High Court awards more costs against Slater, SMCL

Legal costs continue to mount for Cameron Slater and the company that ran Whale Oil, Social Media Consultants Limited. Slater has already filed for bankruptcy, and the company is in liquidation.

The latest costs of $59,000 are for pre-trial proceedings and do not include preparing for and conducting the trial held last October, nor damages, neither of which will be determined until next year.

Judgment: BLOMFIELD v SLATER COSTS JUDGMENT [2019] NZHC 1203 [29 May 2019]

[1] By memorandum dated 23 November 2018, Mr Blomfield (the plaintiff), seeks an award of costs against Mr Slater and Social Media Consultants Limited (collectively “the defendants”), in relation to several interlocutory matters.

[4] Following two results judgments on 27 September and 16 October 2018,2 on 26 October 2018, I released a judgment detailing my reasons for ruling in favour of the plaintiff on several interlocutory matters. The interlocutory matters dealt with in those judgments were:

(a) the defendants’ application for security for costs;

(b) the defendants’ application for leave to file a fourth amended statement of defence;

(c) the defendants’ application for leave to file a fifth amended statement of defence;

(d) the defendants’ application for an adjournment of the trial for a day to enable counsel to prepare the fifth amended statement of defence; and

(e) the plaintiff’s application challenging the admissibility of evidence proposed to be adduced by the defendants.

It was Slater’s fourth failed application for security of costs.

Blomfield’s lawyer Felix Geiringer has pointed out that the it was actually Slater’s ninth statement of defence document in the lengthy (over 6 years) lead up to the trial. From the book Whale Oil:

Not withstanding (Judge) Laang’s orders for timetabling – all pleadings by 13 July; all briefs of evidence by 13 August – throughout September Slater embarks on a massive exercise, filing enormous quantities of paperwork, including a new statement of defence, with dozens of amendments and additions, making it substantially different to the document around which Matt and Geiringer have been preparing for trial. It even includes a new defence of public interest; that Slater was doing important civic duty in exposing Matt’s activities.

The material flooding in is overwhelmingly dense, and it’s now two months after the date that wss to have been Slater’s last chance to file his defence.

From the judgment:

[21] The trial was originally due to start on 8 October 2018, and the defendants’ evidence was originally to be filed by 13 August 2018. Two briefs were filed on 21 September 2018, following an unless order made by Wylie J in a Minute issued on 13 September 2018. A notice under r 9.7(6) of the High Court Rules 2016 was also filed by the defendants to the effect that they intended to call 27 witnesses who had not provided briefs of evidence. That notice did not contain the necessary information required by r 9.7(6). The defendants also did not finalise their list of documents to be included in the common bundle until 6 October 2018, two days before the trial was due to commence.

[22] The plaintiff’s counsel says that he urgently assembled a team of five lawyers, who worked extensive hours in an effort to try and preserve the trial fixture. In addition to responding to the defendants’ interlocutory applications, they assembled an electronic casebook ready for a delayed start of the trial scheduled for 23 October
2018. They also prepared reply evidence, submissions and cross examination materials.

[25] For those reasons, I have decided to allow the plaintiff to recover the full amount of costs it seeks on a mixed 3A/3B/3C basis, except for the amount claimed for wasted preparation for trial.

[26] Having considered the disbursements the plaintiff also seeks, I have decided to allow the full amount of $10,160.29.

Result

[27] The plaintiff is entitled to costs and disbursements of $59,000.29 as set out in the annexed schedule.

That adds to the already substantial debts in Slater’s bankruptcy and Social media Consultant’s liquidation.

The only significant assets disclosed so far are the value of the Whale Oil website (whatever that may be), and several hundred thousand dollars of costs awarded to Slater and Social media Consultants – see Slater awarded costs v Craig, but well short of actual costs (with Slater’s legal bills in that proceeding far in excess of costs awarded).

This will take some time to work through, as the damages award is still pending, as is another defamation case Slater (and others) still face versus Sellman, Swinburn and Bradbrook – latest public judgment: SELLMAN v SLATER NO 7 [2019] NZHC 467 [18 March 2019]

Blomfield may benefit from Craig costs v Slater

Here’s a possible twist to Cameron Slater’s defamation cases – he has been awarded substantial costs in the Craig v Slater defamation case, but as I understand it those will be paid to the administrators of Slater’s bankruptcy and company liquidation. And part of available funds from them could end up being paid to Matt Blomfield, who is likely to be a major creditor for both.

