hospital within our first term

This project is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and will deliver the most modern hospital in New Zealand, ready to serve Dunedin and the Lower South Island for decades to come.

But the Labour Government hasn’t avoided further delays. While land has been purchased and buildings are being demolished, there is no sign of a start on the outpatients block let alone the new hospital.

This week: Government confirms new Dunedin Hospital design

The Government has agreed on a preferred design for the new Dunedin Hospital featuring two separate buildings, and has provided funding for the next stages of work.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins says Cabinet has approved in principle the detailed business case for the new hospital, giving people in the Southern region certainty and confidence in the design and ongoing progress.

But there is no certainty, still.

“Cabinet agreed the detailed business case in principle as it’s important the project maintains momentum and demolition and design milestones are reached. We’ve released $127 million to progress design, demolition, piling, project management and early contractor engagement.

“It’s expected the total budget for the project will now exceed $1.4 billion. This will be confirmed once concept design is finished and costings can be finalised. The final details of the business case are expected go to Cabinet for approval by February 2021.

While it looks probably that Labour will be back in Government next year and hopefully the Cabinet will approve proceeding with the rebuild they promised a start in their first term, so have failed to deliver.

Outpatients (at almost 15,000 sqm) is due to be complete by early 2025, with Inpatients (at around 73,500 sqm) due to be finished in the first quarter of 2028.

‘Inpatients’ is code for ‘hospital’. The small outpatients block will be built before the actual hospital is started, possibly in 2025 but that’s far from certain.

And the planned completion date is after what the previous Government had projected. If National had stayed on in Government there’s no guarantee they would have delivered either, but Labour has been no better.

Implementation Business Cases for each building – Outpatients in mid-2021 and Inpatients by the end of 2021, will be considered by joint Ministers of Health and Finance, prior to confirming the main contractor for each building.

Having committed to commencing a rebuild “in our first term” (which ends next month) they now say they will only consider the Implementation Business Case for the hospital building “by the end of 2021”.

The Labour Government is throwing billions of dollars at infrastructure and ‘shovel ready’ projects all over the country, but Dunedin, and Otago and Southland, are a long way from getting a replacement regional hospital for what three years ago Labour described as “no longer fit for delivering modern healthcare“.

This re-emphasises the reality that election campaign pledges, promises and commitments (from any party) are often deliberate delusions aimed at gullible voters.

RNZ three years ago: Ardern raises stakes over Dunedin hospital

Ms Ardern was confident her party could build the hospital faster than the National Party’s seven to 10 year estimation.

“The hospital at present is dangerous and unsafe for staff and patients. Most of the existing buildings would not survive a severe earthquake.

“Things are so bad that at the moment operations have to be delayed because of the leaks when it rains. Dunedin Hospital is no longer fit for purpose,” she said.

Serious problems with the current buildings are ongoing.

Last month: Progress on ICU air conditioning

New air-conditioning machinery will be installed in a bid to get Dunedin Hospital’s multimillion-dollar new intensive care department fully functional.

Ventilation issues delayed the opening of stage one of the project for four months in 2018-19; the second stage was meant to open at the start of this year, but its 10 critical care beds remain unused.

The project has been bedevilled by the hospital building’s old air-conditioning machinery, which has proven inadequate to meet the demands of a modern critical care unit.

A new critical care unit can’t be used because of problems with the building.

The new ICU was commissioned by the SDHB to tide it over until the new Dunedin Hospital is built.

It replaces a dark, cramped ward that has poor facilities for patients, their families and staff with bright, spacious rooms and modern equipment, an upgrade staff have been eagerly awaiting.

They could be waiting another ten years.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to the Otago Daily Times:

…Ms Ardern said Labour remained ‘‘absolutely’’ committed to the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital, and also wanted to continue investment on upgrading Otago and Southland school buildings.

‘‘I remember very early on visiting Dunedin Hospital and it was just so clear what was needed there,’’ she said.

But it’s still far from clear what Labour’s ‘absolute’ commitment to the rebuild of the Dunedin Hospital amounts to. Niceness doesn’t provide adequate modern hospitals, nor does it save lives.

Government warns about ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins has warned against ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid, saying it risked extending transmission of the virus, and that risked keeping the country in level 2. This put freedoms and jobs and businesses at risk.

