The job of Opposition Leader and “the difference between responsible and political”

The job of Opposition in a democracy such as ours is important, it is a way of holding the Government to account (along with the media who generally do this).

To do Opposition well a good balance needs to be found between criticising the Government and highlighting failings, but not being seen as petty politics or a constant whine of negativity.

The current Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has had two problems. He has been seen by many to be too negative too often, and his method of delivery either annoys people or turns them off, making his overdoing of negative attacks sound worse. He has been widely criticised, including by what looks like a majority of commenters on the right tending National linked Kiwiblog.

In times of crisis there is some expectation that opposition parties and MPs will put the good of the country before their own re-election ambitions, so the balance should shift towards more cooperation and less nagging and niggling.

Bridges’ speech in response to the Government economic package announcement on Tuesday was widely criticised as negative, petty, tone deaf and inappropriate in the circumstances (although some National supporters praised it). His speech:

A speech by National’s spokesperson on finance, Paul Goldsmith, was praised for a better tone (he said many of the same things), and for praising good aspects of the package while including reasonable criticisms. His speech:

The argument between Opposition negativity versus cooperation flared up in Parliament yesterday between Jacinda Ardern and Bridges.

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

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, especially the package that was announced yesterday by this Government in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, including the $12.1 billion package that is split between business certainty and continuity—making sure that consumers have enough money in their back pocket to keep the economy going but also that we look after older citizens; and, obviously, the half-billion – dollar investment directly into health to support the response to COVID-19.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still stand by her statement in the House yesterday that nobody displaying symptoms has been denied a COVID-19 test when Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stated in the media yesterday that “There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Both the Director-General of Health and myself stand by the case definition for testing of COVID-19, which is exactly both as the director-general described and also as I described yesterday, which adds the ability for a clinician to make that decision. I want to say this again very seriously to the member on the other side of the House: this is a time where New Zealanders need to know that this House—

Hon Simon Bridges: Don’t give me a lecture. I’m doing my job in the interests of New Zealand.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is united. We are politicians, and it is not for us to determine—

Hon Grant Robertson: They don’t think you’re doing your job.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when people are tested. It is for doctors to.

SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Finance should not engage, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of the members were also interjecting. But in his engagement, his volume was coming through the Prime Minister’s mike, and, frankly, it is a matter better not discussed in this House during this serious time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that GPs have received the clear message from Ashley Bloomfield to stick to the case definition for testing symptoms with a history of travel or close contact with a case, given the letter he sent to all GPs on Sunday, which stated, “I ask you to continue to apply the case definition when considering who you should test, and to use testing supplies and personal protective equipment with prudence.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t think anyone would disagree with giving advice that applies some criteria to who is tested, because at a time like this, there will be people who have, for instance, cold symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 who simply won’t need a test. It is of course prudent that we allow clinicians—not politicians, not members of the public—to make that decision. My final point is that the best thing we can do is not create an environment where everyone who has a symptom that may be a cold or may be a flu believes they need to be tested for COVID-19. That is not responsible either. Yesterday, 620 tests were undertaken—620 tests. We are testing and, as you’ll see from those tests, those cases continue to be linked to overseas travel.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer, will she simply accept, then, that if it is simply symptoms and no other criteria as set out in the definition for testing, there will not be, automatically, testing in this country today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There has never been a situation where every single people who asks for a test would receive one, and nor would that be a responsible response. That is not what countries anywhere in the world are doing. That is not the way the World Health Organization is asking countries to respond, and nor should it be the way we are. I am listening to experts, clinicians, and doctors. I ask the member to do the same.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it quite clear from both her answers and Ashley Bloomfield’s that we have a rationing of testing in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has there been universal support from the professional medical fraternity with respect to Ashley Bloomfield and the Prime Minister’s criterion on this matter?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve read some of the writing on this by experts in the field, and there is absolute agreement with the approach that is being taken. I again want—

Hon Members: It’s the Prime Minister’s criteria.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an outrageous suggestion. I again want to make clear to the other side of the House: this is a national issue. There is no politics in testing; there should only be expert clinician advice. I ask the member again: if you would like to receive a briefing on this, I am happy to provide it, but the member is becoming borderline irresponsible.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that last answer, what does she say to the half a dozen doctors who have contacted me by email and other means in the last 24 hours to express their frustration, given the difference between what she’s saying in this House and what Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are quite clearly directing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I ask the member to read for himself the case definition I advised in this House yesterday. Whilst, yes, it does set out specific circumstances, it then makes a note: given the changing global environment, if the clinician believes that they should be testing, then they are able to. But what we do not want to do for doctors is create a pressure environment where every person demands a test, regardless of whether or not there’s any likelihood of their symptoms even being COVID-19, when there isn’t a need for one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are media reports correct that until Monday, there had been an average of just 11 COVID-19 tests conducted a day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ll do the same that I did with the journalist who asked that question: that was, I believe, an inaccurate way to display what’s happening with our testing. As you would expect, when New Zealand had no cases, there weren’t many tests. Over time, they have increased. We had 620 tests processed in one day yesterday.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the reality that it’s not that there weren’t any cases; it’s simply that there wasn’t much, if any, testing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member will find that when there are no cases, it’s hard to spread, and therefore there is no rational reason to be testing everybody. Again, I ask the member not to listen to me if he does not choose to but listen to the experts.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the 76-year-old Wellingtonian woman who got off a cruise ship and had symptoms but wasn’t tested this week because the GP said, “We’ve been told not to test unless we absolutely have to.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: She would’ve fallen within the criteria. Obviously, the doctor believed that there weren’t symptoms there that meant that they should. I am not going to second-guess a doctor, because that person would have fit within the case profile. Again, my final plea is to the member: think about the audience he is speaking to right now. This doesn’t have to be political.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that it is my constitutional duty to ask her questions and try and get answers on the most significant issue this country has faced in many, many years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have been in that seat and I know the difference between responsible and political. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! It ill behoves the Leader of the Opposition to react. As I’ve warned the Minister of Finance earlier, sometimes people have to take a deep breath when people are winding them up.