While Blomfield has won substantial costs in various court proceedings, Slater appeared to negate all of that by declaring himself bankrupt in February.

This week the a High Court judge awarded costs to Slater in the defamation and counter defamation trial versus Colin Craig – see Slater awarded costs v Craig, but well short of actual costs.

These costs amount to several hundred thousand dollars. It’s a good bet that Craig will appeal the costs, but there are very limited options with that, costs are at the discretion of the trial judge and are difficult to overturn unless an error of law is made.

So where do these costs go? I believe not, as I had initially presumed, directly to Slater’s lawyers. Slater has been billed (indemnity costs according to the judgment) $564,730. That is substantially more than the costs awarded, but presuming that Slater has paid not paid all of his legal bills, that is a debt incurred by his lawyers.

Costs are not paid to the lawyers, they are paid to, in this case, the first defendant Slater, and the second defendant Social Media Consultants Limited (Slater’s company).

But with Slater being bankrupt any costs will go to the Official Assignee, and with Social Media Consultants being in liquidation costs related to the company will be under control of the liquidator.

Slater’s lawyers will have to line up with all other creditors to seek their share of what is available to be paid out. Blomfield is already a creditor as well.

But there could be another substantial debt to be added, incurred before bankruptcy and liquidation, but yet to be quantified.

An award of damages in the Blomfield versus Slater defamation is yet to be made. Despite the case already taking nearly seven years, I understand that the hearing on an award of damages won’t take place until next year, and it could take some time after that for the judge to make a decision.

The judgment on defamation between Craig and Slater was made on 19 October 2018, but the judgment on costs has just been made (6 June 2019).

The award of damages in Blomfield v Slater may not be known until 1-2 years from now. But as they were incurred before the bankruptcy and liquidation, and funds available will be apportioned to Blomfield and any other creditors like Slater’s lawyers. Even if Craig appeals costs that should be decided on by then.

The cost of clearing his name has been expensive. Blomfield’s legal battles with Slater have cost him many hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may turn out that costs awarded to Slater in Craig v Slater may pay some of that back via through costs and damages incurred in Blomfield v Slater & Social Media Consultants.

But this may be even more complicated. Slater is still facing defamation in the action bought against him by Sellman, Swinburn and Bradbrook. If costs (either way) or damages are awarded there it could also affect things.

Note – I’m not a lawyer or debt expert, I’m just trying to get my head around how this all works.

Slater awarded costs v Craig, but well short of actual costs

Cameron Slater has been awarded substantial costs in the defamation case between him and Colin Craig, but the amount awarded is well short of actual costs claimed. As Slater is now bankrupt his lawyers may be the ones to suffer the shortfall. Craig will also be substantially out of pocket.

Slater had been found to have defamed Craig, but as Craig had been found to have then ruined his only reputation no damages were awarded.

Summary

Costs judgment in defamation proceeding Craig v Slater [2018] NZHC 2712. 3B costs allocated to Slater as the successful party. Craig succeeded only in proving that he did not place his press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, under financial pressure to sleep with him and that he did not sexually harass another woman. Craig failed on all other significant pleaded causes of action, including particularly the principal allegation that he had sexually harassed Ms MacGregor. Costs award to Slater reduced by 10 percent to reflect Craig’s limited success.
The Court held that costs should lie where they fall in respect of the counterclaim. Craig protected by response to an attack privilege, but Slater succeeded in proving the statements about his journalistic integrity were not true. Because it is difficult to identify precisely those costs incurred by Slater in respect of the counterclaim, a discount of 10 percent applied to reflect those costs lying where they fall.

Mr Slater’s claim for indemnity costs failed because the Court accepted that Mr Craig did not know he had sexually harassed Ms MacGregor when bringing the proceeding, due largely to his oblivious and self-involved perception of their professional and personal relationship. He therefore did not bring the proceeding vexatiously or frivolously.

Final disposition of costs awards as follows: first, Slater shall not receive costs for any interlocutory steps taken in respect of the counterclaim; costs in respect of pretrial preparation and trial appearances reduced by 10 percent to reflect the aspect of those costs expended in relation to the counterclaim lying where they fall; 90 percent of the remaining sum payable by Mr Craig to reflect the limited success he had on the substantive claim.