RNZ: Public warned as fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories threaten Covid-19 response

Fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories are threatening to derail the country’s Covid-19 response and impede progress to alert level 1.

The government has sounded a strong warning after revealing people linked to the Mt Roskill church cluster were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic – while a researcher is raising the alarm about far-right groups and fringe political leaders also entering the fray.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins fronted this afternoon’s Covid-19 briefing with a plea to “think twice before sharing information that can’t be verified”.

He said looking overseas, it was plain to see the coronavirus was “very, very real” and “very, very deadly”, with no vaccine – and while he wanted a co-operative approach, he did not rule out punitive measures for people who continue to deliberately spread lies.

It follows warnings that some church groups are facing a battle to deter the spread of false information among their communities.

Sociologist Paul Spoonley had his eye on tertiary institutions and groups with far-right views setting up on campuses who were “talking to those suggestible, who are keen to hear about alternative views”.

“They are certainly spreading misinformation about various aspects of the pandemic and who is behind it,” he said.

The other source of rumours that worried Spoonley was fringe political leaders.

I certainly don’t want the country and myself put at risk by bullshit peddlers.

So, should I not allow anyone to promote conspiracy ‘theories’ or false information or claims without evidence here on Covid?

Perhaps I have a responsibility to do something like this.

The freedom to promote different views, and to discuss and debate topical issues is important here.

But I need to draw a line and not allow the promotion of ignorant or deliberate misinformation or false or unsupported claims that could be damaging to our communities and country.

I probably won’t get too drastic, but I may do more to hold to account those who make dubious claims or promote obvious bullshit.

This means that suspect comments may be parked until I have time to deal with them.

So take this as a warning from me. Open discussion does not mean open slather to promoters of bullshit, or of claims not supported by credible evidence.

I really can’t be bothered with anti-social messaging here. I have to decide what is fake or false versus genuine discussion, but I will change my approach on this. I’d rather err towards responsibility here, which is on me rather than on commenters.

Shaw publicly apologises but pressure continues over Green School handout

Yesterday James Shaw fronted up to media at midday and apologised and apologised for the $11.7 million funding of a private Green school in Taranaki, but the hits kept coming, possible from within the Government.

Later in the day from Newshub: Green co-leader James Shaw refused to sign-off on $3bn of infrastructure projects unless Green School was included

Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw’s office and it included a stark ultimatum.

That sounds like someone with access to Government emails has given it to Newshub.

“Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.”

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister. 

“Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

“Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he’ll sign everything this afternoon,” the email said.

This could be a spanner in the works for Shaw trying to put this behind him and the green campaign.

Newshub asked Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson if she recognised that it may have jeopardised the Greens’ chances of returning to Parliament.

“It’s very clear, there’s no denying that already we were hovering around 5 percent,” she said.

But Shaw seems confident he will stay on.

“I don’t think this is a resignation level event,” he said.

Shaw said if he was making the same decision on the Green School funding he would not support it.

With a deep sigh, he said: “I feel terrible about the way that this has played out.” 

I’m sure he does feel terrible about it.

From the earlier apology media conference from The Spinoff:

James Shaw has apologised for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki, but hurled criticism at the previous National government for underfunding schools that need help.

“The decision to support this project was an error of judgement. If I was making the same decision again I would not support the project.”

“So again, I apologise. I apologise to parents, to teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who… have felt demoralised by this decision. I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who quite rightfully want the best for their children. And I want you to know, all of you, that I have listened to your concerns,” Shaw said.

In response to a question from a reporter, Shaw said the New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom, introduced him to the couple who started the school. “Ironically, one of the things I said to them was ‘are you sure you want to come to the Crown because often government money is more trouble than it’s worth.’ They were clear at that point that the project would not proceed, and the mayor was quite keen for it to proceed.”

This is an ongoing problem for Shaw and the Greens but could also impact on the Government.

The leaked email “said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister”. That was confirmed in Question Time yesterday, but the email wasn’t disclosed.

7. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Minister of Education: Was he or the Ministry of Education consulted about any aspect of the application by Green School New Zealand for funding prior to its announcement; if so, did he raise concerns about providing Government funding for this project?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I had a conversation about the application with James Shaw towards the end of July and I gave him feedback that from an educational portfolio perspective the school would not be a priority for investment.

Nicola Willis: Was he aware of Treasury advice that “… it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals”, and has the Green School met the legal requirements for registration?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I wouldn’t have seen that advice because I was not one of the Ministers involved in approving the project.

Nicola Willis: Has the Green School qualified for legal registration as a private school, including meeting all requirements around suitable tuition standards and staffing standards?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not aware of that. Of course, private schools have an application process that they have to go through. As Minister I don’t make that decision. That decision’s made by the Ministry of Education.

Willis followed that up with questions to Shaw:

8. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Finance: Does he stand by the entirety of his press statement on 26 August confirming $11.7 million in funding for Green School New Zealand, and on what evidence did he base each of the claims made in that statement?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Associate Minister of Finance): Yes, I stand by my statement based on reports provided to me by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IRG). That being said, understanding the depth of feeling in the community about this funding, were I to make this decision again, I would come to a different conclusion.

Nicola Willis: Is a contract in place for the Government’s deal with the green school, and has he taken any legal advice about his options for unwinding his mistake?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, Ministers cannot get involved in the contracting between the Crown and the various projects.

Nicola Willis: Did the Minister get involved in making clear his expectation that the green school should achieve legal registration as a school prior to receiving taxpayer money; and, if not, why not?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I don’t believe I did.

Nicola Willis: Did he meet with anyone involved in the green school prior to or during the application process for shovel-ready funding; and, if so, who?

Hon JAMES SHAW: On 18 May, the Mayor of New Plymouth, Neil Holdom, came to see me in my office and introduced me to the people who’ve started the green school. He was quite keen that we support the project.

Nicola Willis: Does he agree with Minister Hipkins that the Green Party had advocated “quite strongly” for the green school; and, if so, why did he reject the Minister’s advice that the funding should not go ahead?

Hon JAMES SHAW: It wasn’t the Green Party; it was me because it was a ministerial decision and not one that was shared with caucus, because, of course, as a budget confidential decision, Ministers are unable to share that outside of their offices. So I would say it’s not accurate to say that the Green Party advocated for it, but I did personally.

So Shaw says he didn’t share the decision with the Green caucus, he did it alone. Perhaps he will now be asked if he shared with the caucus his ultimatum to not support the whole $3 billion unless the Green School funding was included.

Nicola Willis: Did any Ministers other than Minister Hipkins raise questions or concerns with him about the conditions for this taxpayer funding to the green school; and, if so, what steps did he take to address those concerns?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I’m not aware of specific points that were raised. There was a very iterative process over a number of months of the whole IRG process, and many projects came and went during the course of that time.

The funding process may also get more scrutiny. Shaw has criticised the process – last week he said A number of ‘shovel ready’ funding decisions “made in haste” and “not high quality”.

Stuff: James Shaw fesses up, but put all future Covid projects at risk

James Shaw’s apology for the Green School fiasco was full, frank and a lot more than what you usually get from a minister that has made a mistake.

He owned it, and took personal responsibility. When asked, he also said that it was “an error of judgement on my part”, but “not a resignation level event”.

However, the most interesting part of his remarks revolved around the internal pressures he clearly felt when assessing Projects for the Government’s Covid shovel-ready fund. This goes back to earlier in the year when the Government released its $12 billion “New Zealand upgrade” package of infrastructure spending on rail, cycleways, but mostly roads. Although the Greens were privately irked about the direction of travel of the package, which was driven by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, they publicly celebrated the small wins that they had.

At the Green Party Annual General Meeting, held over Zoom in July, it is understood that the Green Party leadership faced a lot of questions about why there were more green projects in that New Zealand Upgrade package.

And so yesterday, Shaw effectively said yesterday that he felt the pressure after the New Zealand upgrade to ensure that the Greens influence the $3 billion worth of Covid infrastructure projects as much as they could.

He also said, perhaps ominously for Labour, that there were “many ironies and stories I may tell about this one day”.

