NZ First risks regional backlash against racetrack closures

Winston Peters has marketed himself as a champion of the regions, and Shane Jones has similarly promoted himself as such – see ‘Champion of Regions’: Jones holds true to title – with his billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund handouts.

But one of Winston’s biggest hobby horses (and possibly one of his biggest benefactors) is the racing industry. And he is now proposing a radical plan to close a lot of race tracks around the regions and centralise them in three big cities. This is both a clash NZ First priorities, and a risk of backlash.

RNZ: Plan to cut 20 race tracks ‘gamechanger for industry’

The racing industry is facing two choices, significant change or death, says Racing Minister Winston Peters.

Mr Peters has released an independent report by Australian racing expert, John Messara, that concludes the industry is in a state of “serious malaise”.

The report recommends include almost halving the number of tracks and outsourcing the TAB’s commercial activities to an international operator.

Mr Peters said the racing industry was at a tipping point from which it won’t recover unless it took on on board all the reforms put forward by John Messara.

Officials will produce a Cabinet paper from the report’s 17 recommendations, which Mr Peters said was a chance to change the fortunes of the industry and push the reset button.

Mr Messara has proposed reducing the number of tracks from 48 to 28 and Mr Peters said that will have to be a reality if the industry wants to turn around its dwindling profits.

“Every region will retain a race track. There just won’t be the proliferation right now which in stark contrast to a big industry like New South Wales, has far more race tracks. It just doesn’t make any logical sense,” Mr Peters said.

What may be good for the racing industry may not be seen as good for the regions who lose their race tracks.

Taranaki will lose two out of three of its race tracks if the recommendations go ahead.

Taranaki Thoroughbred Racing board member and judge Ron Stanley said racing was getting incredibly more competitive and that required top facilities and cutting back the number of tracks.

“I think it’s a brave decision, we should have been doing it a few years ago. We’ve always had too many tracks”.

The towns who have tracks that may be closed may think differently.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry also backed the proposals which he described as a “gamechanger for the industry”.

“One of our biggest issues is we can’t spread the amount of money we have across 48 venues and improve the sport. So we need to consolidate our spending and make sure we’ve got a number of venues that have good race track surfaces and good customer facilities so that New Zealanders can enjoy the great things about New Zealand thoroughbred racing,” he said.

Centralisation in big cities has been a feature of the ‘neo-liberal’ reforms that Peters has been scathing of (for political purposes, I don’t know if he believes it).

But Peters is putting the racing industry ahead of the regions.

The Provincial Growth Fund will stump up the cash – expected to be about $15 million – for the tracks that Mr Messara has recommended building in Awapuni, Riccarton and Cambridge.

Mr Peters said taxpayers will accept that cost because racing “isn’t just about people turning up at the track in their Sunday best” – it’s about an industry that employs tens of thousands of people.

So he is championing an industry over people in the regions. He and the racing industry are going to pick winners and losers.

I’m not sure how well regional taxpayers and voters will accept that cost if it takes their tracks away.

“We will ensure that every region retains at least one track so there is racing there. And we will consult with the industry on these tracks that are to be closed. But we have to change, even if it is unpopular.”

Peters the prince of populism is prepared to push policies that may be unpopular in many regions – neo-liberal reforms of the racing industry means more to him for some reason.


And – it’s interesting to see how Peters intends using the Provincial Growth Fund to fund NZ First policies over and above what was negotiated in their Coalition Agreement.


ODT report on the winners and losers in the south in Seven race tracks face closure

In his report he recommended thoroughbred racing at Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Omakau, Winton and Gore should cease.

Mr Messara recommended Wingatui, Ashburton, Ascot Park, Cromwell, Waikouaiti and Riverton hold race meetings in the lower South Island.

Closing Oamaru, Timaru and Gore while retaining Waikouaiti seems odd. I arrived at the Waikouaiti races this January to find out they had been cancelled due to track conditions.


UPDATE:

Nation: Shane Jones on new “infrastructure entity”

‘Infrastructure entity’ is an odd description for a new layer of bureaucracy.

On Newshub Nation this morning:

This week Minister Shane Jones announced an independent commission to tackle New Zealand’s massive infrastructure deficit. Simon Shepherd asks him how the agency can avoid becoming another layer of bureaucracy

Beehive blurb:


New infrastructure entity to help drive economic growth and wellbeing

A new independent entity will be established so New Zealand gets the quality infrastructure investment it needs to improve long-term economic performance and social wellbeing, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones has announced today.

Speaking at the annual Building Nations Symposium in Auckland, Shane Jones said the new entity would provide greater certainty to the industry and better advice to Ministers to ensure adequate, long-term planning and investment happens.