Government and National may cooperate on Covid-19 economic response

Much of what makes the news from Parliament is combative, controversial or the worst of MP behaviour. Here’s an example of how speeches (by Grant Robertson and Paul Goldsmith) can be reasoned and reasonable, with offers of cooperation between the Government and the National opposition.

It’s good to see and important that they actually follow through with their cooperation on dealing with Covid-19.

MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS

COVID-19—Government’s Response to Economic Effects

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance):

I wish to make a ministerial statement on the Government’s response to the economic effects of COVID-19. While there is much uncertainty about the COVID-19 outbreak, it is clear that it is going to impact the world economy, and therefore New Zealand’s economy, for much of 2020. As we know from events like the global financial crisis, New Zealand is not immune to economic shocks that occur offshore and that are beyond our control, but what we can do, alongside our public health response, is to support confidence with a plan to address domestic economic impacts.

Our first responsibility as a Government is the health and wellbeing of our citizens; that is why our response continues to be led by our public health response. This strong public health response will also ultimately be critical to ensuring our economy and our people come through this outbreak in good shape. We have committed to providing the necessary resources to support our health system to protect New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing.

From an economic perspective, the Government has already made a number of immediate interventions, including support for the tourism and seafood industries, funding to increase regional business support programmes, and directing Government departments to pay businesses faster to support cash flow. Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) are supporting businesses and workers on issues like provisional tax readjustments, late payment and filing fees, wage instalment plans, and income support.

MSD’s rapid response teams are in place in regions like Tai Rāwhiti, and we have removed the stand-down period. I met yesterday with the chief executives of New Zealand’s major banks, who told me that they are well-prepared, both in terms of their own operations and in their ability to work with their customers, to get through this. The options they highlighted for customers are reducing or suspending principal payments on loans and temporarily moving to interest-only repayments, helping with restructuring business loans, consolidating loans to help make repayments more manageable, providing access to short-term funding, and referring individual customers to budgeting services. I strongly encourage businesses and banks to talk now and make a plan to get through this challenging situation.

Yesterday, the Government signalled its further steps as the impacts spread across the economy. Decisions on these measures need to balance the risks of poorly targeted spending and moving in time to support affected firms and individuals when they need it. Our business continuity package includes a targeted wage subsidy scheme for workers in the most adversely affected sectors, training and redeployment options for affected employees, and working with banks on the potential for future working capital support for companies that face temporary credit constraints. We will not be able to provide a wage subsidy for all affected firms during the duration of COVID-19. It will have to be temporary. It will also have to be tailor-made. We want to target the subsidies to those who are most affected and least able to adjust. Further details of this package will be announced next week.

These initiatives do not stop us from providing other forms of assistance to people and firms, but they are a sensible place to begin. We have also directed officials to develop longer-term macroeconomic measures that may be required to support the economy, businesses, and workers if there is a major, sustained global downturn. I reiterate that while we are planning for that situation, we are not predicting it, but planning for it is the responsible thing to do.

I want to be clear that this situation is very different to other challenges the New Zealand economy has faced in the past decade. The Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes were events that impacted defined areas, where it was clear which businesses were affected, why, and how. With COVID-19, which is an evolving, global health crisis, we are seeing different businesses in the same industries and in the same regions impacted differently. That is why a tailor-made response is required.

The global financial crisis was caused by the concerns about what financial institutions like banks were experiencing, but that’s not what is happening here. We have a very sound and stable banking system and a sound underlying economy. We have been running surpluses. Our net debt position, at 19.5 percent of GDP, is well below what we inherited and well below other countries. We are already ahead of the curve with the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme, which is supporting the economy.

This is a global problem that New Zealand is well positioned to deal with, and because this Government has the interests of all New Zealanders at heart, if we all work together—Government, businesses, and workers—we will get through this.

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National):

Video “available shortly”

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The National Party shares the Government’s concern about the economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. Already, these have been significant for the businesses affected. People have lost their jobs, they’ve had their hours reduced, they’ve lost income, and they’ve closed their restaurants without knowing when they’ll open again. Some struggling businesses will fall over, and there’s no longer a sense that the impact will be short and sharp, but only a question of how damaging it will be, and we have seen today that the latest business confidence figures are at their lowest levels since 2009.

We support the initiatives announced so far. We support the tourism and seafood industries, and faster payments from Government departments. We support the efforts of IRD and the Ministry of Social Development to help with provisional tax adjustments and late payments, we agree that businesses in distress should be talking with their banks, and we acknowledge that the Government is putting together its business continuity package, including a targeted wage subsidy scheme for workers in the most adversely affected areas and industries. We were disappointed that the details weren’t available yesterday. This has been going on for several weeks now, and it’s our belief more urgency is required. Yes, it’s complicated, and, yes, the boundaries have to be clearly defined, but we worry that the window to save jobs may be beginning to close.

