English admits Kermadec stuff up

Acting Prime Minister Bill English has conceded – sort of – that they way the Government handled to Kermadec sanctuary proposal was deficient. he said “”I think if you did it again you might do it a bit differently”.

RNZ: English admits Kermadec sanctuary could have been handled better

If the government had its time again it would do things differently on the creation of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

Mr English said there had not been as much consultation as the Māori fisheries entity Te Ohu Kaimoana wanted to see so the legislative process was put on hold while the government considered ongoing negotiations with the Māori Party.

Though it was a government support party, the Māori Party was advocating strong views, so the negotiations were not the government ‘talking to itself’, he told Morning Report.

“Certainly in the nearer future we’ll be … going back over the ground with the Māori Party to make sure everyone understands each other’s objectives and we get reasonably clear about what the trade-offs [are] here.

“But I think in the long run we haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t want this sanctuary to be in place – it’s really the conditions on which it’s in place.”

As a general principle New Zealand has accepted that in the conservation or preservation of land or sea there was some “trimming of rights”.

“I think there’s a case to argue that there could have been a different track for how the issue was discussed with them but I think we’ve all got to deal with reality.

“If we want conservation of and or sea resource for environmental purposes then we’ve got to balance that against property rights.

Mr English said the circumstances meant the government proceeded a bit differently than it usually did, and that had helped create a situation where it didn’t get agreement of all parties concerned.

“I think if you did it again you might do it a bit differently,” he said.

The disagreements might in principle look difficult to resolve but he was confident there would be a way through.

“In practice … we have found in New Zealand solutions to reasonably challenging issues to do with Māori interests and there’s no reason why we can’t in this case.”

That’s fairly long winded but I think it can be summarised as ‘we stuffed up, we’ll try and get it right this time’.

The government is restarting discussions with the Māori Party to see whether it will support the bill.

I expect the will put more effort into doing it right this time.

More on lazy workers/journalists

In his daily round up yesterday Bryce Edwards focussed on Workers versus migrantsDo we need immigrant workers because New Zealand’s unskilled workers are lazy and on drugs?

In this he referred to my post on this yesterday:

But have the Prime Minister and his colleagues been unfairly reported on this issue? According to blogger Pete George it’s not clear that John Key even said some of the words attributed to him, and “it appears to me that some journalists have cherry picked and embellished comments made and have created a week long story out of it” – see: Are lazy journalists drug addled?

However, it seems likely that the National Government has an orchestrated line about the deficiencies of local workers. The Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse has made similar comments.

But my post shows that neither Woodhouse nor Key  used phrases like “drug addled” AND “to lazy” that were subsequently attributed to them and promoted in media stories and interviews.

And Edwards seems to be assuming that it “seems likely” that the Government has “an orchestrated line about the deficiencies of local workers”.

It is actually widely believed that there are a core of unemployed people who are virtually unemployable, or simply won’t or can’t hold down a job for any length of time.

Anyone working in the field of education, work skills and work finding sees examples of this.

But this doesn’t excuse journalists misquoting politicians to stoke up contentious stories.

And back in April, Bill English made some very strong statements about New Zealanders looking for jobs – especially “young males”, saying they are “pretty damned hopeless” and “can’t read and write properly” – see Jo Moir’s Bill English describes some Kiwis looking for work as ‘pretty damned hopeless’.

What Bill English said is sadly quite correct. Helping some of the difficult to employ write CVs can be quite challenging. An alarmingly high proportion of those in prison are illiterate.

But Edwards makes the same mistake, referring to “New Zealanders looking for jobs – especially young males” but the article he links to at Stuff says:

…some Kiwis hunting for work are “pretty damned hopeless” and “can’t read and write properly”.

There is a distinct difference between “some Kiwis” and “New Zealanders looking for jobs”.

I don’t think Edwards is drug addled and looking at how active he is in media he certainly doesn’t seem to be lazy.

But he is echoing the mistakes of media when he misrepresents what politicians have actually said.