The judgment details who succeeded and who failed in the defamation claim and counter claim, and then explained the costs calculations.

Claim for indemnity costs

[56] Mr Slater seeks indemnity costs of $564,730 or, in the alternative, scale costs of $356,400 on a category 3C basis.

Indemnity costs were turned down because Craig didn’t think he was guilty of harassing MacGregor.

[75] It follows that I do not consider Mr Slater is entitled to indemnity costs against Mr Craig. Regardless of what I have said about his relative lack of success in the proceeding overall, I do not think Mr Craig acted vexatiously or improperly in pursuing his claims or resisting the counterclaim. He did not believe that he was guilty of sexually harassing Ms MacGregor. That position may seem wholly unreasonable to many, but it needs to be considered in the light of Ms MacGregor’s failure to protest, as explicable as that may have been.

Category C scale costs are the largest scale costs that can be awarded, although substantially less than indemnity ()actual) costs. But the judge awarded category 2 costs, which are about two thirds of category 3 – because of the lack of detail given in the lawyers’ invoices.

[83] For Mr Slater, Mr Henry has not explained why each, or indeed any, of the steps involved in the proceeding took a comparatively large amount of time. Rather, he asks the Court to undertake a blanket assessment for banding. As has been made clear by the Court of Appeal, that approach is not desirable. Mr Slater has provided the Court with the monthly invoices charged to him by Mr Henry. However, the invoices simply set out the total hours of work completed by Mr Henry (and Ms Foster) in each month. They do not specify how much time was spent on which steps in the proceeding. I am unable, therefore, to assess whether the time allocated to a particular step by band C might be reasonable by reference to the actual time spent by counsel for Mr Slater on that step.

So due to invoicing laxness that cuts the scale costs back by something like a hundred thousand dollars.

There were more deductions.

[85] The saga that is this case needs to be brought to an end. I do not think it is desirable to add more delay by requesting further information from Mr Slater. The principles I have discussed should be applied as well as they can be to the material provided. On that basis, I direct that the award of costs to Mr Slater is to be calculated as follows:

(a) Mr Slater shall not receive costs for any interlocutory step taken in pursuing the counterclaim against Mr Craig.

(b) Because of the difficulty in identifying from the information provided how much of the preparatory work for which costs are sought under item 33 in Schedule 3 related to the counterclaim, I direct that the costs claimed under item 33 shall be discounted by 10 per cent.

(d) Because of the difficulty in identifying with precision how much of the trial time was occupied by the counterclaim, I direct that the costs of both counsel under items 34 and 35 in Schedule 3 shall be discounted by 10 per cent.

(e) A further deduction is to be made to reflect the limited success that Mr Craig enjoyed on the substantive claim. On that account, the amount of costs payable by Mr Craig shall be reduced to 90 per cent of all costs and disbursements.

I don’t know how that all works out but it looks to be much less than half the $564,730 claimed.

There are still substantial costs for Craig to pay  (he could appeal them). But the shortfall from actual costs will be greater. As Slater is bankrupt that may be bills that his lawyers cannot recover (I don’t know how the timing of the award and the bankruptcy affects things).

Everyone seems have lost here, after several years of litigation after a very public online spat.

Decision

PDF document icon SCC_0.pdf — PDF document, 196 KB (201019 bytes)

 

Zero-carbon – as much pie in the sky as CO2 in the sky

Greens have long been big on ideal but absent on credible costings for their policies. Until now they have not had to actually cost and budget for policies. Now they are in Government the cost of their primary policy, net carbon zero by 2050, gets important.

But does anyone have any idea what it will cost?

Some called (Stuff September 2017): What a zero carbon act means for New Zealand

HOW MUCH MIGHT IT COST?

The effects of runaway climate change will damage our economy much more than taking steps to reduce emissions. By joining the Paris Agreement, we’ve already committed to being part of the global transition to net zero emissions.

The zero carbon act will require the Government to set out a fair, sustainable and cost-efficient pathway for New Zealand to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. What will really cost is delay – delay in reducing our emissions, and in dealing with impacts of climate change that are already on our doorstep.

The longer we continue on our current path of emission growth, the more we lock in bad investments that will become stranded assets tomorrow. A smooth, well-managed transition is in New Zealand’s best interests – otherwise we’ll be forced to make a costly and abrupt transition later.