“When we first came into Government, it quickly became clear that we’re facing a major infrastructure deficit with no plan to tackle it. We’ve struggled to get a clear picture from officials of its scale, when it would hit us the worst and in which sectors.

“Treasury is currently unable to properly quantify the value of the deficit we’re facing – it doesn’t hold accurate or up-to-date information about all infrastructure projects across all sectors and advises that agencies themselves may not necessarily know the extent of their future capital needs.

“This is just not good enough. This Government has a firm eye on the future and not just the next few years. We’re determined to improve economic performance, and social and environmental wellbeing for generations to come and getting on top of our infrastructure challenge is key.

“That means ensuring New Zealand can make the timely and quality investments in vital infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, transport networks, water and electricity. And it means being open to innovative solutions to sourcing the capital we need.

“We’ve listened to industry and local government – they need greater visibility of our infrastructure needs. 

“This new entity will provide that certainty so we can make the right investments, in the right places and the right time.

“We’re already making a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit. Net capital spending in the next five years will be more than double that of the previous five years with the Government investing about $42 billion through to 2022.

“This is a good start, but we need to do better over the long term and I’m confident the new infrastructure entity will help us really sharpen our planning for the future.

“Treasury will now lead the development of the detailed policy working alongside key industries and I’ll report back to Cabinet early next year with options on how to structure the new organisation,” Shane Jones said.

It is anticipated the new infrastructure entity will be operational by late 2019.


That was quite a different Shane Jones to what we usually see in Parliament. He didn’t stray into flowery crap. It was a fairly forthright performance, saying what he wanted to do, saying what he couldn’t do because of limits imposed by government agreements (especially in the spending cap), he criticised past governments including his then Labour government under Helen Clark, and also (t an extent) praised National initiatives and cooperation.

Apparently the ‘infrastructure entity’ was a National policy that Jones has taken on.

Shane Jones says this infrastructure agency should provide “greater credibility, more certainty, more confidence” for the construction industry

“I’ve got zero patience for the iwi leaders group, I’m more interested in the Indians and the cowboys because they’re the ones who vote for me” – Shane Jones on consultation with Māori freshwater advisory group

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.

 

The Gloriavale application for Regional Development funds

With $3 billion on offer from the Regional Economic Development fund over three years there must be many lining up with their hands out in hope of benefiting.

One application for funds has received special attention –  Gloriavale seeking millions of taxpayer dollars to set up new health food enterprise

Controversial religious sect Gloriavale is applying for millions of taxpayer dollars through the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

1 NEWS has revealed Gloriavale’s leaders are looking to set up a new health food enterprise on the West Coast, and they want the public to fund it.

It is an application only. It has not been granted. So some of the political jumping up and down is premature.

Gloriavale’s application to the $3 billion fund is already on the radar of Shane Jones, Regional Economic Development Minister.

“I wouldn’t want to knock out any particular application till we had all the facts. But the reality is that particular organisation does represent something of a morality play,” Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones said he’s not surprised that “we will get from time to time applications where we’ll have to be very, very sensitive”.

The Government says it will consider the application in good faith.

But it will also take into account Gloriavale’s reputation with the public whose money it’s now asking for.

I think that the Government has to properly consider any application.

There’s no point in getting concerned at this stage.

 

“The most open government in history”

Journalists continue to complain about the government not living up to it’s promise to be the most transparent government ever.

There was no pledge of transparency in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement. From the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and
transparency around official information.

Claims of a lack of transparency began early under the incoming Government late last year.

Stuff (26 November 2017):  Labour promised transparency in Government, but they seem to be buckling on that early

The Government is facing a mountain of questions – more than 6000 to be exact. They’ve been lodged by an army of National MPs with nothing but time on their hands and it should be no surprise to Labour Ministers, who have so far refused to release much detail, if any, about their first actions in office.

In a 100-day programme, where major reform is being pushed through at break-neck speed, that is cause for concern.

…and it might be early, but on the current trend those accusations aren’t far from being squarely levelled back to Labour. They and the Greens made much of their desire to “bring transparency back to Government” on the campaign trail.

Labour is also yet to release what’s known as the ‘Briefings to Incoming Ministers’ – or BIMs. They are the documents prepared by the experts and officials, delivered to ministers in their first week to give them a crash course on the portfolio they’ve just been handed – in some cases rendering them responsible overnight for the spending of public funds totalling billions.

Stuff (2 December 2017): 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.

The problem with this document is not necessarily what’s in it, but the message it sends by not releasing it after Peters insisted it would be made public.

Ardern has spent the week arguing it isn’t a “live document” or a work programme the Government is bound to.