We also ask the Government to reconsider its plan to lift the minimum wage again on 1 April. The Government announced several very substantial increases to the minimum wage back in 2017, when the economy was growing strongly—a 27 percent increase over three years. The situation has changed dramatically since then in the past few months. The April change will mean the minimum wage has lifted 20 percent in two years.

It doesn’t make sense to be proposing relief to businesses at the same time as significantly adding to their costs. Saving jobs should be the focus. The economic challenge before us is serious. The Government needs to shift its mind-set from adding costs to business to taking pressure off small and medium sized enterprises so that they can survive and continue to employ New Zealanders. So I urge the Minister to reconsider and postpone the 1 April rise for six months while we assess the situation. Nobody knows how widespread and deep the international slow-down will be. We need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Thanks to the discipline of successive Governments, the country has relatively low debt and the ability to provide stimulus if required. The ability to borrow, however, should not stop the Minister from taking a hard look at wasteful spending, such as with elements of the Provincial Growth Fund. Some of the money would be far better used in a business continuity package than it is being used now.

We also need to recognise the longer-term economic challenges haven’t gone away. The Minister is wrong when he says that New Zealand entered this crisis with strong momentum. That’s not correct. The latest estimate from the Reserve Bank is that New Zealand grew at 1.6 percent in 2019. So a clear, coherent growth plan is outlined. We believe it should include tax relief, a substantial infrastructure plan that is delivered, relief for small businesses, regulatory reduction such as we outlined yesterday, and policies focused on putting more money in the hands of New Zealand families.

Finally, we thank the Minister for his offer of briefings from Treasury, and we undertake to work constructively to suggest ways forward as we confront this economic challenge together.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance):

I thank the member the Hon Paul Goldsmith for that contribution—in particular his offer to work together. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the briefing that he’s getting—I think this afternoon—from Treasury.

Three quick points in response. The first of those is that this package and the work we have been doing has all been undertaken in consultation with the business community and, indeed, with the union movement. It is important that we continue to work with them. They are the people who are telling us that this package needs to be targeted and needs to ensure that it reaches the people who need it.

I also note in that regard, with reference to the member’s comment about the minimum wage, that is precisely the across-the-board, sweeping, knee-jerk reaction that is not useful at this point. What is useful at this point is ensuring that support gets to businesses who need it via a targeted approach while also ensuring that our lowest income New Zealanders get a fair go. We know that those on the minimum wage tend to spend the increases that they get because that is the nature of being on a low income, and we continue to support those New Zealanders to be able to move forward in that way.

Thirdly, I just want to make reference to the member’s comment about the timeliness of this package. All countries around the world are grappling with an evolving situation. He will not be able to find countries other than those directly in the eye of the storm who have taken actions beyond what this Government has done. In fact, this Government is well ahead of the curve, in part because of a fully funded infrastructure package that we announced at the end of January. The New Zealand Government has ensured that we are in a good position to deal with what is a serious situation, and we will continue to take a measured and active approach.

Government , National both announce hot air on dealing with Covid-19 effects on the economy

Two economic announcements today, one from the Government, one from the National Party, are dripping with political campaigning.

The Government has announced they will be making announcements this week, and are assuring media they have already done some things to help businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 virus.

Beehive: Next steps of Govt and business COVID-19 response

This week the Government will roll out the next steps of its plans to support businesses and workers as part of New Zealand’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

These initiatives will be on top of the immediate measures already in place, including support for the tourism and fisheries industries, an increase in business support funding, and tax and income assistance through IRD and MSD.

“Ministers are actively considering a range of options in response to the impact of COVID-19, and Cabinet will discuss these tomorrow,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

So Robertson has given assurances the Government is doing something, and says that Cabinet will consider doing more tomorrow.  he follows with general political palaver, and then explains what they have been doing.

Last week, the Ministers of Finance and Revenue met with the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, the Tourism Industry Association and Xero to discuss the situation.

Grant Robertson also met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Reserve Bank Governor to discuss macro-economic impacts as a result of the coronavirus.

“We’re taking the time now to work with industries to plan for how we kick-start activity again as we exit out the other side of COVID-19. What we do know is that this will pass.”

So more talking, but nothing really to announce yet.

Note to editors: The Government is already taking the following actions:

Trying to get editors and media to say how well they have already been doing things.

  • Continuing to work closely with banks to ensure they are being proactive with their clients
  • Improving cashflow for small businesses by signalling action on prompt payment terms and times
  • Inland Revenue is entering into instalment arrangements and waiving penalties on a case by case basis where individuals and businesses have had their income and cashflow affected
  • An extra $4 million invested in the Regional Business Partner Programme to allow for extra advisors and give them more time on the ground supporting businesses
  • Working with Xero to get real-time information about the impacts on business, particularly SMEs.

Not much there considering the virus impact on business activity. We will have to see what they come out with later this week.

Aimed directly at the Government announcement, National have also made an economic policy announcement today, aimed at concerns over the current virus induced slowdown.

Paul Goldsmith: Relief package needed as NZ nears recession

With four banks now forecasting negative growth it’s past time for the Government to announce a relief package to help people stay in their jobs, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“When Cabinet meets tomorrow, this should be at the top of its agenda. This needs to be a detailed package to support businesses and workers directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Political palaver edited out.

“It now seems quite likely New Zealand will go into a recession this year.

It’s not good for a major party to be talking up an economic recession.

“Businesses need clear and urgent action from the Government to help them through this period of uncertainty, not just tinkering around the edges and ad-hoc announcements that lack detail.”

So this announcement doesn’t say anything of importance.