Shaw’s comment yesterday revealed what has been apparent for some time: that the COvid fund, in common with NZ First’s baby the Provincial Growth Fund, has always has the potential to get politically favoured projects over the line. The very nature of the fund’s goal – to get money out the door and into projects as quickly as possible – lends itself to projects of dubious value being approved. There is a reason why Governments take time to approve dungeons to build infrastructure.

Perhaps that was why when Shaw was asked whether or not, given that this Green School was approved while he was keeping an eye on 40-50 other projects, other dodgy projects could get up James Shaw simply looked worn out and replied, “Look, I couldn’t, I couldn’t say”.

Media are having more to say about all this.

Newsroom: Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

Between lion’s gate abundance ceremonies and crystal planting, the Green School in Taranaki has enough unconventional extracurricular activities to last a lifetime.

But should they be looking for an additional option, James Shaw offered up an impeccable lesson in ritual self-flagellation on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking about his decision to grant $11.7 million in Covid-19 infrastructure funding to the private school for an expansion, the Greens co-leader all but begged for voters’ forgiveness over “an error of judgment for which I apologise”.

It was difficult to watch and presumably even more difficult to deliver, but clearly Shaw and his caucus felt the highly public display of contrition was necessary after days of bad publicity with the election looming ever closer.

On the one hand, it feels as if the issue has stayed in the news cycle longer than it probably merits due to the strange period we find ourselves in, with Parliament barely going through the motions as politicians wait for the election campaign to pick up full steam.

But with the Greens precariously close to the five percent threshold, even a minor drop in support could prove fatal.

Nor is the issue likely to disappear off the radar entirely; Government ministers have said it is too late to withdraw the funding from the school, although Shaw has mooted the idea of turning it into a repayable loan.

Winston Peters is also joining the political flogging: James Shaw may get some reprieve if Green School funding treated as ‘loan’

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and Shaw have had increasingly fractious public exchanges in recent months, and this week was no different.

Peters says this is a “mistake of bad fiscals, bad understanding of the marketplace, and worse still of a very, very uncertain applicant”.

It was Shaw’s “number one priority” to get the funding through, says Peters, and this is a case “where the blame stops with the person who’s now saying he’s sorry that he did that”.

And he put the decision down to Shaw’s lack of political experience: “You cannot go on making mistakes in this business … we’ve stopped things that were a silly idea and promoted things that are good idea.”

Many will see the irony in Peters criticising someone else for funding pet projects, but the difference is that Peters and Shane Jones have had far more money at their disposal to dish out, and Peters doesn’t apologise for anything.

major concern of Treasury in opposing the funding was it did not yet have the full education approvals needed for a private school.

Advice obtained by RNZ from around July said without full private school registration, it would be “inappropriate” to give Green School government money, but even then it opposed the grant.

Green School has provisional registration, says the advice, but it would it be still be some time before it was a fully registered private school, as Treasury says the “Education Review Office (ERO) is planning to visit the school in 2021, so if they are successful in receiving full registration this is unlikely until mid-2021”.

Grant Robertson kicks Shaw while he’s down:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told the House 1900 applications were initially received and Crown Infrastructure Partners shortlisted that down to just over 800.

“Ministers were then responsible for refining that down further to the around 150 projects that have been put in place … Minister Shaw is on record for his strong advocacy of the particular project in question here.”

Robertson says he does not see a backlash for Labour or New Zealand First as a result of the decision-making.

“I think everybody in the situation is clear that it was Minister Shaw’s strong advocacy that saw the Green School (succeed), and he himself has acknowledged that.”

And it continues.

The Green School embarrassment is likely to come up in Parliament again today.

More Green School problems

James Shaw had to try to limit the damage done last week with the announcement he had approved Government funding of a private Green school last week that was contrary to Green party policy – see Greens under fire for $11m private school funding.

This looks like continuing. Newshub: Couple who called COVID-19 ‘manufactured natural disaster’ held ‘DNA activation’ event at Green School

Newshub can reveal the Green School which received nearly $12 million in Government funding hosted a ‘sacred ceremony’ run by a school parent who believes COVID-19 is a manufactured natural disaster.

The self-described ‘new age architect’ also planned a $15,000 tour of New Zealand that included planting crystals with the school’s students.

