Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Do Not Trust You, Mr Key!

I do not trust you, John Key

I do not trust your Ministers and your Government to make decisions in the best interests of all New Zealanders.

I do not trust your secretly negotiated deals with SkyCity or with the TPPA.

I do not trust your ability to stand up for us and our Pacific neighbours to stop mass surveillance through the Five Eyes.

I do not trust your moral compass when you use the power of your office to squash opposition and manipulate important debates.

I do not trust your reasons for sending our people into a war zone.

I do not trust your choice of clubs that you have sworn loyalty to.

I do not trust your advisors above the scientists and professionals that you ignore.

I do not trust your hands off approach to leadership where nothing appears to be your responsibility.

I do not trust your empty promises to the Pike River families, the homeless and our children living in poverty.

I do not trust you, Mr Key!

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Luddite Led National Government

The development of new knowledge and technology is growing at a faster rate than ever before and successful businesses generally have to remain at the cutting edge of their industries to survive. We are now operating in a global, interconnected economy where new products are becoming available almost faster than consumers can track.

New Zealand invests around half as much into research and development than most OECD countries. Despite minimal backing Kiwi innovation still bubbles out of our inventive minds and attains global significance. Sumsung's latest Galaxy S6 smartphone has been made compatible to a wireless charger developed by the New Zealand Company Powerbyproxi and the revolutionary rocket technology developed by Rocket Lab is being backed by US aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin. With the increasing availability of 3D printing, product design and the place of manufacture will become more separated. Having the technology to manufacture something is worthless unless it has a useful product to produce, therefore the greater value is now in ideas and intellectual property. There is huge potential in earning income from innovative designs.

One would think when our country is leading the development of such cutting edge technology and new products, that our Government would be enthusiastic in protecting and enhancing them in our national interest, but it doesn't appear to be so.

If you look at where this Government is devoting the majority of its attention and funding, its conservative thinking appears to dominate. Future thinking is hard for our National Ministers, they appear to find comfort in what has worked in the past and would rather follow than lead. Fossil fuel and coal dominated past economic revolutions and contributed to the wealth of Australia and the US. Gerry Brownlee has promoted coal as sexy and Simon Bridges is devoting much of his energy to opening our conservation estate and territorial waters to mining and oil companies. Our largest investment in infrastructure is $12 billion into building new roads rather than putting the same energy into a second internet cable.

Sadly jumping into industries that have had their heyday is never a good idea. Money has been lost from encouraging Solid Energy's expansion of coal mining and the exploitation of Southland's lignite. The company sold off it's promising biofuel arm and was caught by the crash in coal prices (even China is investing in cleaner alternatives).

The Government is also wanting to expand our agricultural production beyond what is sustainable as its focus is on the raw commodities we are producing now rather than looking at the potential of adding value. This is just more evidence of conservative thinking when quantity is promoted above quality and innovation.

John Key and his caucus colleagues are so imbedded in the present and their close relationships with established industries that they are blind to what is possible in new technology and scientific developments. Ideology rather than evidence dominates their decisions which is why they see a conference centre in Auckland has more value (when the evidence shows otherwise) than supporting the local film industry that contributes to $3 billion in export revenue. The Green party identified the potential in designing computer games and game apps when revenue from these industries doubled to $80 million last year.

Around the country communities, regional authorities and businesses have often given up on expecting Government recognition for their future thinking and innovation. We are missing out on so much potential it is almost criminal. Invercargill's rocket tracking station has been operating under the Government's radar for some time and yet the satellite images available through its international partnerships could revolutionise farming and more effectively monitor our territorial waters from illegal fishing.