Politicians are usually very careful with what they say and how they say it. It can be difficult extracting open and up front assessments from them. That’s an ongoing challenge for journalists.

But that doesn’t excuse making up dramatic stories by embellishing and over-emphasising and sensationalising and generalising what politicians say.

Treasury: alcohol and tobacco more harm than cannabis

A Treasury document obtained after an OIA request be a Nelson lawyer gives estimated costs of policing cannabis and potential tax revenue, and says that “the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco was much worse than what’s caused by drugs like cannabis”.

NZ Herald: Cannabis tax could be $150m

An internal Treasury document on New Zealand’s drug policy shows the Government could be earning $150 million from taxing cannabis and saving taxpayers $400 million through reduced policing costs.

The brainstorming notes, from 2013, have been publicly released after an Official Information Act request from Nelson lawyer Sue Grey to Finance Minister Bill English.

Grey said the notes confirmed what was well-known in other sectors – that the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco was much worse than what’s caused by drugs like cannabis.

Relative harm of alcohol and tobacco compared to cannabis is fairly well known.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell agreed, saying the reason there’s been no action is because politicians are too scared to talk about the “taboo” subject of drugs.

He said we should be willing to look at alternatives for New Zealand and admit, as the Treasury notes do, that the current system isn’t working.

Bell said the notes stated prohibition wasn’t working and cannabis was not a gateway drug.

He said while politicians did not like talking about drug policy, they were now misreading the public mood and people were ready to have this discussion.

I don’t think the National party and it’s leaders care about the public mood on cannabis. They simply don’t want to address the obvious issues and public sentiment.

English said the brainstorm notes were merely a discussion and were not official Treasury opinion.

That’s disappointing but predictable fobbing off by English. The document wasn’t anyone’s opinion, it was stating well known facts, and estimated costs and potential revenue.

It was advice that English and National don’t want to hear because they don’t want to do anything about the large cannabis problem.

Both medical cannabis products and recreational use are issues with growing profiles. Ignoring public opinion may be costly for National – as a third term Government they are facing rising dissatisfaction with a failure to take seriously issues of public significance.

It’s quite possible that next election cannabis could be the toke that breaks the Government’s back.

Q & A today

On NZ Q & A today:

Morena we’ll bring you the latest update from Turkey & Nice at 9am on TV1 along with the latest #nzpol

A rare TV interview with richlister Stephen Jennings on why education & inequality in NZ must be fixed.

tells what he wants in AK’s Unitary plan + his advice for first home-buyers

Also on the show talks and with Prof. Margaret Wilson.

Fran O’Sullivan has also written about Rich-lister sends message to Key

Rich-lister Stephen Jennings’ warning that “we are facing an iceberg” deserves to shatter business complacency on housing.

It should also shatter the complacency of the Prime Minister – if he allows himself to hear it.

Jennings has confronted the business elite with some unpalatable truths: rising house prices and immigration-fuelled economic growth are masking an underlying “iceberg that lies ahead”.

“We are sleepwalking into an economically ugly place,” he warns. “How can we look at ourselves in the mirror and say how can we live with having one of the most unequal education systems in the Western world – and even if you are very selfish you better say to yourself that is not sustainable.

“Those chickens are going to come home to roost.”

Does someone labelled as a ‘rich-lister’ deserve as much attention as a ‘celebrity’?

The Jennings interview is very interesting.

He says that our education system is a serious problem (and so is housing but everyone’s saying that). He says that education seriously disadvantages the lower deciles and poorer achievers. He slams the teachers’ unions and the system of rewarding just about all teachers regardless of their performance.

He also has interesting things to say on politics here, how we do it and warns that we will have Trump/Brexit type reactions if serious issues aren’t addressed adequately.

Social inequality is an important issue that needs to be addressed in a by-partisan way.

‘eadless chook disarray over Housing NZ dividend

It seemed bizarre yesterday with both the manner in which Steven Joyce claimed that Housing New Zealand would not be required to pay a dividend for the next two years, and also the break from steadfast requirement for SOEs to pay dividends.

See Housing Corp dividend dodo.