Christof and Alaya Melchizedek were excited to be selling the tour that would stop at the privately-owned Green School in Taranaki for the “main solstice piece” – a two-day activity with the children.

“We’re going to be laying down a crystal bed. Everyone will be bringing crystals from all around the world. We are going to be unifying them and bringing in this 5th dimensional consciousness,” Christof Melchizedek explained in a video.

In a long Facebook post on Sunday, Melchizedek described COVID-19 as a “manufactured natural disaster”, a “UN 2030 vision” including “vaccinated nanochip technology” and “looming possibility of vaccination agendas” – all baseless claims circulated by conspiracy theorists.

The post was deleted after questions from Newshub.

The crystal planting activity appears to have been thwarted by the lockdown, but the couple hosted a fundraising event at the school – a “lion’s gate abundance and manifestation ceremony” including “bio-energy field cleaning” and “DNA activation”.

Once again Shaw, the man behind the cash for the Green School, was ducking for cover – refusing to be interviewed and scrambling for a solution.

The school told Newshub the funding could be provided partly as a loan and this could be Shaw’s way out.

I don’t think there is any way out of this for Shaw, the damage has already been done no matter what partial ‘solutions’ they might come up with now.

The way things are going for the Greens, National and NZ First we may end up with Labour in Government on their own with Act the main Opposition party.

A number of ‘shovel ready’ funding decisions “made in haste” and “not high quality”

Greens are in damage control and leader leader James Shaw continues to copy flak for his decision to approve a $11.7 million grant to a private green school, which is contrary to longstanding Green Party policy (see Greens under fire for $11m private school funding).

But in an apparent attempt in trying to mitigate “creating a mess right at this time at the start of an election campaign” Shaw has said that a number of decisions made were “made in haste” and “not high quality”.

Stuff: James Shaw apologises for school decision, saying he wouldn’t do it again

He said that the speed of the process had resulted in some poor decisions.

“I have to say I’m unimpressed with the whole decision-making process,” Shaw said, referencing the speed with which decisions were made.

“There were a number of decisions that weren’t high quality decisions, that were made in haste to support the country during a crisis,” he said.

I wonder if Shaw will elaborate on which of the other funding decisions have not been high quality.

More from Shaw on the private school decision:

The grant to the Green School in Taranaki from the $3 billion “shovel-ready” projects fund was made alongside ministers from other parties, and in his capacity as associate finance minister, rather than Green co-leader, but Shaw told members that wasn’t good enough.

“I want to apologise to you and the wider Green Party whānau for creating a mess right at this time at the start of an election campaign”.

“I want to apologise for the decision itself. If I was in the same position again I wouldn’t make the same decision”.

I’m sure he wouldn’t make the same decision knowing what a hypocrisy mess he has created for the Greens.

“We are working to fix it,” Shaw said.

“We entered this in good faith, we can’t simply say we’d dump it. It would ultimately be unfair to the other side and be exposed to legal risk”.

Nevertheless, members were told there would be a wider public apology and “resolution” sometime next week.

It would certainly be unfair to withdraw funding already decided on.

But what other sort of fix or resolution is possible? Labour are not offering any help.

Newshub: Multi-million dollar funding for private Green School in Taranaki going ahead despite backlash

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday the funding was not something he would have prioritised for the education sector and said the funding for Green School was something the Greens wanted.  

“Ultimately, that was something the Green Party advocated quite strongly for and so it was one of their wins, if you like, out of the shovel-ready projects area. It’s not necessarily a project that I would’ve prioritised.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed on Friday the funding will still go ahead despite the backlash because he believes the Government should keep its word.  

“I can understand that there are people who perhaps don’t like it or would rather the decision was changed. But I think the Government’s got to act in good faith here with an applicant and so I’ve got no intention to do that,” Robertson said. 

Robertson said the funding was signed off as part of 150 shovel-ready projects the Government approved to help stimulate the economy. He said the funding is separate from the funding that goes to the education sector.

 I wonder how many of those 150 signed off projects are not high quality in addition to Shaw’s big mistake?

More on Shaw’s decision.

Luke Malpass (Stuff): Hypocrisy, thy colour is Green

Hypocrisy, thy colour is Green.

Or, perhaps more specifically, thy name is James Shaw.

