The black art of OIAing

Despite promising to be one of the most open and transparent governments ever reality is quite different. Refusals to disclose information seems to be becoming more of a black art than ever.

That prompted this quip:

Promised transparency was an election promise that could have been kept by all parties in Government, but power seemed to change their minds quite quickly.

Stuff in December: For a Government vowing to be more transparent, it really is stuck in the mud

For a Government vowing to be the most transparent and open the country has ever seen, it really did get stuck in the mud this week.

That 38-page secret coalition document that’s stored in a not-so-secret safe in Winston Peters’ office has caused all sorts of headaches, for the prime minister in particular, who has been visibly frustrated about the position she’s been put in.

On Monday, it was revealed the prime minister’s office was refusing to release the document that NZ First leader and deputy prime minister Peters had previously described as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

Newsroom in April: Grading the Government

Open government and transparency – F

Perhaps its biggest failure. Promising to be the most open and transparent government ever, the coalition has instead stumbled repeatedly over its own good intentions. Just five weeks in it found itself defending its right to withhold a crucial governing document while the Prime Minister’s plans to proactively release cabinet papers and briefings had been pushed to the side.

The Official Information Act continues to be treated with disdain, with many journalists holding the opinion that their requests are taking longer, and returning poorer results, than under National who was not exactly known for its transparency.

Meanwhile, the minister tasked with opening up the Government to greater transparency found herself mired in a murky case of secret coffee meetings and mysterious voicemails while the Labour Party couldn’t even be open with its own leader when news of sexual assault at a youth camp broke. Soon after the Government was formed I wrote that despite all the promises, things were unlikely to change. Of course, I hoped I would be wrong but all signs point in the other direction – Shane Cowlishaw 

The signs are still pointing in a far from transparent direction.

Like this: Clark’s holiday further proof of Govt’s lack of transparency

Jacinda Ardern promised her Government would be the most open and transparent the country’s ever seen, but they’ve failed. The fallout from the country’s biggest industrial spat in the health sector in a generation put paid to that.

The hum from the spinning top in the Beehive was deafening, it was always the minister’s intention to be back in the country before the strike began and for its duration, he insisted.

Bollocks. If this Government wants to be taken seriously it’s got to be what Ardern promised it would be, transparent.

Yet again another case for this Government of spin over honesty.

Will this black art…

…become a symbol of Ardern’s government’s ‘transparency’?

 

“Freedom of expression is often one of the first victims of a successful socialist revolution”

The source of that headline quote might surprise some people.

Nándor Tánczos is probably best known as a rasta Green MP  from 1999 to 2008 – he lost his place in Parliament after the 2005 election, but as next on the list got back in soon after as Rod Donald died just before the new Parliament  met for the first time.

His current Twitter profile: Rastafarian social ecologist with anarchic tendencies

Nandor Tanczos

So this tweet is interesting.

This prompted a series of tweets from @LewSOS:

The trouble with revolution, socialist and otherwise, is that it *requires* suppression of free expression to prevent counter-revolution. Such repression is not merely a side-effect of revolution, but is intrinsic, and must be backed by violence if the revolution is to persist.

Lenin and Mussolini and Castro and Mao and Franco were all perfectly clear on this point. A revolution without repression and violence isn’t a revolution. It’s just an advisory campaign.

A democratic revolution is no such thing. It’s a nonsense. What the people vote for, the people can vote against, if they are allowed to vote again. So for the new regime to persist, they must not be allowed to do so. This is why I am neither a socialist nor a revolutionary.

At a basic functional level, it isn’t really. But the specifics matter. Popper was about very specific lined restrictions to safeguard the open society, but the revolutionary praxis in real life has tended to involve a great deal more murdering of dissidents

If socialist policies are adopted freely and maintained democratically, then at a regime level, for me there’s no very meaningful difference with any other democracy. The socialism bit is incidental and nearly irrelevant as it can be reversed at any time by a change of government.

(Whether it could be reversed in practice is another matter, because in principle capitalism could be reversed in the same way, and yet it has not been, because norms and institutions have power of a sort)

Some interesting and thought provoking stuff there.

So is it possible to have a revolution while retaining democracy?

Perhaps revolutionary change without having a revolution is possible.  Jacinda Ardern’s idea of government is revolutionary perhaps?

Too revolutionary for some. Not enough of a revolution for others. (Some thing it is little more than a softer same old).

Viva Jacinda?

Government challenged by teacher strikes

Jacinda Ardern criticised teachers for striking ‘too soon’, rearranged her diary in order to speak to a crowd of protesting teachers at Parliament, but one response from teachers was to follow up with a two day strike to keep the pressure on the Government.