Now it is being reported that Bill English says no decision has yet been made.

Sam Sachdeva at Stuff: Bill English denies U-turn after Steven Joyce reveals Housing NZ won’t pay dividend

Housing New Zealand will not pay $100 million in dividends to the Government over the next two years, following pressure from Labour and the Greens to stop treating it as a “cash cow”.

The decision has not been finalised, but Finance Minister Bill English has signalled it is almost inevitable – while denying the move is a U-turn.

This is the sort of reactive disarray that can swing public opinion against Governments and lose elections.

English said it had become clear as Housing NZ updated its long-term plan that it would require more money to ramp up its building programme.

No final decision had been made on whether a dividend would be paid, as there were a number of ways to fund the extra work, but it was likely Housing NZ would keep the money.

English denied opposition pressure had forced the Government’s hand, saying it was part of long-term planning.

“It’s nothing to do with Labour and the Greens. This is a $20 billion entity – you don’t come up with capital plans for the next five years because Labour puts out a press release.”

The dividend figures in the Budget were based on old information from Housing NZ, which was being updated.

With Joyce and National flailing about on housing generally and on the divide in particular this is where ‘explaining is losing’ may be apt.

They are looking increasingly like a headless chook government.


The Nation on social investment

This morning The Nation is looking at social investment, with an interview with Bill English, Hekia Parata and Anne Tolley lined up,.

You’ve never seen this before. We interview 3 ministers together- , &

This week social bonds programme had a big fail. So is his social investment approach working? Find out 9.30am TV3

Top panel today: & weigh in on social investment, housing, v National…

… our Twitter panel today are and

Stuff on Thursday: Govt social bonds pursued despite failed pilot

The Ministry of Health is still pursuing the Government’s social bonds pilots, claiming to have learnt a number of lessons after the Wise Group withdrew from what would have been the first programme funded with such an instrument.

Hamilton-based Wise Group, a charitable organisation seeking to enhance the well-being of people and communities, withdrew from negotiations with the Ministry over a potential social bond to fund a pilot delivering employment services to people with mental illnesses.

The Ministry kicked off talks with Wise and its financial arranger, ANZ Bank New Zealand, last year after the 2015 budget set aside $28.8 million for social bond programmes, “but at this late stage, they have advised they are not able to proceed with the contract”, Ministry chief strategy and policy officer Hamiora Bowkett said.

“That is not unexpected in a process like this and the work to progress the social bond continues,” Bowkett said.

“One of the goals of the pilot was to develop and grow knowledge in the market on outcome-based contracting and establish a toolkit of templates and lessons learnt, which are being applied to subsequent bond pilots. This has been achieved.”

A social bond allows the introduction of new, private money into social programmes without increasing public debt and without the need to decrease spending, with investors paid based on the level of social value achieved.

Points from The Nation’s Twitter feed:

Bill English says National committed to spending money now on at risk families to save money in the long-term.

Big data being used to target money to the most vulnerable 600 5 year-olds. But what about the 600 next most vulnerable? & next 600?

Hekia Parata: “we’re not about stigmatising kids”, but about giving teachers ability to put funds to kids who need it most.

Why don’t all deprived children get the same funds targeted at the bottom 1 percent? “Because they don’t need it,” says Anne Tolley.

English says Government both raising incomes through benefit increases and targeting funds to most in need.

Extra money given to most vulnerable under social investment approach. But don’t all 119,000 deprived kids need that?

Tolley admits Government does not track individuals coming off benefit. So can they know their lives are better, as per targets?

90 days of work a good indicator that a job is sustainable, says Tolley.

Will Government meet its BPS target of getting people off benefits? “It’s a very aspirational target,” says Tolley.

English says “we are following the evidence” that universal cash transfers are the best way to tackle poverty, by raising benefits”.

Three Government ministers deny social investment is privatisation by stealth, ‘not concerned about who delivers the services, but what works.

“Better lives” more important to English than saving money in his social investment revolution.

English slaps down RBNZ re policy on housing: we are making changes… “the Reserve Bank may not be familiar with those”.