It’s almost a quarter of the money set aside for the Climate Change Commission that Shaw specifically mentioned in his 2019 Budget speech.

The leader of the Green Party, which purports publicly to be the party of the downtrodden and dispossessed, has inadvertently revealed itself for what many think it actually is – a party that mostly serves well-heeled Kiwis in secure and well-paid employment that care about the environment, climate change and want to go cycling and tramping on the weekend.

Stuff understands that the school’s proposal for funding was originally rejected by both the Treasury and the Cabinet committee of the Government’s economic development ministers.

The school incident shows Shaw is just as prepared as NZ First is to wring money out of the Government for pet projects. Now, even worse, Shaw is trying to get the Government to revoke the cash it has already committed to the school. Talk about principles.

It is almost inexplicable that Shaw thought this was a good idea on political grounds, or justifiable on equity grounds. Even the idea that this “creates jobs” also looks dubious. At best, it substitutes one set of jobs for another, as much of the employment will be temporary and go to builders and contractors.

This decision will be an albatross around Shaw’s neck for the rest of his career, which has been carefully built around being an unthreatening, pragmatic Green with integrity.

It’s going be tough for the Greens to keep their support above the 5% threshold after this faux pas from the hapless Shaw.

Winston grandstanding, election campaign – but dumping on Government Covid quarantine

Winston Peters has a record of attention seeking grandstanding, especially during election campaigns, so this news should be viewed with that in mind.

In Winston’s world journalists are only reliable when they suit his purposes.

It’s hard to know what he is trying to achieve unless it is discredit the Government he is Deputy Prime Minister of.

Obviously the current Covid outbreak came from somewhere, and a quarantine breach is an obvious possibility, but going public via Australian media is a bizarre way for the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with this information if it is accurate, and nuts if it is false.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters claims Covid-19 cluster linked to quarantine breach

The Deputy Prime Minister Peters reportedly told ABC 24 News he was given the information by a New Zealand journalist, who he said was “usually very reliable”.

“It wasn’t an official, I found out from somewhere else, but I think there’s been a breach inside our quarantine system.

“I think, when that comes out very shortly, in a matter of maybe less than a day, we’ll find out that was the case. But you don’t always find out from your officials.

“You don’t always find out from the experts. It’s something you sort of find out by contact with other people.”

“I don’t know where this quarantine breach may have happened, but I think you can eliminate it being some new strain of Covid-19 that hitherto my country hadn’t seen.

“In Melbourne’s case, of course, it was – how shall I say it without being too critical? – pretty slack oversight and supervision, where it was put in the hands of private industry, which was a disaster. In our case, we got the army in early enough to know that that wouldn’t have been the problem. But there’s been a breach, and we’ll find out in a matter of hours, or within a day.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said they have not seen what Peters had said, but “no connection between managed isolation and these cases has been established at this point”.

If someone from National tried a stunt like this right now they would be hammered by media and by opponents.

The ABC interview is here:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/afternoon-briefing

This social media campaign today looks like a joke:

Mining on conservation land – “totally betrayed by Government’

The Greens in Government have probably disappointed many on the left more than anyone, but have been in a weak position to ensure things change.

Here the Government Of which the Greens are a part of) cop some flak from ex-MP Catherine Delahunty, with a defensive diversion from Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.

Ombudsman report – significant breaches by Oranga Tamariki ‘uplifting’ babies

Following revelations by Newsroom in June 2019 the Ombudsman investigated the Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), and in a report to Parliament “the ministry used its most extreme powers as a routine way to remove babies” from mothers.

Newsroom: An orchestrated litany of uplifts

The inquiry, by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the fourth following Newsroom’s revelations in June last year of an attempted ‘uplift’ by Oranga Tamariki of a newborn boy at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It looked back two years before that June 2019 case and in 74 of the 74 cases of baby removals it inspected, the ministry had applied to the Family Court for the draconian ‘without notice’ orders to take babies from parents. 

All 74 cases.

The ‘without notice’ provision is supposed to be the final option in cases of urgency where a baby is at serious risk and all other options have been tried.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report presents a litany of failure by Oranga Tamariki, saying in three quarters of the cases the ministry had more than 60 days to prepare for the baby’s arrival, hold meetings with whānau and iwi, seek ministry legal officer input, consult with hospitals and hold Family Group Conferences but did not do so.