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, long a champion of teachers’ unions, seems out of his comfort zone under ‘friendly’ fire. Gezza commented:

From the comments he made in a sound bite on 1ewes last night, Hipkins sounded very disappointed and annoyed with the teachers at their protest outside Parliament that day, as though they were an ungrateful lot, and wondered if his testy attitude in this exchange showed that, while Ardern can hack it, he was feeling the pressure !

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern changes her mind, and meets teachers at Parliament

Jacinda Ardern watched the thousands of teachers “streaming” to Parliament to protest pay and conditions and decided she had to address them.

The prime minister had said this morning she was unavailable to meet the thousands of striking primary and intermediate teachers, but would be sending senior ministers.

But Ardern appeared, unscheduled, alongside Education Minister Chris Hipkins at the march and asked them for more time to solve their concerns

The education minister addressed the large crowd, acknowledging the tough decision many had made to be there.

“They are raising some raising some serious and legitimate concerns beyond pay to things like workload and the conditions they face in their schools.

“While he said the Government was listening “very carefully” to educators and their plight, however fronting additional money remained off the table.”

“I would prefer if we spent some time around the negotiating table working through all of the issues that teachers have raised before they start talking about more strike action.”

I’m sure Hipkins would prefer talking in private to teacher unions – this is just the opening round from primary school teachers, with secondary teachers likely to be lining up too for substantial pay rises.

Primary teachers are asking for a 16% increase.

Ardern tried to get onside ny playing the ‘care about children’ card:

Ardern said her motivation in politics was the welfare of children, the same thing that motivated most teachers.

“I don’t see them and us, I just see us.”

There is very much a them and us over wage negotiations.

Tracy Watkins: Will she, won’t she? PM Jacinda Ardern’s political gamble with teachers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision to front the teacher unions as they marched on Parliament was supposedly a last minute change of heart.

She had earlier told Stuff she would not be available. But apparently Ardern was moved by the sight of thousands of people streaming through Parliament’s gate.

As a political gesture to placate some of those teachers, parents, and supporters who descended on Parliament to voice their anger, it probably worked.

But Ardern’s appeal to them as fellow members of a common cause may have jarred with some as a case of the Government talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Reading the placards, Ardern reminded the marchers she sympathised with their intent  – even while the Government has been talking tough on the teachers demands.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has all but labelled the teacher play claims as unreasonable and Ardern stoked the fires on Wednesday when she implied in an interview with Stuff that teachers had been too precipitous in launching strike action after just one round of negotiations.

But Ardern’s attempt to sweet talk the teachers doesn’t seem to have worked.

NZH: Teachers look for new pay offer to avert further strike

Primary teachers are looking for a new offer from the Government to stave off a potential two-day strike after a successful first strike today.

NZ Educational Institute lead negotiator Liam Rutherford said the union was willing to negotiate when it meets Ministry of Education officials again on Thursday and Friday next week, but it expected the ministry to give some ground.

“It’s the job of the ministry to bring an offer that they think is going to be addressing our issues to the table,” he said.

“We are going to be hoping that the effect of having 30,000 teachers and parents in support out on the street will have led to some movement.”

He said the union’s strategy had been led by the members, who wanted to strike because they were frustrated by the ministry’s “insulting” first offer.

“It was the teachers of this country that asked to turn a proposed half-day strike into a full-day strike,” he said.

Now they are talking of a follow-up two day strike.

It’s usually quite easy for Ardern and Hipkins to brush off attacks from their political Opposition, but this friendly fire from teachers could be somewhat more challenging for them.

Ardern’s championing of children in particular make things difficult, with teachers claiming that their pay claims are necessary for the good of the children.

Speaking at the protest yesterday may have had a temporary calming effect, but teachers seem to be on a mission regardless.


As an aside, a teacher playing the baby card – or more accurately. Using family of a politician in a campaign, was probably inevitable given the attention that has been given to Ardern’s baby…

…but this is a troubling sign.

Ardern showed her mettle, Bridges ineffective

Simon Bridges tried to attack Jacinda Ardern over the teacher strikes in Question Time in Parliament yesterday, but waas largely ineffective as Ardern showed her mettle and not only frustrated Bridges attacks, but returned fire adeptly.

There was a side show during the questioning, with Bridges being required to withdraw and apologise after a remark “I was anticipating an answer from the ventriloquist” that referred to Grant Robertson’s habit of helping fellow ministers with answers.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins was also ordered to withdraw and apologise a second time after first saying “I apologise for calling the Leader of the Opposition a chauvinistic pig”.