This Government's luddite thinking will cause our economy to whither with the fossil fueled industries and commodities it is predominantly tied to. When innovative design and intellectual property is attaining value greater than raw commodities I am fearful of what we may give away in this regard with the TPPA. We desperately need a future focused Government rather than the 'back to the future' one we currently have.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

John Key Disingenuous Over MP Salaries

John Key relies on short memories as he expresses concern about the level of the increase to MP salaries.  Most people are unaware that in 2012 he pushed through legislation to lock in special annuities for former Prime Ministers and their spouses and included travel allowances. These annuities and travel allowances amounted to $1.2 million between 2009 and 2012 and he and his wife will enjoy considerable financial benefit from the legislation when he ceases to be Prime Minister.

The annuities were recommended over 50 years ago when there were fewer employment opportunities for former Prime Ministers, and their spouses were less likely to have independent incomes. Spouses are entitled to half the annuity on the death of their husband/wife and all receiving the entitlement have enjoyed annual increases of around 4.5% (well above inflation). There seemed to be no good argument to continue with the payments and allowances especially when all surviving former Prime Ministers were still earning substantial incomes. When David Lange became a backbench MP he suggested suspending the payment of the annuity while he was still receiving an income from the public purse.

Former National Prime Minister, Dame Jenny Shipley, has done particularly well from the arrangement. She already has a substantial personal income from her own business interests, her past directorship of Mainzeal (she resigned two months before it went into receivership), being on the board of the China Construction Bank and her chairing of the board of Genesis Energy Ltd. Gerry Brownlee was also very generous in appointing Shipley to an earthquake review panel and then pushing for $1000 a day payments ($550 dollars above the previous $450 maximum). The annuity had given Dame Jenny an extra income of $55,412 between 2009-12 and she had benefited from $55,518 worth of travel (a total of almost $111,000).

It does appear that manipulating the system for personal gain (and for that of their mates) is what National do well. Most people have now forgotten Bill English's accommodation allowance fiddle that saw him reluctantly pay pack $32,000 for claiming an allowance for living in his own $1.2 million home. As is usual with National Ministers the morality of claiming such allowances, when so many New Zealanders are struggling, does not figure in their thinking. If "it's pretty legal" it's obviously alright (in Steven Joyce's words).

John Key loves to shift the responsibility of any controversial decision away from himself and his caucus. He was able produce a letter suggesting to the Remuneration Authority that he felt a nil increase, rather than the 5.4% increase, for MPs was more acceptable. Key explained how MPs and himself were powerless to change the decision or how the Authority carries out its duties. This seems odd considering the power that Governments have to revisit legislation and the number of times urgency has been used to rapidly make changes. While there seems to be nothing that can be done about the MPs recent windfall the Government went to extraordinary lengths to block the legal rights of family caregivers to seek financial support.

It is a pity that short memories do not allow most people to spot the crocodile tears glistening on the Prime Minister's cheeks.

Postscript: Key will get a $24,000 increase to his salary while in Invercargill the median annual income from all sources is $27,400. While few workers now get backpay when new agreements get negotiated, both Mike Sabin and former National MP Claudette Hauiti will enjoy receiving a few extra thousand dollars shortly. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

National's Safe Hands

Now that voters have elected National for a third term, we have three more years of a Government that has minimal constraints. According to Dame Anne Salmond democracy does not figure in the way that this National Government operates, the less of it the better. Public opinion can sway decisions a little but, despite losing the referendum, our state assets were still sold and the party was re-elected with an increased majority.

A good number of New Zealanders have just accepted that the truth often gets blurred under John Key and there are many times when worrying conflicts of interest emerge and suspect deals revealed...but isn't that just politics? After six years a new normal has largely been imbedded. The masters of data manipulation and spin have successfully limited independent reviews of performance, the state of our environment and we are still waiting for the true extent of child poverty to be properly measured. While the StatisticsNZ had their funding cut, the budget for the Prime Minister's Office gets huge increases. Past Prime Ministers had one press secretary and yet a journalist recently told me that John Key has around five and a much larger team behind them. The PMs Office has become an entity in its own right that apparently operates independently from the man who is supposed to be in charge.