Simon Bridges was just on RNZ saying National were announcing part one (of five) of their economic policy, but it was mostly about a promise to cut red tape, cutting two bits of red tape for every bit they introduce, or something. Bridges mentioned a few things that annoy businesses, but this really sounded like opportunist tinkering around the edges.

RNZ: National wants ‘common-sense test’ on health and safety regulations

National says it would introduce a “health and safety common-sense test” if elected, as part of its plan to slash red-tape burdening small businesses.

The Government is at risk of being seen to as slow to react to the developing economic problems, on to of their reputation for talking more than doing. They have to come up with substantial and urgent plans this week to address things.

It will unveil the “first plank” in its five-point economic growth plan this morning, outlining how it will reduce regulation.

Leader Simon Bridges said the programme was about giving small businesses confidence and creating an economy “where it’s not just burden and cost”.

If elected, National said it would commit to a “bonfire on regulations”, doing away with two regulations for every new one introduced.

It would also scrap 100 regulations within the first six months.

So this doesn’t address the Covid-19 effects at all. Ironically the virus requires increased regulations or restrictions.

National are risking putting more negative pressure on the economy, not a good look for a party that claims to be better at managing the economy. At times when the country (and the world) faces potentially major economic difficulties a responsible party would put the good of the nation ahead of their own election campaign. There will be plenty of time for them to bicker and propose their own ideas that can’t be implemented until later in the year at the earliest.

Both Labour and National have started the week doing little but grandstanding. Struggling businesses deserve better than that.


UPDATE: Jacinda Ardern has just been interviewed on RNZ and was asked if the Government would include National in their talks. Ardern said that National were being kept informed and any suggestions from National on what could be done better would be welcome as it was a global and national problem. Sounds good, but whether there’s any substance to cross-party cooperation on this it is yet to be seen.

I’ll post a link when it becomes available

Shane Jones denies conflict of interest accusations

Putting Shane Jones in charge of a billion dollars a year of handouts through the Provincial Growth Fund was always going to be both a financial and a political risk.

And it was always going to be scrutinised by political opponents, especially with the amount of money being poured into Jones’ home province, Northland.

RNZ: Shane Jones denies conflict of interest in funding decision

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones is denying his role in a decision to fund a group from the regional growth fund is a conflict of interest.

Before he became minister Mr Jones was involved in plans to build Manea Footprints of Kupe, a culture heritage and education centre in Northland.

He declared a conflict of interest in the project when he became a Minister in November 2017.

But in February 2018 he attended a meeting of Ministers where he spoke about the project, providing reassurances about its management.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson then approved a $4.6 million grant, despite Treasury recommending it not go ahead.

Mr Jones said he gave only factual information at the meeting and was not otherwise involved in the decision.

National MP Paul Goldsmith…

…said the Prime Minister must demand answers from Mr Jones.

“If you’ve declared a conflict of interest you shouldn’t be in the room,” Mr Goldsmith said.

“He was in the room, responding to questions, we don’t know to what extent, and so he’s left himself wide open to perceived conflicts of interest and not doing things as they should be done.”

Act leader David Seymour…

…said the Prime Minister must sack Mr Jones over his involvement in the project.

Mr Seymour said it was “completely inappropriate” for Mr Jones to be involved in the meeting which decided to grant the project $4.6m.

In an answer to a Parliamentary question, Mr Jones said he had attended no formal meetings about the project since becoming a Minister.

He said Mr Jones’ misleading answer showed he is not fit for ministerial office and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has no choice but to sack him.

Stuff: Prime Minister rejects calls to sack Shane Jones, saying conflict was managed

Jacinda Ardern says she will not sack Shane Jones, after it was revealed the NZ First Minister took part in a key funding meeting for a project he had earlier declared a conflict of interest in.

Documents show Jones, the Regional Development Minister, sat in on a funding meeting where a group of Cabinet colleagues approved up to $4.6 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund, providing reassurances about the governance of the plan.

“Based on both the information and advice I’ve received, the conflict of interest was managed in accordance with the Cabinet Manual so therefore I would have no cause to sack Minister Jones”, the Prime Minister said in a statement.

Jones defended staying in the meeting in taking part, saying he had disclosed his interest, which satisfied is responsibilities, although he acknowledged there was a “school of thought” that would consider he should have left the meeting.

“I don’t believe my presence in any meeting with three other powerful ministers has any deterrent effect.”

He has dismissed documents from Manea’s proponents suggesting he was proposed to be the chairman of an entity to facilitate the project.

“I don’t care what the documents said, that was just wishful thinking on the part of the people of Hokianga.”

Act MP David Seymour called for Jones to be sacked as a minister and has written to the auditor-general asking for an investigation.

“Clare Curran was sacked for failing to disclose a meeting. Shane Jones has done exactly the same, the only difference being that Curran’s meeting had no consequence whereas Jones was decisive in $4.6 million of taxpayer money going to an organisation he’d previously been involved with,” Seymour said.

Jones will probably keep his job, for now at least, but these stories will keep nagging away at Government credibility and prudence in handing money out to Northland projects that he has had some connection to.

 

Provincial Growth Fund – jobs created

National MP Paul Goldsmith asked Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones questions about job creation in Parliament yesterday:

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept the figures of the latest household labour force survey, which showed that while New Zealand was creating 10,000 jobs per month under the last two years of the National Government, over the past three months it’s created only 667 jobs per month; and if so, does he think the Provincial Growth Fund will compensate for that massive reduction in job creation?