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges called ‘chauvinistic pig’ during Question Time by Education Minister Chris Hipkins

National leader Simon Bridges was accused of being a “chauvinistic pig” in today’s Question Time for a quip he made during questions to Prime Minister Ardern.

The accusation was not from Ardern herself but from another bloke, Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who took umbrage when Bridges suggested that muttering by Grant Robertson was supplying Ardern with the answers.

Bridges referred to Robertson as “the ventriloquist,” a reference to the frequency with which Robertson actually does answer other people’s questions under his breath.

It was an odd  comment from Hipkins, I don’t see anything chauvinistic in what Bridges said. Gerry Brownlee put his own spin on it” I think what the Leader of the Opposition was doing was suggesting to Grant Robertson that this is not instruction time.”

But Ardern had the last word:

The Minister of Finance, for those who are interested in what he muttered, said, “We didn’t.” I’m going to expand substantially on that answer…

Which she did. going on to detail the Government’s priorities in education.

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that, under her Government, 60,000 people have been on strike in just 10 months, compared to 30,000 in the previous nine years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely acknowledge that because that Government couldn’t resolve the nurses pay dispute, we did have a situation we needed to resolve. And it took this Government doubling that offer that that party last made in office, acknowledging the legitimate safety concerns that nurses had, the understaffing and under-resourcing, and that is how we got to a successful resolution after nine long years of neglect.

Hon Simon Bridges: With teachers contemplating two-day strikes, does she intend to spend the next two years avoiding any responsibility and not actually fixing the problem? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Settle down please.

Hon Paula Bennett: A good question—a bloody good question.

Mr SPEAKER: Paula Bennett—that’s a warning. I call the right honourable Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have to say I find that line of questioning a bit rich given that the first offer made by this Government is double what that last Government allowed teachers to work under. Double—because we acknowledge that we’ve been left and teachers have been left carrying a neglect of nine years’ under-resourcing of teacher-aides and support. We’ve rectified some of that in the last Budget. We scrapped national standards. We doubled some of the funding that they receive on an operational level. We acknowledge the issues that teachers striked and marched on today. We are working with them to fix the problems we inherited.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that isn’t delivering any extra students over additional funding for teachers’ pay and the other issues she mentioned?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First of all, that is not correct. Second of all, one of the issues that we have is barriers to learning. One of the first people I met after that announcement was made was someone who was entering into tertiary education to be a primary school teacher off the back of our announcement. We have a shortage of teachers. We have barriers to learning because of cost. We’re addressing both of those issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to get this patently clear, what term or years of recent politics were the teachers today on the forecourt of Parliament specifically saying they are protesting against?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The last nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: I ask again: why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that isn’t delivering any extra students over additional funding for teachers’ pay? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Prime Minister will sit down. I saw what I’m taking to be a response—am I right?

Hon Simon Bridges: From me?

Mr SPEAKER: Was the member responding to a similar—Well, I’m hearing some people saying yes and some people saying no.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Gerry Brownlee will, I’m sure, help me.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Thank you. I think what the Leader of the Opposition was doing was suggesting to Grant Robertson that this is not instruction time.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I ask—first of all I’m going to ask the Hon Grant Robertson: did he do a finger-pointing exercise?

Hon Members: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I’ll hear Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: I was anticipating an answer from the ventriloquist.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, that member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Simon Bridges: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Chris Hipkins: c

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Hipkins. Mr Hipkins will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I apologise for calling the Leader of the Opposition a chauvinistic pig.

Mr SPEAKER: As a result of that non-withdrawal, the Opposition will have an extra five questions. That withdrawal will now be made in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, we go back, and I am going to ask Simon Bridges to ask his question again, because I can’t remember what it was.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that hasn’t delivered a single extra student over additional funding for teachers’ pay?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister of Finance, for those who are interested in what he muttered, said, “We didn’t.” I’m going to expand substantially on that answer, because in the last Budget we prioritised funding for 1,500 more teachers. We gave a 45 percent increase for operational funding. We provided the first core early childhood education funding increase in nearly a decade. We tripled learning support funding to $272 million. That is called prioritising education. It’s called prioritising children. If that side of the House thinks that everything that was brought to Parliament’s forecourt today was all about us, then where were they on the steps of Parliament?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the fees-free tertiary policy uptake show some positive recent trends, and if so, could she leak that information to the House?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, indeed it does. We have seen an increase in uptake, and one of the issues we have is we inherited a declining enrolment across our tertiary education providers, which we are turning around.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why on Monday did her Government prioritise hundreds of millions of dollars more funding for new trees than it has for the entire primary school teacher wage settlement?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, that pay settlement happened to be double what that Government invested in the sector. But I’d also say that that announcement wasn’t just about the 1,000, possibly 2,000, jobs that it would create; it was also about the environment and it was about erosion. According to some of the ads the National Party has put out—I’m told the Leader of the Opposition cares about the environment; I’m yet to see any proof of it.