Insurers and local councils are also ringing the alarm bells that we need to get serious about adapting to climate impacts like sea level rise now. The longer we wait, the more risk and the more cost we are creating for ourselves.

That is alarmingly vague. There is no attempt whatsoever to cost the policy.

The author Leith Huffadine  reveals in the article: . “We [Generation Zero]…”. Greens credited Generation Zero for the formation of the policy.

The Spinoff (May 2018):  NZ has pledged zero carbon by 2050. How on earth can we get there?

The word ‘cost’ appears just twice in that.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) lithium-ion battery price index shows a fall from US$1,000 per kWh in 2010 to US$209 per kWh in 2017. This fantastic cost decline is a cause for celebration.

And:

Solar and wind offer a comparatively low-cost pathway to reduce emissions in most countries that currently have a high share of coal and gas-fired generation, but how we plug the gap between 95% and 100% in New Zealand isn’t obvious yet.

that was written by Briony Bennett: B.A. Political Studies, B.Sc. Physics, Mathematics, member of the Green Party, “I am for energy that is safer, cheaper and greener.”

What also isn’t obvious to me is how much extra electricity generation we will need if all our cars, trains, buses and trucks are run by battery (which need electricity to charge them). Important things like this don’t seem to have been quantified, or even estimated.

Earlier this month – Zero carbon: Policy meets science

For example, economics.

If “no further climate action is taken”, the per household national income will increase by about 55 per cent by 2050, models show.

No indication of what models show this.

If the the bill passes as roughly signalled, per household national income will increase by about 40 per cent, the same models show.

That’s a significant loss of economic activity and many have pointed out that New Zealand’s contribution to greenhouse gases is less than 2 per cent of global emissions.

Far less than 2% (actually less than 0.2%) according to New Zealand’s Environmental Indicators:

China produced 26 percent of global GHG (green house gas) emissions, nearly twice as much as the next- highest producer, the United States. New Zealand contributed 0.17 percent.

Today at Stuff: Zero-carbon economy may not be worth the cost

Before we decide if a zero-carbon economy by 2050 is worth the cost, we must know what the damage to our economy from global warming will be if we do nothing. Only then will we know how important and urgent action on global warming really is.

Estimates of the cost of global warming as a percentage of GDP to New Zealand are elusive. I drew a nil response when I asked for that information from James Shaw, the Minister for Climate Change, and from the Ministry for the Environment. Both said such an estimate was too hard to calculate.

Too hard to calculate?

Fortunately, the OECD rose to the challenge in its 2015 report on The Economic Consequences of Climate Change. The OECD estimated the cost of global warming to New Zealand and Australia between now and 2060 was a reduction of 0.9 per cent in their GDPs.

No details on that. And that doesn’t look at the cost of doing what will be required to get to zero-carbon by 2050.

James Shaw must come clean

It is time for the Government to fund an estimate of the cost of global warming to New Zealand.

Author Jim Rose (‘an economic consultant in Wellington) seems fairly negative about doing anything at all, but it’s more than fair to ask what it all could cost. there’s a lot of variables and unknowns, but surely there should be some estimates.

There are certainly risks of not doing anything, and also risks of spending a lot of money trying to do something.

I find the lack of information about possible costs quite alarming.

 

Report on dealing with escalating prison numbers

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, released a report last week on the growing prison population.

Convicted prisoner numbers have been increasing, in lpart due to tougher sentencing, but the biggest rise recently is of remand prisoners.

The report (PDF) – Using evidence to build a better justice system: The challenge of rising prison costs