I understand that 2014 voters were not given much of a choice, National did have Hager's Dirty Politics hanging over them but then the Left had Kim Dotcom. Labour kept changing leaders so often that naming the current one became a popular pub quiz question... and did Labour really want to work with the Greens? National ran a smart and well resourced campaign and were more active on the ground than they had been for years. Labour struggled to raise campaign funds and for the first time the Green Party outspent them. The economy appeared to be on the up and Bill English seemed to be a steady hand on the Government's purse strings. National did seem to be the best of a flawed bunch. Unfortunately much of their image was an illusion.

The economy appeared strong because of a poorly managed property boom, the Christchurch rebuild and demand for our milk and trees. However, housing bubbles eventually burst, Christchurch will get rebuilt in the near future (hardly a sustainable situation) and raw commodity prices fluctuate.

National's safe hands do not bear close scrutiny and once examined they begin to look more than a little slippery. The ball has been dropped on numerous occasions.
This failing Government is claiming that they can be trusted to negotiate a good deal from the TPPA (despite the mess they have made of the SkyCity deal) and the decision to send troops to the Middle East is a sound one. Trust has to be earned and there is little evidence to inspire confidence in the current regime. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Greens and Labour

The recent public spat between Labour and the Greens may appear concerning, or relatively minor, but it is actually about the value of a properly functioning MMP system and the importance of establishing political identities within it.

New Zealand has a relatively small population and because of that our politicians are not as distant from the people they represent compared to most other countries. The majority of our MPs are very accessible and you can often contact them directly without having to go through staff. Within parliament MPs from opposing parties often get on well at a personal level and during the election campaign in Invercargill all the candidates worked together to organise a roadshow around secondary schools.

As a Green candidate for Invercargill I have had a good working relationship with the local Labour candidate and many Labour members are close friends as we often move in the same social and work circles. We have combined forces in a number of campaigns and local protest marches and share many social and environmental concerns. When I was part of an NZEI Novopay protest outside Eric Roy's office (past National MP for Invercargill) early one morning he opened his office and provided coffee and pikelets while we debated the issues.

Despite this level of personal interaction across the political spectrum, politics still involves competition, opposition and robust debate as parties jostle to capture media time and to promote their policies and points of difference. It is not a game for the faint hearted and a thick skin is a necessary requirement for anyone considering a career in the political arena. Governing the country is a serious business and sound democratic systems are an important part of ensuring wise decisions and strong oversight.

As the Greens are the third largest party represented in parliament, it is unlikely we will win enough votes to govern alone and also unlikely under MMP. If we wish to be in Government we need to be able to form a coalition with others. The Green Party has a process where the members are consulted and have direct input in forming our political positioning each election. This determines our public stance on who we are more likely to work with and this is based on which party our members believe we have more in common with in terms of policies and values.

For the last two elections we have indicated clearly that we are most likely to form a coalition with Labour rather than National. Although we have had a memorandum of understanding with the National Government to progress some of our policies, too much of what National wants to do is the diametric opposite of what we could support.

While the Green Party has more in common with Labour than National there are still many points of difference between us, especially around environmental protection. One of the important aspects of MMP is that there is more diverse representation in parliament and this is important if we want legislation and governance to meet the needs of most New Zealanders. Voters also need to be reassured that any future coalition will still operate constructively and any differences can be managed through good, democratic process.

Despite his strong beginning as the new leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little has recently dropped the ball and mismanaged his relationship with the Green Party. There is an acceptable line between promoting the interests of ones own party and maintaining a working relationship with future coalition partners and Little clearly overstepped the mark. In not consulting with the Greens regarding his decision to cut them out of the Intelligence and Security Committee it displayed a worrying level of arrogance, an ignorance of MMP protocols and a lack of good faith (as a past union leader this last point is a real concern).