Hon Simon Bridges: That’s allowed is it?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it is allowed in response to the type of questions that the Leader of the Opposition’s been asking.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was anything other than straight about the question I asked?

Mr SPEAKER: I suggest that if the member wants an answer to that, he looks at the tapes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why on Monday did her Government prioritise hundreds of millions of dollars more for trees than for the primary school teachers’ settlement, when they’re protesting outside today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I pointed out, that initial offer—because we are in the middle of a negotiation—was still double what that last Government put into teachers’ salaries. It’s not the only issue that we of course are discussing with them; we’re discussing their workload, non-contact time, professional development—all issues that weren’t prioritised by the last Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who said, “We will not” have national strikes under a Government she leads.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That was in a direct question around fair pay agreements and I stand by it.

Parliament – ‘anti-Māori’ and racism implications

The referencing of referencing family of MPs, plus hints of and MP being ‘anti-Māori,r arose in an exchange in Parliament today, in relation to the appointment of Wally Haumaha as Deputy Police Commissioner. There’s co clear conclusion (to me) but some interesting discussion.

It came out of this primary question:

8. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government expect high standards from all Government departments and Ministers?

It starts at 2:36…

Chris Bishop: Does she have confidence in her Government’s professional independence from Mr Haumaha when her police Minister gives him a shout-out in his workout videos, her Deputy Prime Minister attended a celebration on a marae for his appointment as assistant commissioner, her foreign affairs under-secretary has whānau links to him, and he was previously announced as a candidate for New Zealand First?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I am going to go back to that question and not require but ask the member to think very carefully about rewording it. We have had a tradition in this House, wherever possible, of not including the actions of family members—certainly within question time. I’d ask the member to reflect on his question and, if he agrees with me that that is unhealthy, to rephrase it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely we have to have some accuracy in the questioning in this House. Mr Bishop began by talking about what, in effect, is an allegation of witness tampering. So the real issue, sir, for you to judge is: who is this witness who is being tampered that he talked about? The fact is the person is not a witness. The person may be a complainant, and there’s a huge difference. He’s putting the two together quite naively and mistakenly and getting away with it in the House when he should be stopped.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think if we had the degree of exactitude that the Deputy Prime Minister is advocating, we’d have quite a few members on both sides of the House who wouldn’t be able to answer or ask a single question. Mr Bishop—going back to where we were at.

Chris Bishop: Did the panel convened by the State Services Commission to interview the short-listed candidates for the job of the Deputy Commissioner of Police recommend that Mr Haumaha be the preferred candidate for the job?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m not going to get into elements of an issue that is now being independently assessed by an independent inquirer.

Hon Paula Bennett: When the Prime Minister just previously said, as she did yesterday, that, actually, he cannot be either stood down or on garden leave because it would be the decision of the commissioner and that she can’t do it, is she aware that under section 13 of the Policing Act, the deputy commissioner’s role is a statutory appointment that holds office at the pleasure of the Governor-General on the advice of her, the Prime Minister, and that she has the power to act?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That includes them acting in that role of employment. What the member was asking about was whether I had the ability to stand someone down when there had been no formal process, and we’re undertaking an inquiry to ensure natural justice provisions apply, because the threshold test here is incredibly high. If the member is asking about gardening leave or temporary stand downs, that threshold, of course, is very different, and that is employment matter for the Commissioner of Police.

Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise an issue that is troubling a number of us on this side of the House: the regularity with which those of us who enjoy Māori ancestry—and I direct your attention to Speakers’ rulings 39/4-5. I accept in the roundhouse of politics it is tough, but I am particularly irked by the allegation that Mr Bishop made, enjoying private briefings from dissolute elements in the police force, that he has labelled those of us, essentially, by talking about Fletcher Tabuteau and Winston Peters, as somehow not passing the test of parliamentary probity. And I’d invite you to reflect on it, because it will lead to a substantial bout of disorder from the House. Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr Bishop is anti-Māori, and, quite frankly, I don’t care if he is, but it is an important principle, with the number of Māori in the House—whether they’re urban Māori or broader traditional Māori—that you contemplate that situation, because we’re not going to put up with it for one more day.