He accepts applications were made because ministry staff had serious concerns for pēpi (babies), but it was essential staff understood and followed the law. Instead, OT failed its obligations under New Zealand and international law.

Boshier flatly declares the Oranga Tamariki decision making practices in the two years covered by his inquiry to be “unreasonable”.

“The evidence I have considered did not demonstrate that the ministry consistently met the objects and principles of the Act and the obligations under international law.”

From the report Foreword:

In May 2019, approximately halfway through the Ministry’s five-year transformation programme, Newsroom published a story about an attempt by the Ministry to remove a newborn pēpi from their young mother. The video documentary that later accompanied the original written article gave rise to public dismay and a questioning of the Ministry’s policies and practices.

The Government expressed confidence in the actions of the Ministry, yet media reports of further examples continued.

That confidence appears to have been misplaced.

My investigation found that the Ministry was usually aware of the pregnancy and reported concerns for a significant period before the birth of pēpi. In 77 percent of the cases I examined, the Ministry had 60 working days or more to assess and explore options, and to develop plans to ensure the safety of pēpi. However, the Ministry did not consistently utilise the available tools and mechanisms, such as hui ā-whānau and FGCs, to engage early with parents and whānau.

The Ministry also did not use that window of opportunity to plan early with professionals and external parties. In most of the cases, the Ministry did not meet the formal timeframe for completing its assessments. I also found variable use of the key checks and balances, such as referrals to Care and Protection Resource Panels, use of the Child and Family Consult, professionals meetings, completion of the Ministry’s assessment tool (Tuituia) and professional supervision.

The outcome is that in many cases decisions were being made late and without expert advice or independent scrutiny, and, most concerningly, without whānau involvement.

Key findings:

  • I found that urgency was created through the Ministry’s inaction and lack of capacity to follow processes in a timely and effective way. As a consequence, parents were disadvantaged—first, by not having an opportunity to respond to the allegations or challenge the information relied upon by the Ministry before their pēpi were removed, and second, by having to challenge orders after they were made, and when the parents were vulnerable because they were either heavily pregnant or had just given birth.
  • I found that the rights of disabled parents were not visible in either policy or practice. All the cases I reviewed required a disability rights-based response from the Ministry but this did not occur. That is a significant breach of the Disability Convention.
  • In terms of the Ministry’s practices relating to the physical removal of newborn pēpi, my investigation also found there was late or limited planning and engagement with parents and whānau and other external professionals.
  • I also found limited support was offered to mothers who wished to breastfeed.
  • Finally, I am not satisfied that, when the removal was executed by the Ministry, it provided parents and whānau with the opportunity for ngākau maharatanga me te ngākau aroha; a period of ‘quality time’ that reflects consideration, empathy, sympathy and love.
  • In addition, the Ministry did not ensure that the parents and whānau had their support people present. Nor did it provide them with clear information on next steps. There was also no support offered to parents and whānau to deal with the trauma and grief of child removal, or to help their healing.

This is strong criticism of Oranga Tamariki – Newsroom says the report is ‘scathing’ and is a ‘damning inquiry’.

In a Beehive media release Minister for Children – Subsequent children legislation to change – Tracey Martin downplayed the problems.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

Martin didn’t specifically mention the Ombudsman report, which I think is a remarkable avoidance, but did refer to “a review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau.”

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said.

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

This from Stuff seems to have pre-empted the report, in part making excuses and downplaying the problems – Tracey Martin on uplift controversy: Oranga Tamariki ‘believed the child was in danger’:

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin is to scrap Children’s Teams, small task forces set up to stop at-risk children from falling into state care.

The move comes as the Government tries to wrestle back control of the narrative in an explosive debate over the number of Māori children taken into care.

Hundreds of protesters rallied at Parliament on Tuesday, calling for a halt to Government uplifts of Māori babies. Protests were also held in other cities.

Martin said the “emotive” language used by organisers Hands off our Tamariki wasn’t helpful.

I hope she finds the report from the Ombudsman a lot more helpful.