“No we’re not committing to doing that” – English on negative gearing and immigration numbers.

11 month Government surplus

The ODT reports a better than forecast Government surplus in  in Surplus to requirements:

The Government accounts are in surplus by more than $2.3billion for the 11 months ended May…

The last time the Crown accounts recorded a larger year-to-date obegal surplus than the May 2016 surplus of $2.3billion was the June 2008 annual financial statements, when the year-to-date surplus was $5.6billion.

This should be something to celebrate.

The financial accounts, released by the Treasury, showed core Crown tax revenue was $64.7billion, 0.6%, or $364million higher than forecast, largely due to customs and excise duties ($188million), source deductions ($182million) and GST ($98million). The variances were a mix of timing and permanent in nature.

Core Crown expenses of $67.2billion were close to forecast.

And in what has become a familiar theme, the operating balance, which includes all the losses and gains, was in a deficit of $1.5billion, $82million larger than forecast.

The operating balance was again hit by ACC actuarial losses, this time of $880million. The Emissions Trading Scheme liability increased due to an increase in carbon prices, resulting in losses of $520billion. But the losses were partly offset by favourable movements in Crown investments of $1billion.

But the ODT says that no one cared, or at least politicians didn’t seem to care:

However, Finance Minister Bill English did not bother to put out a statement congratulating himself or saying how the Government’s fiscal prudence was paying dividends. Nor did he comment on how the accounts were subject to seasonal influences and there was no guarantee a surplus would be achieved next month.

There should have been something from Mr English, especially around whether debt repayment, more infrastructure spending or tax cuts were on the agenda.

Neither the Green, Labour nor New Zealand First parties bothered to put out a statement criticising the Government for racking up a surplus…

The end of year result should receive more attention, from the Government if it’s good news and from Labour and the greens if it’s negative.

National Party – conference and future

The National party is having it’s annual conference in Christchurch this weekend.

It is likely to be a carefully controlled and managed event, at least that’s what the aim of organisers will be.

Protesters may help give the conference some attention, media are attracted to distractions.

The Party may be able to fool it’s members into thinking that in Government they are doing great and are on course to another victory in next year’s election.

But National have been flattered in the polls more because of continued Labour abysmality and  a Green support ceiling than their own efforts. When the only way to protest is via NZ First the state of politics in New Zealand isn’t great.

Somehow National have to demonstrate that they are not falling apart and that the dual rots of complacency and arrogance haven’t set in.

They will be doing their best to paint a pretty conference picture but on the Beehive scene their painting hands are looking increasingly erratic and their paint is increasingly flaky. Voters eventually critique painting over widening cracks via the ballot box.

Same old Key and same old Government are not good enough.

In past terms National has done rejuvenation quite well, but that gets harder as the same aging faces – Key, English, Joyce – remain prominent, and the new hopes like Paula Bennett struggle to look like competent heirs to ageing leadership.

Who looks ready, willing and able to take over leadership from Key is of increasing interest.

Who looks capable of taking over from Bill English and his Finance ministry is also of growing importance.

English let go of his Clutha-Southland electorate last term, having first won Wallace in 1990, twenty six years ago. He led National to disaster in 2002 but has made amends by being the dour rock for National, complementing Key very capably since they won power in 2008.

English has been solid in difficult economic times but at some stage National will have to give the appearance of something fresh and different.

What we are likely to see from this weekend’s conference is party PR puffery and outside protest, neither of which are likely to harm National’s image.

But at some stage National are going to have to look like they are capable of leading into the future rather than riding on past mundane management in reaction to events like the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

Key is one of the most popular leaders ever. But when you look beyond his persona where has he actually led New Zealand?

Parental leave bill deserves to be passed

Today’s NZ Herald editorial says that the Parental leave bill supported by a majority in Parliament deserves to be passed.

It is not often a complete bill put up by an Opposition MP gains the support of a majority in Parliament only to be vetoed by the minister responsible for the public accounts. But that is what happened last week to Labour MP Sue Moroney’s bill to extend paid parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks. All parties except National and Act supported it, giving it 61 votes out of 120.