Hon Paula Bennett: As one of those Māori, there is actually also a convention that we express our conflicts of interest for our whānau and particularly when we are looking at making statutory appointments, and this side of the House has a right to question that.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, yes, I would have made the same point that the Hon Paula Bennett has made, because what Mr Jones is effectively doing is saying that if there is a statutory appointment that involves someone who identifies as being a Māori New Zealander, then that process can’t be questioned and nor can anything that would make the suitability of that person appropriate for that. But further than that, sir, you sat there while Mr Jones referred to another member of this House, effectively, as having some racial bias, and that’s a completely unacceptable thing for him to do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The allegation that someone is a cousin and therefore is biased in the choice of someone in a governmental job is so demonstrably false when the person doesn’t go to the lengths to describe how far removed that relationship might be. If he were Scottish or Māori, he might understand that this would include 7,500 people. But no such attempt is made. It’s the insinuation that because that relationship, distant though it might be, nevertheless corrupts the member’s mind in being impartial, and that’s unfair.

Mr SPEAKER: I am in a position to rule. Members may have forgotten that I intervened on Mr Bishop’s question and asked him to reword it, because I thought the tone of it was not consistent with the way that we have gone as a country over the last number of decades. He reflected on that and, despite the opportunity, decided not to repeat the question in that form and I want to thank him for that.

There are a lot of elements of judgment in this. I, of course, don’t want to indicate that people cannot be questioned where there are seen to be untoward influences and of course that is the case, but what I did indicate was that I thought it was particularly important where family matters are being brought into account that people are either very specific or very careful and not general in allegations.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Precedent in rulings in this House are very important, because they do guide the House. I’d ask that you have a look back through, I think, the mid-part of 2015 when a then prominent member of the Opposition, now a very, very prominent member of this House, was asking questions of a Minister of the then Government that related directly to a family member. Those questions were allowed, they stood, and they went on for quite some days. When you’ve gone back over those transcripts and perhaps reflected on the wisdom of the course of action taken by the prominent Opposition member, now a very prominent member of Parliament, could you perhaps bring down a ruling that brings all of these things together. I think the general allegation made against the Parliament by Mr Jones today that it is somehow racially selective to bring up an issue that relates to the appointment of a person who is of New Zealand Māori descent is a very, very backward step for this Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: I don’t feel any need to bring back a considered ruling on it. I think the matter is pretty clear. Speaker’s ruling 41/1 makes it clear that people should avoid referring to MPs families in their private capacities. It is all right to refer to family members who have official roles, and that is a ruling of long standing. It is also all right where there is a clear intersection of the public business of an MP and a Minister and the actions of a family member, and that is an area of longstanding ruling where there is a suggestion of inappropriate behaviour on the part of a Minister in favour of a family member—that is the subject of questioning in the House and will always continue to be.

 

Bridges expenses leak – sow’s ear out of public purse

It’s hard to work out what the aim of the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses was, given they will be officially released soon anyway. And it’s hard to get very excited about the media overkill of the story.

It raises more questions over the motives of the leaker and the journalist than over Bridges’ expenses.

RNZ – Bridges: National caucus didn’t leak travel expenses

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is standing by his MPs, saying he doesn’t believe one of them leaked his travel expenses to media.

Mr Bridges is defending the roughly $84,000 he clocked up travelling around the country in a Crown limousine between April and June.

He said he might never get to the bottom of who leaked the information before it was due to be published but said it was not his caucus.

RNZ – Bridges’ expenses leak: Prime Minister claims Labour had no part

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she asked Ministerial Services to clarify exactly who had access to the National Party’s expenses, and it had been confirmed to her that only the National Party caucus did.

“We’ve had it confirmed that no-one in Labour ever actually had access to that information and it would be improper if we would have,” she said.

“The only groups as I understand who will have had access will be the opposition themselves and the Speaker.”

Mr Mallard denied being the source of the leak and was personally looking to ensure the information did not land in the hands of anybody it should not have.

A number of MPs have denied leaking the information, but that’s hardly news. I don’t recall any MP ever admitting leaking.

Newshub reporter Tova O’Brien has copped some flak for breaking the story, with accusations she has been a party to a political hit job.

Stuff Editorial: Simon Bridges expenses leak seems like a bit of a ‘beat-up’

Quite apart from the fact we have no firm idea who leaked National Party leader Simon Bridges’ expenses, ahead of their official release by the Parliamentary Service next week, it’s difficult to know exactly what the leaker hoped to achieve beyond a lot of shoulder-shrugging.