The new Government has an opportunity to pave a new path on transparency, it just needs to get out of the mud its bogged itself down in over the last few weeks and accept sometimes it’s better to just admit that you’re wrong.

RNZ (4 December 2017): Jacinda Ardern on ‘secret’ documents

Speaking to Morning Report today, Ms Ardern defended the new government’s reluctance to reveal the details of its coalition agreement.

“When something becomes an official part of our work programme, then that’s the point at which, absolutely, we have to be transparent about that. But when it comes to documents that sit behind a negotiation, that aren’t necessarily going to be pursued, as soon as you release it, that gives an expectation that it is a hard and fast policy, when it might not be at all.”

“We are actively at the moment looking at ways that we can make sure there is greater transparency around briefings that ministers receive, cabinet papers, whether we can routinely release documents after decisions are made, these are conversations I have never heard governments have before, and we are having.”

She said the government was still dedicated to greater transparency.

Jump forward seven months and this is looking like a ‘same old’ secretive government.

Stuff: ‘Secretive’ Shane Jones won’t release Fonterra texts

Regional economic development minister Shane Jones is refusing to make public messages backing his criticism of Fonterra chair John Wilson.

Self-styled “provincial champion” Jones launched a blistering attack on the long-serving dairy co-operative boss last month. Defending his remarks, Jones then claimed 365 people had sent messages supporting his stance.

But the NZ First Minister is now refusing to release those text messages. And that raises questions about the Government’s official record-keeping processes.

“The messages I was referring to were received predominantly on my private phone and not in my capacity as a Minister. They therefore do not fall within the scope within the scope of the Official Information Act 1982,” Jones said in a letter to Stuff.

@HenryCooke from Stuff: “In Politically Correct this week I recounted some recent OIA fun we’ve had with “the most open government in history”

But it looked like “We will be the most transparent government ever…unless it doesn’t suit us.

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.

Consensus government or an awful mess?

It’s certainly been a messy week for the Government. Is it a sign of a bigger, awful mess?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to paper over some of this weeks cracks by claiming it was consensus government in action, but there were worrying suggestions it was the opposite – both Labour and NZ First ministers look like they are pushing their own agendas with poor or non-existent communication between them.

There are worrying signs of a lack of overall leadership, and this is at a very tricky time, with Ardern distracted by having a baby and due to go on maternity leave as soon as her baby is born (actually as soon as she goes into Labour and goes into hospital).

The big unknown is whether things will spiral more out of control with Winston Peters in charge.

The media have observed this weeks mess and many have commented on it.

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Three ring circus with one ringmaster at the centre – buckle in for a wild ride

Consensus government in action, or a bloody awful mess?

It’s difficult to characterise the past week as anything but the latter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may be worried about whether she’ll have a Government to come back to when she returns from maternity leave.

Her MPs don’t exactly make it easy for her.

And if this week has illustrated anything it’s what lies at the beating heart of any coalition-related controversy – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has been at the centre of everything.

I don’t think he has. He had nothing to do with the David Clark revelations. And nothing to do with the Green uprising over granting water bottling rights.

And nothing to do with Stuart Nash telling a parliamentary committee he didn’t bother reading advice on what effect increasing poluice numbers might have, and would have ignored the advice if he had read it.

Peters  wasn’t directly involved in Kelvin Davis announcing a new prison that will rely on double bunking to cater for growing prisoner numbers – and Davis went as far as saying they could resort to mattresses on the floor. Peters didn’t directly cause that brain fart, but Labour are limited in becoming more lenient on imprisonment when they require NZ First votes to do any law changes.

But Peters dumped Little in a big mess over 3 strikes.

It began with a hastily-arranged press conference by Justice Minister Andrew Little, to reveal that his grand plan to repeal the three strikes legislation had been shot out of the sky.

He’d spent the previous week giving interviews about his plans to take it to Cabinet and push forward – the only issue was, he did not have the numbers to do so. More embarrassingly for Little, Peters decided to wait until the 11th hour to let him know.

Total humiliation  awaits any member of Cabinet who threatens to step outside the bounds of MMP and attempt a “first past the post”-style power play to get ahead of public opinion – that’s what Little got and really, he should have expected it.

That was in part self inflicted, but Peters played Little then dumped on him big time.

Never one to play second fiddle, Peters also took a starring role in a different drama. Days out from assuming the seat at the head of the Cabinet table was the moment he chose to file papers in the High Court, suing the Government and top officials over their handling of his private superannuation details.

Ardern’s assertions rang out more as pleas, that his actions were a totally private matter. Presiding over a Cabinet that may be liable for an eventual payout to Peters is awkward at best, and a clear conflict at worst – a matter that is most certainly in the public interest.