Hon SHANE JONES: On the question of jobs, as the first citizen of the provinces, I look at things through the spyglass of optimism. And the reality is that, as we make our allocation decisions, these projects and these capital investments take time to fully roll out. But I have sought additional advice, and very shortly I will provide a figure both to the House and to public, which is inversely related to the gibberish I had from that member around about Waitangi time.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that if job growth had continued at the same pace that it had under National, there would have been an extra 28,000 jobs created in the past three months in this country; and is the Provincial Growth Fund in any way compensating for that lost opportunity for Kiwis?

Hon SHANE JONES: Obviously, the Provincial Growth Fund is really premised on the notion of provincial futures, and I have had precious little time to think about those dim, bleak times that he refers to.

Comment from Gezza:


Provincial Champion, Shane Jones corrects the record on PGF job numbers
(Actually, it’s more of a case of he says he finally now has a record of job numbers)

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has told 1 NEWS that 560 jobs have been generated so far by the Provincial Growth Fund. It comes several weeks after National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith claimed the fund had only created 54 jobs.

Mr Jones admits he wasn’t tracking the number properly, but says officials have now done a ring-around and are promising regular updates. “[It’s] 10 times larger than the miserable figure that my National opposition character [in] Epsom sulks, Mr Goldsmith was tossing around,” he said.

The Minister says the 560 figure is made up of both part-time and full-time jobs, and does not include contractors, trainees or bureaucrats.

More…

1 News at 6 video clip embedded
https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/exclusive-govts-3b-provincial-growth-fund-generates-560-jobs-good-start-towards-10k-promise?variant=tb_v_1


So 560 is all jobs working any number of hours, not the Full Time Equivalent that is often given for job numbers.

It’s early days yet for the Provincial Growth Fund. ‘Only’ $650 million of the three year budget of $3 billion has been handed out so far.

Time will tell how many jobs are created through investment from the fund – total and FTE – and more time will tell how many of those jobs are not short term. It’s possible that once the fiunding runs out that some jobs won’t be financially sustainable.

 

Goldsmith versus Jones on the Provincial Development Fund

Paul Goldsmith, National’s Spokesperson for Economic and Regional Development, has been nagging away at Shane Jones, the minister in charge of the Provincial Development Fund.

In Parliament last Wednesday:

Hon Paul Goldsmith: When he told the National Business Review that we have to make sure that “We’ve got enough nephs or if necessary a few Melanesians to help plant the trees.”, what proportion of any new forestry jobs does he expect to be filled by Melanesians, presumably by the way of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme?

Hon SHANE JONES: Yes, well, from Melanesia we already draw a host of RSE workers and policy is being looked at, but the preference is to get the proverbial nephs off the couch. It is proving to be a challenge as a consequence of the last nine years of Kaikohe, Kaitāia, Gisborne, Hastings, and a whole host of other places—and I would remind the member that $50 million was put aside by his Government and not a single neph got off any couch, because they never spent any of that money.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was what proportion and he made no reference to anything like that.

SPEAKER: Right, I think the Minister can have another go.

Hon SHANE JONES: In terms of proportions between workers that may or may not come from Melanesia and the nephs, such a policy is under active consideration.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that the fame of this visionary policy has been so far-reaching that countries in the Pacific and Pacific Islands are now mustering their workforce to assist the member in the implementation of his plan?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Come off it. What a load of rubbish.

1 News: Shane Jones forced to correct answers after failing to disclose 61 meetings

National’s Paul Goldsmith said the slip was of concern as he controlled the $3b provincial growth fund.

Press releases from Goldsmith:

Jones’ forestry jobs cost at least $485k apiece

Shane Jones could hire the Prime Minister to work on his tree-planting schemes – and she’d get a pay rise – based on the fuzzy economics of the Provincial Growth Fund.

More questions than answers in $140m spend-up

The Government’s travelling caravan of grants and soft loans is continuing to the West Coast tomorrow with the bequeathing of $140 million of taxpayer funds that raises more questions than answers.

Last night Goldsmith and Jones were put up for a debate on Q+A last night – Is the Govt’s billion dollar provincial fund the best way to boost regional economies?

Jones is responsible for dishing out $3 billion over the current term, so it is important he is held to account. Goldsmith’s nagging is a good way to do this – he doesn’t seek attention as much as some politicians, but his nagging keeps forcing Jones to explain what he is up to.

Shane Jones admits failure to disclose meetings

The handing out of large amounts of money through the Provincial Growth Fund was always going to be scrutinised by the Opposition, especially with Shane Jones involved. And as Minister in charge Jones has had to admit ‘a slip-up’ in not disclosing 61 meetings, including some with people who have an interest in the Fund.

RNZ: Shane Jones fails to disclose 61 meetings

Shane Jones has had to correct 20 answers to questions from the National Party after he failed to disclose meetings he had earlier this year.

Some of those were with people who have an interest in the Provincial Growth Fund.

Mr Jones, the regional economic development minister, said he took full responsibility for the muck-up which he put down to a transcription error from his outlook diary.

One transcription error missed 61 meetings?

National MP Paul Goldsmith uses weekly written parliamentary questions to ask Mr Jones who he meets with and what for.

He said this slip-up by the minister seriously concerned him, because it was not one or two meetings he missed, but 61.

And, he said, a number of those meetings were to do with the $3 billion of public money Mr Jones had responsibility for.

“What’s made me nervous, is that we regularly ask who he meets with and you can understand that a minister would make the occasional mistake. But what we saw here was 61 meetings which he hadn’t initially declared, which he is now declaring.”