On Tuesday, Ardern was quick to say she could “categorically rule it out” when asked if the leak came from her party, pointing out that the only groups with access to Bridges’ expenses were National, and Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard, who did not attend Labour caucus meetings. That was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Service, which naturally has access to the information as the agency responsible for releasing it.

Bridges was quick to say the leak had not come from his caucus, though he conceded he did not have “perfect information on that”. Mallard said he had launched an inquiry into the source of the leak, and also cast doubt on the accuracy of the figures.

But assuming they are accurate, and Bridges, with his reported tally of $83,693, indeed spent $35,000 more on travel in a Crown limousine over the past three months than then-Opposition leader Andrew Little did in the corresponding period last year, so what?

It’s widely known he has just completed a 12-week “national town hall roadshow”, holding close to 70 meetings around the country.

As the first person chosen to lead his party in opposition after a long period in government, that seems entirely reasonable.

Which suggests that the story loaded with clickbaity phrases like “spending up large”, “splashing cash” and “travelling the country by road and in style” is a shabby way of making a sow’s ear out of the public purse.

Bridges versus Ardern: “in hot pursuit of murderers”

A shock in question time in Parliament – while grilling Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today, Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges appeared to think on his feet and ask an off-the-cuff non-scripted question. It even raised a few laughs across the house.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why will union representatives not be required to gain consent from an employer before entering the premises of their workplace when even a police officer has to ask a judge for a warrant?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I pointed out in my last answer, if there are health and safety obligations that require them to do so, then they would. Again, I come back to this issue that these are changes that existed, in many cases in this omnibus bill, right up until 2015. These are changes that allow employees to have a voice, to be well represented in the workplace, and I’m surprised that the member considers that this is going to have such a dire impact on the economy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Using the member’s previous question, does a policeman in hot pursuit of a highly suspected murderer inside an office situation have to spend all the time to go and ask a judge for a warrant to pick that person up?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I had called order before, but I think we’ll just leave it there.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can the Minister confirm that we are giving unions the powers that we give police officers when they’re in hot pursuit of murderers?

While Ardern avoided answering that directly, apparently not.

Draft transcript:


1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she was asked whether proposed employment law changes would allow a union representative to enter the property of a business without the business’ permission, does she stand by her answer “only if the person in question they are visiting is a member of the union.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m glad the member’s asked that question again; it gives me a chance to clarify. The example that he gave related to farmhouses, and I know that section 19 of the Act and the proposal that is included in this bill specifically precludes going into a dwelling, which means that the example that the member used would not have been accurate. So thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm that the Government’s changes actually give the power to union representatives to enter the premises of a business without their permission, even if there are no union members on site, so that unions can recruit new members or distribute the union information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The first principle I want to point out is that this legislation that is before Parliament at present, essentially, brings back employment legislation that existed right up until 2015 in some cases, and I have to say that unless the member is now saying that there was a dire economic situation for the six years his Government was last in as a consequence of that legislation, then that’s for him to argue. We personally do not believe that this is the case with these changes. To come back to the question that the member raised, for the purposes of perhaps signing up directly a union member, which is quite a specific circumstance, then that would be the case. But, again, I point out that section 21 of the Act means that the union official has to comply with all reasonable health and safety and security procedures and must access the workplace in a reasonable way, having regard to normal business operations in the workplace. There are plenty of protections in place.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she seen comments by the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety in relation to her answers in the House last week: “If the National Party really wanted to debate the detail of the bill, they would be asking me questions, because it is my responsibility to understand the detail of this legislation. They should be talking to me, not trying to catch the Prime Minister off guard.”, and, if so, does she agree with her Minister that she was caught off guard?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I know the point that the Minister was making was that if this was such a significant issue for the economy, why has the spokesperson not asked the Minister directly about this issue?

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think it’s her responsibility to know the detail of a policy that business says is their number one concern with her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As much as it is the Opposition leader’s responsibility to know that a union official can’t enter a farmhouse.