Executive Summary

  1. Crime, especially violent crime, hurts individuals and society. Both direct and indirect victims of crime may suffer untold consequences that can endure for years and can even affect next generations. Those who do not suffer personally may nonetheless acquire negative perceptions of people or places because of criminal activity. The net effect of such perceptions can change societal attitudes creating a more negative environment. This is a loss for everyone. These perceptions can be disproportionately magnified by advocacy groups, media and political agendas.
  2. Policy responses are often viewed in binary terms: tough or soft on crime. This simplistic duality has long had political resonance, but its impact on our prison system is a major concern. The New Zealand prison population is increasing and is one of the highest in the OECD at a time when crime rates are actually decreasing. This can only be explained by the systemic and cumulative impact of successive policy decisions over time, often in response to public demand and political positioning.
  3. Successive governments of different political orientations have supported a progressively retributive rather than a restorative approach to crime with unsupported claims that prisons can solve the problems of crime. As a result, the costs of prisons far exceed those justified by the need to protect the public. We keep imprisoning more people in response to dogma not data, responding to shifting policies and media panics, instead of evidence-based approaches to prevention, intervention, imprisonment and rehabilitation. This does not diminish the importance of incarceration for a subset of individuals so as to protect the public.
  4. The strong evidence base related to what fuels the prison ‘pipeline’ suggests that prisons are extremely expensive training grounds for further offending, building offenders’ criminal careers by teaching them criminal skills, damaging their employment, accommodation and family prospects, and compounding mental health and substance use issues. On release, even after a short
    period of imprisonment, for example on remand, offenders have been found to reintegrate poorly to the community. Furthermore, this does nothing to reassure victims that the risk of harm is being effectively managed by the justice system.
  5. It is now well understood that prisons act as recruitment centres for gangs (especially for young offenders) and underpin the illegal drug trade. Imprisonment leaves those incarcerated with high rates of undiagnosed and untreated alcohol/drug addictions and mental illness. They have a negative impact on the next generation, given that a high percentage of people in prison are parents.
    These issues disproportionately affect Māori.
  6. Other countries, such as Finland, have significantly reduced their incarceration rates without crime rates rising. There is strong scientific evidence for putting resources into crime prevention, early intervention (identifying and mitigating risk), and a smarter
    approach to rehabilitation and subsequent social inclusion for those already in the criminal-justice system – not for building
    more prisons.
  7. To assist in such an approach, there must be adequate investment in piloting and evaluating early intervention and prevention initiatives. With leadership and knowledge, we can fundamentally transform the justice system, reduce victimisation and recidivism and make prisons only a part of a much more proactive and effective systemic response to a complex problem.

Much of this stuff has been known for yonks, but there has been a reluctance to address the causes, with public and political pressure resulting in more and more money being shovelled in to longer and more incarceration.

Williams versus Craig: will there be an apology?

Jordan Williams has sort of won the latest round in the defamation proceedings he brought against Colin Craig, but it’s hard to are any either his or Craig’s reputation or bank balance coming out of this in the positive.

Williams was originally awarded about $1.2 million in ordinary and punitive damages by a jury, but the judge set that aside, saying it was an excessive award and it should go back to trial. Williams appealed that and won – it won’t go back to trial to determine defamation, that stands, but it will go back to trial or the judge to determine an appropriate award. Craig cross appealed and lost.

A key question in the original trial was whether Craig’s reaction to attacks and provocation from Williams was justified or over the top. The jury ruled it was excessive and that stands, but the Court of Appeal ruled they didn’t take the behaviour and reputation of Williams into account when awarding damages.

Judgment of the Court

A The appeal is allowed in part. The order made in the High Court for retrial of the appellant’s claims for liability and damages is set aside.

B Judgment is entered for the appellant in accordance with the jury’s verdict on liability. An order is made directing a retrial of the appellant’s claim for damages.

C In all other respects the appeal and cross appeal are dismissed.

D The respondent is ordered to pay the appellant 50 per cent of costs as calculated for a standard appeal on a band A basis with usual disbursements. There is no order for costs on the cross-appeal. All costs issues arising in the High Court are to be determined in that Court in accordance with this judgment.

However they also ruled that it was appropriate to set a limit on the level of damages.

[58] Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award. His claim was pitched at a plainly extravagant level. There was no request for a direction about the appropriate parameters of an award. In this case an appropriate direction would have been up to $250,000 for compensatory damages
including aggravation, and for punitive damages no more than $10,000.

[78] It will be for the retrial Judge to decide procedure for a damages claim.

(b) Mr Williams is entitled to a compensatory award, which should be anywhere up to a maximum of $250,000 for damage to his reputation, including aggravating factors…

(c) an award of punitive damages was also available but should not be more than $10,000.

So a maximum of $260,000 recommended, about a million dollars less than the original award.

A lack of an apology from Craig was a factor, and remains a factor.

[41] The circumstances of this case are much less serious than those of Siemer v Stiassny and Holloway. We acknowledge the jury’s finding that Mr Craig’s statements about Mr Williams were false and defamatory and would tend to lower his standing in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. Its verdicts must be respected. We acknowledge also the gravity of Mr Craig’s attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, the nationwide and repetitive circulation of Mr Craig’s defamatory comments, Mr Craig’s persistence with his defence of truth and attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, and Mr Craig’s refusal to apologise. However, some perspective is necessary. We refer to two particular contextual factors.