The forgotten meetings include a number with regional and sector representative groups, like Kiwifruit New Zealand and Whakatōhea Mussels.

There are dinners and site visits with local mayors, tourism groups and business representatives, as well as regular catch-ups with Mr Jones’ own ministerial colleagues.

There was also a meeting with the former New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, who now has interests in an Iwi forestry project which has received a financial injection from Provincial Growth Fund.

It can’t have just been a transcription error, because a number of written questions have not been answered accurately.

Mr Jones said he has received approximately 3000 written questions from National since he became a minister, the majority of which had been answered accurately.

“This figure represents one percent, so in the bigger scheme of things it’s small fry. But the moment that the office uncovered that some of the meetings had been miscast, then we let [them] know.”

It isn’t small fry if the Minister isn’t meeting his responsibility to disclose meetings.

And Jones is likely to remain under scrutiny.

Also today from RNZ – ‘It’s murky’: Questions over use of Provincial Growth Fund

National wants answers as to why the Economic Development Minister is giving out cash to a private trust it says is set to make a killing off it.

A newsletter sent out by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust, which has secured $6 million of Provincial Growth Fund money for a second round of pine planting on land in Northland, suggests trust benefactors are getting an exceptionally good deal which is “far superior to previous arrangements”.

It said the specifics of the deal were commercially sensitive, but “the financial returns to the beneficial owners to be received from this Forestry Right upon harvest will be substantial [sic].”

The newsletter also reveals the deal will require a third round of planting by the Crown.

“The Forestry Right with the Crown is for one rotation only and it includes the requirement for the Crown to plant a third rotation at its cost which will then be owned 100 percent by the Trust,” the newsletter said.

National’s economic development spokesperson Paul Goldmith said that proved serious financial gain for a private trust – which went directly against the core principles of the Provincial Growth Fund.

“We’ve been asking the minister and the ministry for the business cases, clarity about what is actually being purchased, what the performance indicators are before they get the money – and they’ve refused to give us that information so far.

“It’s murky, it’s been lacking in transparency and the basic principles of good governance.”

Mr Goldsmith also pointed out one of the trustees was former New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, who he suggested lobbied the minister, Shane Jones, for the money.

But, Mr Paraone said he was appalled that the National Party had sunk so low as to accuse him of soliciting Crown cash.

“I was not part of the discussions as to whether or not Ngati Hine should lobby the minister and I don’t believe that they did,” he said.

“I had no part in the signing of the deal, or determining what the deal should be, other than to attend the actual planting of the first tree.”

Mr Paraone asked how far National was willing to take this argument.

Local governments and groups in the provinces are queueing up for government handouts for projects. This is understandable. Provincial areas have been run down and neglected by successive governments for several decades.

But there are risks of favouritism, money for mates, and poor investments, so scrutiny is important. And the Minister for Regional Economic Development should be aware that the need for transparency – including full disclosure – is important as the credibility of the fund and also the credibility of the Government is at stake.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern agreed the sheer volume of written questions from the opposition could impact accuracy of answers.

Why should it impact on accuracy? Good ministerial records should be kept, and accurate responses should be expected.

There is an issue with the volume of questions being asked, and  that may well impact in response times, but accuracy should be a standard expectation. So that’s an odd position for the Prime Minister to take.

1 News: Shane Jones says it’s a ‘happy coincidence’ his home region is getting the lion’s share of fund he’s in charge of

Northland is getting the most funding from the provincial growth fund that has $1 billion to spend.

A happy coincidence for those getting the money. Northland was badly in need of regional development, but funds handed out should be prudent decisions.

Perhaps it’s also a happy coincidence for the Shane Jones and NZ First re-election chances.

The Fund seems to have been a means for NZ First to fund some of their policies without needing ton get specific budget allocations – like this: Shane Jones earmarks $2.2 million of Provincial Growth Fund for 250,000 native trees

Ardern should be wary of Jones and the Fund, and she should be demanding that everything is transparent and above board – if she is able to demand anything of NZ First. Otherwise (and perhaps inevitably) Jones is an embarrassment waiting to happen for her Government.

Goldsmith isn’t an attention seeking MP, but he is tenacious, and is a good person to be maintaining the scrutiny of the Jones Fund.

Jones praises himself, speaking as a Minister

NZ First MP Shane Jones continues to impress himself with his eloquence. I’m not sure how widely he is admired beyond a mirror.

Getting anything serious or of substance out of Jones is nearly as hard as getting a straight answer from Winston Peters.

And both of them may feel further unleashed now that Peters has taken over as acting Prime Minister (he is not prime Minister as Jones claimed, Jacinda Ardern retains that role).

In Parliament yesterday:

Question 9 – Hon Paul Goldsmith to the Minister for Regional Economic Development

Does he stand by his statement to the House last week, “Fonterra cannot wander around making advertisements, such as they did this year, drawing on the countryside and the personalities of country people and not expect the ‘champion of the country’ to hold them accountable”?

 

9. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement to the House last week, “Fonterra cannot wander around making advertisements, such as they did this year, drawing on the countryside and the personalities of country people and not expect the ‘champion of the country’ to hold them accountable”?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): In response to the question, the word “champion” is a verb and a noun, and I am delivering it by deed and by word.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Was he speaking in a personal capacity at the time he made that statement to the House?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat: I will remain an avid defender of the standards of accountability. Unlike that member, I will not be sucked in by this corporate-based pecuniary prattle, smooth tongue, and what I said, I owned.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I probably should have ruled the question out. I mean, it is absolutely obvious that if a member makes a statement in the House in response to a question, as a Minister, then he is speaking as a Minister.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he reconcile his response in the House with the statements of the Prime Minister, who repeatedly said that his comments regarding Fonterra were made in a personal capacity—”end of story”?