Hon Simon Bridges: To be really clear: can the Prime Minister confirm that under the Government’s proposed employment law changes, a union representative will be able to enter the premises of a business without permission from that business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The person in question has to comply with the rules and obligations of that workplace, including the health and safety obligations. So if that means reporting in at the gate because there are health and safety obligations, then they must comply with that law.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why will union representatives not be required to gain consent from an employer before entering the premises of their workplace when even a police officer has to ask a judge for a warrant?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I pointed out in my last answer, if there are health and safety obligations that require them to do so, then they would. Again, I come back to this issue that these are changes that existed, in many cases in this omnibus bill, right up until 2015. These are changes that allow employees to have a voice, to be well represented in the workplace, and I’m surprised that the member considers that this is going to have such a dire impact on the economy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Using the member’s previous question, does a policeman in hot pursuit of a highly suspected murderer inside an office situation have to spend all the time to go and ask a judge for a warrant to pick that person up?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I had called order before, but I think we’ll just leave it there.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can the Minister confirm that we are giving unions the powers that we give police officers when they’re in hot pursuit of murderers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point that the Deputy Prime Minister was making was that the member is being alarmist and dramatic.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm that under the Government’s proposed employment law changes, businesses owners will now have to pay workers for time spent undertaking union activities?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, in the same way that they have to, under the legislation, also allow them to have rest and meal breaks.

Hon Simon Bridges: So, to be clear, can she confirm that under the Government’s proposed employment law changes, businesses will now be responsible for funding union activities while workers should otherwise be doing their job?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would encourage the member to have a long conversation with the likes of Air New Zealand, where, through their framework of working collectively with their employees, they have improved the productivity, the health and safety, and they have a high-performance workplace. Unlike the member, I don’t believe that excluding employees is the way to become a productive company in a productive country.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the law changes make private businesses responsible for undertaking and funding union membership drives?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I say, this is legislation that existed under the last Government, and at that point—unless they’re starting to argue that under the first six years of their reign the economy tanked, they might want to change to a new line of questioning, because we on this side of the House believe it’s possible to empower employees to have a voice in the workplace and it won’t endanger business or the economy.

Medals for public servants

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a new medal that “that recognises meritorious service in the Public Service”. It is anticipated that about five will be awarded each year.

The medal will be awarded to public servants who have provided service that has brought significant benefit or prestige to New Zealand or the Public Service, or who go above and beyond what is expected.

“The new medal will also help reaffirm the Public Service’s spirit of service to the community that New Zealand’s public servants bring to their work every day.

“This medal will recognise those public servants who have really made a difference.”

Public servants fill a wide variety of essential roles. It is unquestionable that we have to have a lot of them, but it is questionable how many we need.

How many are there? From 2017 Public Service Workforce Data

  • The number of public servants increased by 1,357 (3%) to 47,252 full-time equivalent employees at the end of June. This is largely due to operation of Mount Eden Prison returning to the Department of Corrections (it was previously run by private provider Serco). The Department of Corrections is now the largest Public Service department
  • The average annual salary in the Public Service in 2017 was $75,416. Average salaries vary greatly among departments, ranging from the lowest at $65,701 (Ministry of Social Development) to the highest average of $134,658 at the State Services Commission.

So they are generally well paid. The median weekly earnings from paid employment to June 2017 was $929 per week, which $49,868 annual earnings.

Note that the public service is a part (16%) of the state sector, which is a part (13%) of the total workforce.

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From the Beehive: New medal for public service

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today announced a new medal that recognises meritorious service in the Public Service.

The medal will be awarded to public servants who have provided service that has brought significant benefit or prestige to New Zealand or the Public Service, or who go above and beyond what is expected.

“Recognising and celebrating public servants who have been exemplary or a model to others is an important way to promote and acknowledge the work of the public sector,” Jacinda Ardern said

“The new medal will also help reaffirm the Public Service’s spirit of service to the community that New Zealand’s public servants bring to their work every day.

“Public servants rarely get acknowledged for the exceptional work they do that changes New Zealand society and lives for the better.

“This medal will recognise those public servants who have really made a difference.

“Some of the greatest contributions of public servants are not always obvious to the public. Public servants find solutions to New Zealand’s most challenging problems and implement big changes.

“They create new ways for New Zealanders to access services, whether it be cutting wait times to receive social support or designing innovative campaigns that lead to better health and education outcomes.

“This is the calibre of service we can be proud of because it changes peoples’ lives.

“It’s time we acknowledge high-achieving public servants.  New Zealand needs public servants prepared to take risks and find solutions to the big challenges. I hope that this new medal will inspire others to do that,” Jacinda Ardern said.

New Zealand’s current Royal Honours system includes extensive options for the recognition of state servants, particularly those in the Armed Forces and uniformed services, such as Police, and Fire and Emergency NZ. But there is no medal that exclusively recognises the work, achievements, and contribution of core public servants.

The introduction of a new medal is consistent with other jurisdictions, including Australia. It will be instituted by Royal Warrant.