[42] First, Mr Williams cannot point to any special harm. He is not a public figure. He is the leader of a little-known political group. Nor was he defamed in performing his professional duties as a lawyer. He was defamed in response to his actions taken with the aim of removing Mr Craig from his office as leader of a small political party. Whether Mr Williams’ objective was purely personal or linked to his role as a lobbyist for fiscal conservatism is of no real moment. His tactics — such as private messaging and the use of a pseudonym — were covert so as to keep himself out of the public eye.

[43] The trial process revealed that Mr Williams had accused Mr Craig of sexual harassment against Ms MacGregor but himself harboured offensive attitudes towards women. Mr Williams’ Facebook exchanges with Mr Slater, on which he was recalled for cross-examination at trial, were sexually crude and disparaging of women, particularly those of a different political leaning. In a written apology, which he read aloud at trial, Mr Williams accepted that his messages portrayed him in a poor light. It may fairly be observed that the trial process exposed serious flaws in the characters of both protagonists.

[79] …The trial Judge will provide extracts from the evidential transcript. Mr Craig may also wish to mitigate damages by tendering an unequivocal apology to Mr Williams.

This suggests that if Craig tenders “an unequivocal apology” the damages will be mitigated – that must mean reduced.

I don’t know if Craig will be prepared to apologise, but if he does, properly, the award should shrink further.

This has been a very costly trial, both monetary and to both reputations.

Williams was awarded just 50% of the costs of his appeal, and none of the costs for the cross appeal.

On a retrial on damages he may also be awarded costs, but that may not be all of the costs there, and I don’t know how the costs of the original trial will be determined, if at all. It’s hard to see Williams being awarded all costs given the Court of Appeal stated “Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award”.

In one respect Williams has won – the defamation decided by the jury stands. But he has not helped his own reputation with the trial, and he may not come out of this very well financially either. It could end up being a win-lose outcome for him.

It’s just a lose-lose situation for Craig. He was understandably at the attacks on him and the fairly clear attempts to destroy his political career and his Conservative party, but he over-reacted in response, using the power of his money excessively. That has cost him a lot. If he apologises it will cost him a little less perhaps.

Craig ordered to pay costs

Colin Craig has been ordered to pay costs after an attempt by him to sue an ex-employee for defamation was  rejected by the Court.

Stuff on 31 July: Judge throws out Colin Craig’s bid to sue former employee for defamation

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been dealt another blow at court, with a judge throwing out his attempt to sue a former employee for defamation.

Judge Gary Harrison said at the Auckland District Court it would be a waste of time to let the embattled businessman proceed with his attempted legal action.

“I have serious misgivings that it would be appropriate to keep these proceedings alive,” Harrison wrote, in a decision released on Monday.

Craig claimed he had been defamed by Jacky Stiekema, who previously worked as a trust accounts manager for his company Centurion Management Ltd, and he sought $240,000 in damages.

Judge Harrison concluded it was highly unlikely court proceedings would prove Stiekema wrong in her denials, and said the Facebook comments in themselves did not warrant defamation proceedings.

He wrote that only one other of Stringer’s 200 friends responded to the message thread, and Stiekema’s remarks would have had little impact.

“I regard the effect they would have on Mr Craig’s reputation as minimal,” he said.

“The costs associated with a trial that would occupy the order of five days, perhaps more, are simply not justified.”

RNZ yesterday: Colin Craig ordered to pay $17k in costs to woman he tried to sue

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been ordered to pay more than $17,000 in costs to a woman he tried to sue for defamation.

In a decision released today, Judge Harrison awarded Ms Stiekema $17,600 in costs.

Whale Oil has posted Colin Craig smacked with costs, used law suit for “ulterior motive”

What Colin Craig did to Mrs. Stiekema is awful. He is out for vengeance and flailing away at anyone who dares speak the truth about him.

I agree that what Craig tried to do here was awful.

I also think this is awfully hypocritical of Cameron Slater, given how much vengeful flailing he has been associated with in the courts, as unsuccessfully as Craig was here.

This unsuccessful flailing by Craig should serve as a deterrence to anyone trying to use the courts to shut truth telling up.

The courts are starting to wise up to his multiple law suits and to why he is doing it.

That reminds me of someone else.