Hon SHANE JONES: Just to remind the House, those candid remarks were made to an audience organised by KPMG, where we were told it was Chatham House Rules. And then, when I returned to the House, obviously someone associated with the National Party leaked those remarks to the press gallery. And as befits a plain-speaking, forthright advocate, champion, citizen of the provinces, I own what I said.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: When he told the House last Thursday, the day after the Prime Minister had asserted that his comments about Fonterra’s leadership were made in his personal capacity, “I stand by my remarks in terms of accountability [they] should be shown by failing corporate governance culture at the highest levels of our largest company, and if the cab doesn’t suit then shanks’s pony is just as good”, was he intentionally setting out to make the Prime Minister look weak?

Hon SHANE JONES: My style is strong and forthright; however, nothing that I have said, done, or am contemplating to do is designed to undermine the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, or indeed the Deputy Prime Minister, soon to be the Prime Minister. And I think what the member needs to understand, it was a rapidly changing narrative. It started where I was invited as the “champion of the country”, I gave the remarks to an adoring audience, and I said them to the face of the chairman of Fonterra, not behind his back, like other people on that side of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen the supportive comments of the New Zealand Herald writer Fran O’Sullivan, and why would it be that she is allowed to see the common sense of the argument about Fonterra’s lack of accountability but the National Party can’t?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Well, you know I am allowed to make my own rulings. The member can answer the first part of the question but not the last.

Hon SHANE JONES: The journalist referred to is a highly respected, well-versed, leading writer about matters of governance and accountability, and I’ve got every confidence when she congratulates my call for accountability she speaks truth to power.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So have I got the sequence right? The Prime Minister told him off for attacking corporate leaders; then he did it again; then she said he was only speaking in a personal capacity, not as a Minister; then the Minister rode over that fig leaf in a steamroller and repeated those statements in the House—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m now going to ask the member to very quickly come to a question that doesn’t have the level of embellishment—even if the fig leaf embellishment he used is a small one.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I started with the question, Mr Speaker. The question was—

Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member started with the question, has he finished?

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, no, because I was continuing the question and I haven’t got to the end of it.

Mr SPEAKER: OK, right, get to the end quickly.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I’ll start again if I—

Mr SPEAKER: No. No. Does the member have a further supplementary?

Hon Paul Goldsmith: No. I haven’t finished this particular question.

Mr SPEAKER: No. No. You have.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I’ll let him answer it then.

Hon SHANE JONES: The member obviously doesn’t understand the reproductive cycle. This was a story where seeds were planted in an audience full of farmers and their grandees. It changed. At what point he missed the impregnation, I’m not sure.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I could see that throughout that question you were asking yourself whether or not it should progress or otherwise and what was right and what was wrong. You at one point said that you thought the simple question about whether he was acting in a personal or ministerial capacity was irrelevant, because, clearly if he’d spoke about it in the House, he was acting ministerially. I wonder if you might consider asking the “provincial champion” to provide some sort of timetable for when he is acting personally and when he is acting as a Minister? Because our understanding is that Ministers are at all times Ministers, and when they are invited to speak somewhere as a Minister, they are accountable as a Minister for what they say.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, there is no other authority than the member’s former leader John Key, who made the very distinction which everyone else got but Gerry didn’t.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, now the Deputy Prime Minister will stand up and address the honourable member for Ilam in the appropriate manner.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, which the honourable member for Ilam didn’t get.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, now, what—[Interruption]—no. I’m—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, hang on. We’re dealing with a point of order and someone makes a contribution on it. Everyone’s got to understand it. What circumstance is the Deputy Prime Minister referring to? Because there was a long discussion in this House where someone can be considered a party leader, and the Speaker will remember those long discussions some time back. That has been a long-held tenet in this country that if someone is doing something as a party leader, that’s separate from their other roles, but a Minister is always a Minister as long as they hold the warrant.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The former Prime Minister, Mr Key, said that he was not always acting as a Prime Minister and he gave examples such as when he was put the putting the cat out. So the very principle that that member outlaid to the House just doesn’t stand.

Mr SPEAKER: Right. I want to thank both members for their contributions. I think they have highlighted something which is an important issue and one which I think in New Zealand we haven’t quite got our heads around. I was reminded earlier today of some comments, I think, attributed to the honourable Mr Finlayson when he referred to the Roman habit of indicating whether or not senators were on duty—whether they were acting as senators—via the colour of their toga. It mightn’t have been Mr Finlayson, but in those days it was very clear whether or not people were acting as Ministers or not. [Interruption] Amy Adams—

Hon Amy Adams: Sorry.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, we have had in this House some quite long discussions, I think, without any real conclusion as to when people are Ministers and when they are members and when they are acting in private capacities. It is clear that Ministers do at times act in all three different capacities. Clearly, there are things which they do, especially those who are constituency members, which they’re not doing as Ministers; they’re doing on behalf of constituents, and that is clear. There have been a number of examples given by Mr Key—I think putting out the cat was one of them. I think there were some others which weren’t quite as repeatable in the House—and we wouldn’t want to get into them in the House—which were done in a personal capacity rather than in a ministerial capacity. So it has been accepted by the House previously that there are occasions where, effectively, the ministerial hat is taken off and people act in a personal capacity. But what I’m not certain of—and maybe we need to have a discussion at Standing Orders at some stage is to get things a bit more codified so members can better understand these things.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That process will be a good one, but it’s a long process, as you’re aware. In this case, Mr Jones was at a function, invited to speak, because he is a Minister. At no point, as far as we know, did he say, “Look, I’m happy to speak, but I’m speaking to you in a private capacity.”, and if he was speaking in a private capacity, then clearly the criticisms he could make could stand, but certainly would not have got the publicity they did as result of his making those statements. So I think some sort of interim ruling from you about what is in and what is out as far as Ministers acting would be useful for the scrutiny of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I will see if I can get my head around the issue.