The medal, which will be presented for the first time later in the year by State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, will be part of the New Zealand Royal Honours system. It is anticipated that around five medals will be awarded each year.

 

 

TVNZ baby boob

It hasn’t taken long for media to breach the strict controls on coverage of Jacinda Ardern’s baby at Parliament. TVNZ stuffed up yesterday.

Newstalk ZB: TVNZ apologise for filming Jacinda Ardern breastfeeding

An apology from TVNZ after one of its cameramen filmed Jacinda Ardern feeding her daughter Neve

The Prime Minister today attended the announcement that plastic bags would be banned, and brought her eight week old baby Neve along with her.

While standing at the back of the hall, a One News cameraman turned and filmed Ardern while she was holding Neve.

A blanket is covering Neve, and TVNZ surmised that Ardern was breastfeeding.

The video has since been taken down.

A TVNZ spokeswoman said the video was removed after they had received a lot of criticism and decided it was wrong.

A spokeswoman told AAP that their focus should have been on the press conference.

“We accept the criticism. We got it wrong,” she told the news agency.

Will the Speaker Trevor Mallard follow through with action? He threatened serious consequences for breaches of his baby coverage ban – see Speaker demands that media censor baby coverage in Parliament:

Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard has issued a warning to journalists planning to take unauthorised photos of returning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s baby Neve.

The Parliamentary Press Gallery was informed that any journalists who took unauthorised photos would have their accreditation removed and their employer would also be penalised.

If he doesn’t show he has bite to back up his bark then it is likely to be flouted again.

Why was the baby there?

I have to ask why Ardern had her baby with her at what she promoted as a major Government announcement. Is this going to be a normal thing?  Are Government functions going to be subjected to possible interruptions because a baby gets grizzly and wants a feed?

Most working mothers make arrangements for alternative care of their babies. I fed a baby expressed milk while it’s mother worked on night duty. It takes a bit of planning and effort but it’s what most parents deal with.

Ardern risks baby distractions, including unauthorised media coverage, if she takes her baby to work with her.

And I think it’s fair to ask whether Ardern is playing the baby card for political purposes. I don’t think there is any justification for her to have her baby at media conferences. She’s lucky she can even take her baby to her workplace, most parents can’t, it’s either not possible or not practical. And it’s not professional.

Plastic bag ban

The Government announced today that a ‘single use’ plastic bag ban will be phased in over the next year.

I’m all for drastically reducing plastic bag use, and plastic use. Waste plastic is creating a lot of problems.

Some large retailers are already at least working towards this, so the ban will just push some of this along.

I’m less sure that a one year phase in. It mat depend on the detail of the plan – especially whether suitable alternatives become available quickly and economically.

There is a risk this will add to business uncertainty, but it will be difficult to quantify that.


Single-use plastic bags to be phased out

Single-use plastic shopping bags will be phased out over the next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced today.

“We’re phasing-out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation,” said Jacinda Ardern.

“We’re listening to New Zealanders who want us to take action on this problem. This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban. It’s also the biggest single subject school children write to me about.

“Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags – a mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life, and all of this when there are viable alternatives for consumers and business.

“It’s great that many people are already changing the way they shop. But it’s important we take the time now to get this right so we can help all New Zealanders adjust their shopping habits.

“We need to be far smarter in the way we manage waste and this is a good start.

“We are a Government determined to face up to New Zealand’s environmental challenges. Just like climate change, we’re taking meaningful steps to reduce plastics pollution so we don’t pass this problem to future generations,” said Jacinda Ardern.

Eugenie Sage said many countries and major cities around the world have successfully taken action on plastic pollution in recent years. She was confident New Zealanders would also embrace the change.

“Public calls for action have encouraged a significant number of retailers, including supermarkets, to move on single-use plastic bags. We want to support their efforts by ensuring the retail industry moves together in a fair and effective way.”

She encouraged people to read the discussion document and share their views.

“The Government will work alongside supermarkets and other retailers to help people make the change to reusable bags and we want to hear from New Zealanders as to how we can best do this.

“We’re proposing a six month phase-out period and we’re confident this is a change we can make together.

“New Zealanders are proud of our country’s clean, green reputation and we want to help ensure we live up to it. Phasing out single-use plastic bags helps do that,” said Eugenie Sage.

People have until Friday 14 September to share their views. This includes options for the date the phase-out is to be complete by, what bags should be included, any retailers that should be exempted, and how best to help people with the transition.

To have your say visit www.mfe.govt.nz.