Peters’ court action looks debatable, but he has made Ardern look weak – or more accurately, Ardern has made herself look weak, just as she is about to hand over most of her power to Peters.

Meanwhile, as sources across multiple polls have suggested NZ First has well and truly settled below the 5 per cent MMP threshold, Shane Jones has pulled out the megaphone to tear strips off Fonterra. A total overstep many might say, of a Minister of the Crown. However, Ardern is adamant these comments were made in a private capacity, despite Jones as good as repeating them in the House.

This again makes Ardern look weak if not impotent in her own Government.

And she is now sidelined, leaving Peters and Jones to take on board this week’s signals and likely do as they please to raise their profile, putting the government at risk.

And Labour’s ministers look increasingly arrogant, uncoordinated and messy.

The Government looks like a bunch of headless chooks, with the fox about to take over the hen house.

 

Ambitious tree planting policy lacking labour

The Government’s ambitious house building plans will be difficult to achieve unless sufficient trade labour is available, and there are insufficient numbers of experienced people available already.

The same problem faces another ambitious project – planting a billion trees.

Stuff: Labour shortage could create ‘significant issue’ for Govt’s 1 billion tree target

A shortage of labour and land could result in growing pains for the Government’s ambitious 1 billion trees programme.

Shortly after the Government was formed last year, it set itself the lofty goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2027 as a way to grow the regions, create jobs, offset carbon emissions, enhance biodiversity and reinvigorate New Zealand’s forestry industry.

The recent Budget allocated $258 million to the programme, and Forestry Minister Shane Jones said planting rates would increase from 55 million trees a year to 70 million in 2020, and 90 million in 2021.

“From there we will be aiming for 110 million a year over the next seven years of the programme,” Jones said.

However, finding people to plant trees let alone maintain and harvest them could prove difficult, he said.

​”We’ve got a challenge – we can’t find enough workers as it is.”

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes…

…said the 1 billion trees programme was “challenging but doable”.

A lack of labour would be the main thing holding the programme back, he said.

“It’s clear that there’s a significant issue out there and we are going to struggle to find the numbers. That’s going to have to be addressed or we’re going to have a problem.”

Unemployed people would need to be trained and migrant labour would be needed, most likely from the Pacific Islands, who had traditionally filled forestry roles, Rhodes said.

Horticulture already has a lot of trouble getting sufficient labour to pick things like grape and fruit, and to harvest vegetables. One problem is it is seasonal work, but another problem is that these jobs are often in more rural areas where there is little labour available and urban unemployed are unwilling to move to.

Forestry has a bigger potential problem, as most of that work wil be even more remote from civilisation and labour.

Self acclaimed orator “part jester, part genius”

No one seems to rate Shane Jones’ oratory skills more than Jones he calls himself “part jester, part genius”. I’ve never warmed to his style but the media give him plenty of attention.

NZH: Parliament’s orator Shane Jones: ‘I wanted to be like Cicero … then I realised he was executed’

He’s known for his florid language and is dubbed in some circles as the Cryptic Crossword, but New Zealand First MP Shane Jones is proud of his mastery of the English language, and a linguistics expert says he should be.

“When I was at St Stephen’s I won the prize for not only Maori oratory but I got the first prize for several years for English. When I finished St Stephen’s School in 1977 I won the Maori and Polynesian scholarship to help me at Auckland University in 1978. My pakeha nana bought me a massive dictionary and she said to me ‘now you’re at university, start ploughing that’. It was a dictionary with synonyms.”

But Jones really got serious about language when he met former Labour prime minister David Lange, a politician famed for his oration skills and a master of wit.

“Lange told me a lot of his style of oratory was refined on the back of watching and learning from the Methodist preachers who preached on the side of the road in England amidst all sorts of distractions. But they knew how to hold a crowd,” Jones said.

I thought that Lange usually spoke very well, but Jones tries to be too clever.

Jones said the Speaker of the House would have intervened if he thought he wasn’t giving serious answers to parliamentary questions.

“I don’t think he would tolerate me using artful language to undermine my obligations as a minister in the House.

“You could say some of my answers are a bit like an epigram, a bit like a crossword puzzle. As long as I address the question I don’t need to fully answer the questions,” Jones said.

And as if to illustrate the point, in answer to a question on how seriously he took his position, Jones softly replied: “I am a child of the provinces, made of both earth and fire.”

Asked if he sometimes thought that his stringing together of a lot of multi-syllabic words resulted in a nonsensical sentence, Jones said “language was about everyday life . “Some of what we do in everyday life are bloopers”.