Risky rush to hand out Provincial Growth funds

One of the big new policies quickly kicked into gear was a billion dollar a year fund for projects in the regions. The rush to hand out money was always going to be risky, and so it proved.

RNZ: Officials failed to do background checks on energy scheme

A review has found government officials failed to do background checks on the people behind a proposed waste-to-energy scheme that was to be given hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.

The funding for the feasibility study was put on hold by the Regional Development Minister Shane Jonesafter RNZ told him the scheme’s chief executive, Gerard Gallagher, had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

The internal review found officials working on Provincial Growth Fund projects failed to carry out due diligence on Renew Energy’s directors and shareholders.

If basic due diligence had been carried out then Gerard Gallagher’s referral to the Serious Fraud Office would have quickly been detected, it found.

The head of the Provincial Development Unit Nigel Bickle apologised.

“We fell below prudent standards of due diligence and we have apologised to the Minister for not getting this right,” Mr Bickle said.

“The public quite rightly expects government agencies to run a robust process before awarding contracts or approving funding – in this case we made a mistake by not completing appropriate checks on personnel associated with the Waste to Energy project.”

Mr Bickle said changes had been made and the unit would now carry out due diligence before applications were considered by ministers and announcements were made.

The implication here is alarming – that funds were announced before due diligence had been done.

The internal report, by the Business Ministry’s director of legal services, Chris Mathieson, also shows that two days after RNZ ran the story linking the new funding with Mr Gallagher’s referral to the Serious Fraud Office – he quit.

“On 2 March 2018, (Renew Energy director and West Coast Economic Development Manager ) Kevin Stratful advised MBIE, that following an emergency board meeting Mr Gallagher has resigned as CEO of Renew Energy and would be selling his shares in Renew Energy. That has now occurred,” the report reads.

Mr Mathieson said it was now up to the Provincial Development Unit to do due diligence on Renew Energy’s other owners before deciding whether the feasibility study should go ahead.

They are still considering the scheme for feasibility funding? RNZ revealed the Environment Ministry had advised the government that the project was a lemon.

Mr Jones said he just plain forgot about that advice.

Jones’ excuses sounded dodgy. Perhaps due diligence should have been done on him before giving him so much money to dish out.

RNZ: National says internal review of Renew Energy fiasco ‘alarming’

The National Party has accused the government of forcing officials working on the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund to cut corners to meet unrealistic deadlines.

Its regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said an internal review released late yesterday on the Renew Energy fiasco was “alarming”.

Mr Goldsmith said officials were under pressure from a government wanting “quick wins” for political gain.

“It’s not hard to spend $3 billion but it’s quite hard to spend $3 billion effectively, and to do that you have to have proper systems in place and clear procedures.

“And what we’re seeing doesn’t fill us with confidence at all.”

Goldsmith will have a busy time holding to account the many handouts from the fund over the course of the term.

Mr Jones said he was “disappointed by the lack of checks and balances” but he had confidence in the Provincial Development Unit.

“The scaling up process was a steep learning curve and I thank Nigel [Bickle, the head of the unit] and his team for their thorough review.”

Due diligence should have been done on the systems for deciding who benefits from the fund.

NZ First stands to benefit from generous handouts to regions given they also target provincial voters, but if the fund makes too many poor choices it could backfire.

It will also be a test for Jones, especially if he has ambitions to take over NZ First leadership from Winston Peters.

If Jones makes a big success of redistributing Government Provincial Growth funds he could have a crack at being Minister of Finance, but a bit more due diligence may be required.

Accusations of Labour shielding Ministers from scrutiny in Parliament

Claims have been made that Labour is protecting some of it’s Ministers from scrutiny in Question Time in Parliament.

The second, directed at Minister of Employment Willie Jackson:

Question No. 11—Employment

11. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Employment: Does he still stand by all of his statements?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): on behalf of the Minister of Employment: Yes, in the context in which they were made.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he stand by his statement in the Manukau Courier that there is a “crisis” in New Zealand employment?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many jobs has the New Zealand economy created in the past year while it has been in crisis?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don’t have those figures with me.

Jackson did front up for questions from Goldsmith the day before:

The first minister switch yesterday:

Question No. 10—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

MELISSA LEE (National): I seek leave for this question to be held over until the next question time when the Hon Clare Curran is available to answer this question.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that? Yes, there is.

10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Does she believe it is important for State-owned broadcasters to be independent?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Yes.

Melissa Lee: Does she agree that maintaining the independence of Radio New Zealand includes full disclosure of any meetings the Minister has with RNZ’s head of content?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, and the Minister has corrected the written answer that she gave, which was referred to in the questions yesterday.

This follows Lee questioning Current on Tuesday:

 

Melissa Lee has been submitting many written questions to Curran.