But Finance Minister Bill English used a provision in Parliament’s standing orders allowing the Government to overrule a measure which “in its view would have more than a minor impact on the Government’s fiscal aggregates if it became law”.

Supporters of the bill are understandably aggrieved. An additional eight weeks of paid parental leave would hardly have sunk the Budget.

The Treasury estimated it would cost an additional $278 million over four years, or about $70 million a year. This in a Budget that will spend $77 billion in the coming year and $1.6 billion of that is new spending.

John key has just been asked whether vetoing this bill makes the Government look mean. He quoted the cost at $278 million but didn’t say that was spread over four years, nor that it was only about $70 million a year.

A good case can be made for extending paid parental leave. New Zealand’s welfare state is relatively generous to its senior citizens by international comparison. It is less generous to its young families.

Many comparable countries provide longer paid parental leave than we do. If the Government is unwilling to add $70 million a year to its spending overall, it could surely find savings of that amount elsewhere in the Budget.

As the Herald also says, perhaps Labour should have suggested where the money could have been re-allocated from. Social housing? Health? Refugee settlement?

When a private member’s bill attracts sufficient support to proceed in its own right, as this one has, governments will usually respond with a bill of their own that goes at least some way to the same end.

National has been remarkably conciliatory so far for a party so long in power. It made concessions and compromises on environmental and labour issues. An extension of paid parental leave deserves its consideration too.

This is a rare case of an Opposition bill surviving and gaining the majority support of Parliament.

Simply vetoing it does look mean of Bill English and Key.

Twyford versus Bennett/English

In Question Time in Parliament yesterday Phil Twyford asked questions about Paula Bennett, making a number of allegations and insinuations. Bill English responded on behalf of Bennett who was not in Parliament.

[Sitting date: 16 June 2016. Volume:715;Page:8. Text is subject to correction.]

7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Social Housing: Does she stand by all her statements?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister for Social Housing: Yes, within the context in which they were given.

Phil Twyford: What was her motivation for briefing her staff on the police investigation into Hurimoana Dennis?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Her motivation was that the staff should know what the Minister had been discussing, and the matter moved on from there.

Phil Twyford: Are the media reports correct that the three to four staff she said that she briefed on the police investigation included Lucy Bennett, Clark Hennessy, and her senior political adviser, Belinda Milnes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think those people are among her staff; that is likely. But, of course, Ministers are not constrained by any particular rules about briefing their staff, and that is because staff are a pretty important part of getting a lot of things done.

Phil Twyford: Was she surprised, given her reputation for leaking information about her critics, that her staff took the same approach with the information that she gave them about the police investigation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I refute the statements made by the member. I am surprised to see the Labour Party members outraged by what they call a leak to the media, which turns out to be discussion around the dinner table about something apparently everyone already knew about but that the media had decided not to run until they could use it to attack Paula Bennett.

Phil Twyford: Why, after the Human Rights Commission told her that she had breached Natasha Fuller’s privacy by releasing her private information, did she say she might do it again, and “it would depend on the circumstances”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The two events are not connected in any way—[Interruption] Well, in this case, apparently, as I am advised, the person concerned told the Minister himself, and I am told that “everyone knew”.

Phil Twyford: Are the journalists correct who tell me that her office regularly releases this sort of information to discredit critics and shut down stories; if not, why does she believe they would make that up?

Mr SPEAKER: Either of those two supplementary questions—the Hon Bill English.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, those journalists are—well, I do not know exactly what they said to the member, because I would not want to rely on his description of it, but I think that if the member was familiar with how this story apparently became a story, it was a matter of about third-hand gossip, through a series of social events, that ended up as a story. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Mr Twyford and Mr English, the series of questions has now concluded. I am calling Tracey Martin. [Interruption] Order! Would both members, please—if they want to carry on the interchange, I suggest that they try it in the lobby.

“…releases this sort of information to discredit” is an interesting comment from Twyford.