Jones on song (discordant to me) in Parliament on Thursday:

Question No. 12—Regional Economic Development

12. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by all of his statements in regards to the Provincial Growth Fund; if so, will he guarantee that none of the projects funded will have outcomes considered “fanciful”?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): To the first part of the question, yes; and in so far as the word “fanciful” is used, it’s been misapplied in a form that’s inversely related to my ministerial temperament.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does it comply with the Standing Orders to answer in riddles?

Mr SPEAKER: And it’s part of the responsibility of the Opposition to solve them.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: When he said last week, “I realise that we have the Westminster system. After the next election, if I don’t get what I want, we’re going to have the Axminister system.”, who specifically was he threatening?

Hon SHANE JONES: In the life of the first citizen of the provinces, there is great hyperbole and theatrical language from time to time.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think threatening officials is a laughing matter?

Hon SHANE JONES: Both officials and members of the House are aware of how seriously I take my role as New Zealand’s first citizen of the provinces. So, from time to time, the member is reading far too much into the language of a colourful, hard-working, rhetorical advocate.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the Minister think that the Cabinet Manual, specifically paragraph 3.22(f), which says, “Ministers should exercise a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with officials. Ministers must respect the political neutrality of the public service …”, applies to him?

Hon SHANE JONES: In deference to the Cabinet Manual, I can assure you, unlike other parts of my life, I express and practise great fidelity.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: When he said, in relation to the Wairoa mayor, “I felt pretty stink that I, as the provincial champion, couldn’t even deliver for him.”, how much did he think the responsibility for the lack of delivery lay with him?

Hon SHANE JONES: When I met with the Mayor of Wairoa, he described me as the first Minister since the days of Helen Clark to have ever shown that quality of affection and attention to Wairoa.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he aware that there is a fine line between being a bit of a character and being a joke, and which side of the line is he?

Hon SHANE JONES: I could not describe it better than the New Zealand Herald, who have described me as part jester, part genius, and in 2020 they’ll see the latter and not the former.

That sounds like taking the piss of Parliament.

 

Shane Jones wants to shit kick through bureaucratic brick walls

Shane Jones is promoting more power for politicians over public servants, and has claimed it takes too long to have funding allocated to projects. This is a bit scary given the amount of money he has to hand out to the regions, but it is on his personal wish list and he didn’t speak on behalf of the Government.

Stuff: NZ First’s Shane Jones wants ministers to have more power over public sector

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones, says he would like to “soften that line” between governance and the bureaucracy, including allowing ministers to appoint top officials.

In an interview on the provincial growth fund Jones, the Regional Development Minister railed against a bureaucratic system he characterised as a “treacle-riddled”, slowing down process around funding economic projects, without evidence of improved efficiency.

This is scary given Jones’ short record to date in proposing funds for shaky projects and then claiming he forgot about getting advice pointing out serious shortcomings.  See Shane Jones ‘genuinely forgot’, Sage ‘memory let her down’.

“I’m looking forward to fighting an election to change the way that politicians relate to the bureaucracy,” Jones said.

“I know we have this separation of governance and the bureaucracy, but I’m really attracted to the idea where the Aussies have softened that line, and key ministers bring in their s…-kickers to get things done. That’s always been my preference.”

I’m sure a number of ministers would like to shit kick their policies through bureaucratic brick walls, but there are good reasons to have some checks on impatient and extravagant politicians.

Jones said his comments were not Government policy and were “not consistent with the State Services Act” but were ones he would like to campaign on in the future.

Campaigning on bureaucrat bashing may win some votes from the plebs, but it should meet resistance from Parliamentary voters.

Among other things the State Sector Act gives the State Services Commissioner the power over chief executive appointments, without influence from the Beehive, at least in theory.

Unlike many other countries, public servants are required to act in a politically neutral way.

The Public Services Association warned in December that the influence of ministerial advisors, Beehive staff which are appointed to serve the interests of their minister, are undermining this neutrality.

This aim at public service neutrality may be flawed but it is very important in New Zealand. Giving more power to ministers, unfettered by public servants, would be a big risk as we don’t have checks and balances that other countries have – no Lords and no Senate to oversee Parliament.

A much more powerful Jones in charge is something we should be very wary of.

Jones followed up the interview on Facebook:

“Surely I’m not the only one who would like to see less bureaucracy in this country? Meeting high governance and probity standards should not come at the expense of efficiency and pace in my books”.

He wants to have the power to push through what he wants at the expense of probity standards?

That should be a worry with any Minister. Especially so of Jones given his record to date.

Allowing Ministers to shit kick through the bureaucracy would be a very risky removal of one of the few means of checks and balances we have.