The full report from the Ombudsman:

A Matter of Urgency:

Investigation Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

Questionable Provincial Growth Fund job claims

Minister of Regional Economic Development  Shane Jones has been questioned for some time about how many jobs have been created by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF). He has now come up with a number, but that is a bit dubious.

RNZ: Shane Jones’ 10,000 job creation claim under scrutiny

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is crowing over cracking the target of creating more than 10,000 jobs through the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

He said a detailed stocktake has found 13,217 people have been employed so far following PGF investments.

But Jones has dismissed as unimportant details like how long they had been employed for, and how many were full time or part time.

Jones said the PGF outstripping the job numbers it hoped to achieve “speaks volumes about the fund’s success”.

“So just at the level of the human face of the PGF, this figure is not only handsome it’s an affirmation of everything we set out to do,” Jones said.

Until now, the Provincial Development Unit only collected data about the number of workers employed on a given project over the last month.

For example, figures for May show a total of 2727.

But with growing demands from both journalists and the opposition for more details Jones got MBIE officials to ring every fund recipient to find out how many people they had employed.

To head off what he calls “doubting Thomas types” Jones had the stocktake reviewed by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

However, it highlighted some shortcomings, most notably – that the figure was a count of people working on projects, not the number of jobs created.

Jones said he was not being disingenuous claiming the 10,000 jobs milestone.

“I’m not too hung up on looking at this purely through the font of an FTE (full-time equivalent). It is going to endow and it has endowed regions with new infrastructure which leads to productivity and in that journey the lives of 13,000 people have been positively touched in an economic way,” Jones said.

It seems typical of Jones not to get hung up details that give a true picture of success of the huge fund.

But National’s Michael Woodhouse said Jones was “gilding the lily”.

“They have no idea how many jobs have been created and the reason is they didn’t ask the applicants, so I think it’s disingenuous to say that many jobs have been created and they’re doing random surveys to pluck any sort of job number out of the air to make it look as if they’ve achieved an arbitrary goal,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse said while $2.7 billion of the fund had been committed, only $339 million had actually made it out the door.

Actual delivery is an issue\.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said the fund had been great for her region.

The West Coast has been allocated just under $180m and has so far had 518 jobs.

Gibson said the planned $18m Pounamu Pathway and visitor centre was a spark of hope for businesses in the CBD.

But she said red tape had stopped projects from starting yet.

“Well that’s the thing, we still have to get those projects off the ground to do the job creation … so we’ve got a lot of work to do now to make that happen. It’s not always as easy as it sounds,” she said.

So the jobs have not actually been created yet apart from being on paper proposals.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little also believed the PGF had been a success.

Wairoa got just $6.1m to help rebuild the town centre and $9m to better digital connections for business as well as roading and skills and employment initiatives.

Little could not say exactly how many jobs had been created but said the fund was about more than that.

“Social, economic, cultural and environmental that we’re able to tick off and it makes Wairoa a much better place to live.

“So even if your jobs haven’t been as many as they thought, but I believe Wairoa has been really successful, it’s just people feeling a little bit better about themselves about getting things done,” Little said.

It’s not surprising to see a mayor being enthusiastic about being given large amounts of money by the Government, regardless of whether the money is achieving what was promised or not.

Jones has claimed “this figure is not only handsome it’s an affirmation of everything we set out to do”.

From the original PGF Cabinet Paper (December 2017) – key design features of the fund are:

Objectives of the Fund: The overall objective of the Fund is to lift the productivity potential in the regions. The following specific objectives are proposed – jobs and sustainable economic development; social inclusion and participation; Māori development; climate change and environmental sustainability; and resilience (infrastructure and economic).

To support our overall goal of productive, sustainable and inclusive growth, and to achieve the lift in productivity potential in the regions, I propose that investments must contribute to most of the following objectives, with a particular focus on the first objective:

a. Increased jobs and sustainable economic development: investments support increased jobs (with a focus on high quality jobs) and sustainable economic development over the long term, particularly in regions and sub-regions where unemployment is high and there are significant social challenges;

– Authorised for lodgement
Hon Shane Jones
Minister for Regional Economic Development

Jones’ claims fall well short of demonstrating that the PGF is substantially increasing high quality jobs and sustainable economic development – and says nothing about how cost effective his handouts have been.