Building industry investigation

TV3’s 3d have done an investigation into price rorting in the building industry. We certainly seem to have higher building costs than Australia, and this is on top of our land costs and cost of burearacracy.

Are we paying too much to build our homes?

A 3D investigation has uncovered a whole range of practices in the building industry keeping New Zealand prices high, from perk trips for builders to exclusive stocking deals at hardware chains.

Kiwis are paying so much for building materials – the building blocks like timber, concrete and plaster – contributing to ballooning costs.

Tony Sewall, head of Ngai Tahu Property, the biggest developer in the South Island, has sent teams around the world to investigate building material prices.

“We’d be paying around 30 percent more than in Australia, probably 60 percent more than the United States,” he says. “And the United States’ product is better.”

The latest Quotable Value statistics tell us $280,000 to $312,000 will build you a medium home in New Zealand. In Australia it’s much cheaper – an equivalent house will set you back $260,000 to $280,000.

That’s just the house building costs.

“We need to open up the New Zealand market to the international one,” says Mr Sewall. “If there’s a product that’s being used on a building here, the builder should have choice from all around the world. That will keep the competitive tension up and keep the pricing at the right level.”

Bunnings New Zealand blames transport costs and our small population, but there’s a myriad of things industry insiders say are pushing up prices.

There are exclusive deals between some suppliers and big hardware chains to stock only one brand of product, so there’s no choice for the consumer. And then there are also kickbacks and rebates – rewards designed to keep builders loyal to a particular type of product.

So claims there are anti-competitive practices in the industry. A specific example was given:

When it came time for the Government to decide who would supply plasterboard to the Christchurch rebuild, the contract went to Gib and a major German firm, Knauf. The Government said it would help improve competition.

But within a year, the German company ran into problems. There were resignations and the company announced it was reviewing its New Zealand operations. The world’s second biggest supplier of plasterboard simply couldn’t gain traction in a market dominated by Fletcher Building.

In fact, Fletcher’s share of the New Zealand plasterboard market is 94 percent. After several complaints, including from Knauf, the Commerce Commission investigated.

It found evidence of aggressive market behaviour, but no illegal, anti-competitive practice.

But official MBIE briefing notes for the Commerce Minister from February this year, well after the Commerce Commission’s decision, warn the building sector could be susceptible to cartel-like behaviour and that aggressive market tactics do “curtail competition in the supply of alternative wallboard”.

It went on to say the “comparatively high cost of wallboard in New Zealand is having an impact on the cost of construction”.

Big business monopolies and duopolies can be bad for competitive pricing.

The journalist who investigated for that report, Michael Morah, has also posted an opinion piece. Opinion: Govt action needed on building industry. He concludes:

Considering these issues have the potential to affect thousands of ordinary Kiwis, you’d think it was something one of our politicians or policymakers would front up to talk about.

To be fair, the Government did appear to take action last year in an effort to improve competition. What it did was cut tariffs or taxes on some imported products, the idea being that we’d get a lot more international products into the market for less and it would push prices down.

Unfortunately, however, this move hasn’t had much of an impact and the Government knows it. In fact, it was told the perceived benefits didn’t stack up.

Official Cabinet papers 3D has obtained reveal the behind-the-scenes decision-making process when the cut on tariffs was about to be introduced. The documents show the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) advised Housing Minister Nick Smith that any competition gains from a tariff suspension would be “limited”, and that in any event, the impact of these taxes on the price of residential construction was “marginal”. Despite this, the Government went ahead with the rule change.

On the rebate and loyalty issue, the Government effectively decided it was all too hard and left it alone. But in my view there must be greater transparency and accountability.

Consumers rely on builders, architects and draftsmen to make calls about what materials they use. The problem with this, as we discovered in our 3D Investigates story, is that there’s often a cash deal or a perk helping shape opinions and key decisions – this as MBIE officials pointed out in briefing notes on the issue can be used “to reinforce market power”. It appears this is exactly what’s happening currently across a range of products.

Whether the Government will do anything further to promote greater innovation and competition in the industry remains to be seen. MBIE to its credit does sound genuinely interested in improving the status quo.

But in the meantime, if you’re getting some work done on your house, considering building your own home, or purchasing some materials at your favorite DIY store, don’t forget to ask some questions. And if you’re not satisfied, go online and Google some alternative brands or products. You might find you’ll make some significant savings.