Of all the parties in Parliament, the Greens have been the most vocal in questioning the powers of our spy agencies and demanding stronger oversight. Despite Shearer's background, Russel Norman still has more experience as a past member of the committee and the implication that Metiria Turei would be a political lightweight in the role (despite being a Lawyer, an MP for over 12 years and a party leader for 6) indicated a level of misogyny.

The Green Party was correct to publicly point out Little's error and to use a legal challenge. While sharing the opposition benches the Greens have no coalition arrangement with Labour and are an independent party. To roll over on this issue would be a weak acceptance of the obvious 'old boy' networks that dominate our spying operations and maintaining the illusion of the old two party system. For MMP to work properly, and if we are to have any robust questioning and scrutiny of our spying activities, then we need a Green presence on the Intelligence and Security Committee.

I do hope the next Government is a strong coalition of the Green and Labour Parties, but if this is to occur then the Labour leadership needs to make some major changes in how it relates to the other parties who share the opposition benches. The Greens may be the smaller party but it's leadership has a combined experience of 15 years to Little's 6 months and his inexperience has been exposed.

The TPPA and the Recolonisation of Aotearoa

The first peoples of any country will forever remain distinct from those that follow as they will be the only people who will be shaped by the unique environment that they had to adapt to. When Maori settled here around 800 years ago they had to survive in a country quite different from the islands they had migrated from. Maori technology and culture developed from having to learn how to sustainably prosper using the resources available and with many harsh lessons and fatal mistakes along the way. There will be no other people who will experience Aotearoa in its original state or be shaped in the same way through living on this land.

When the Prime Minister suggested that Maori would be grateful for the technology and capital brought through colonisation he did not recognise how reliant those first European settlers were on the local knowledge and skills of the first people. For decades Maori provided the newcomers with food from their extensive gardens, taught them how to use the natural resources and guided them around the country they knew so well.

Maori recognised that there were potential benefits from trading with Europeans and adopting new technologies and encouraged some to settle on their land. The numbers of settlers arriving in New Zealand grew faster than expected and it was clear that there were issues around governance. While it was Maori land that the new people were living on they did not always recognise Maori laws (or tapu) and lawless behaviour was common. James Boultbee recorded his travels around the south coast of the South Island in the 1820s and stated that he preferred the company of local Maori than the Europeans living there:

"The two white men that were living at Ruabuka (Ruapuke Island) were people of that unprincipled character that I preferred going entirely amongst the natives."

At the time of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi Maori had a huge dilemma. They had learned much of they they wanted from Europeans, but wanted to have some control over settler numbers and behaviour. More Maori were literate in New Zealand than Europeans (most between the ages of 10 and 30 could read and write), they owned many flour mills and ships and were economically successful.

During the discussions at Waitangi on February 5 1840 a range of views were expressed and debated. Te Kamara of Ngati Kawa did not trust the settlers, he had already lost his land and was only left with his name. If he was to be treated as an equal he would sign the treaty but did not believe that would be the case. Wai of Ngaitawake wanted to ensure that any future trade would be conducted fairly and pleaded for a stop to, "...the cheating, the lying, the stealing of the whites". Tamati Waka Nene of Ngapuhi thought it was too late to send the settlers away and wanted Hobson to remain as a judge and peacemaker.

History has shown that many of the fears expressed by Maori in 1840 did actually result. All the economic benefits that they first enjoyed through the initial relationship with the settlers were eroded away. They lost their ships, their flour mills and their land and did generally become slaves to the colonising economy. Maori then dominated the labouring workforce, they became the shearing gangs the freezing workers and the road and railway workers in the new economy. As jobs became scare it was Maori who suffered most as they had no land to go back to and it is Maori who have disproportionate numbers in our prisons and unemployment statistics. Treaty settlements cannot compensate for the generations of Maori who were forced into the margins of the economy and the loss of sovereignty over their lands and resources.

New Zealand is being recolonised, not by any one culture or country as before, but by outside investors and corporate interests who are tempting us with their modern day baubles and trinkets of capital and investment. As in 1840 it is at an early stage and the influx is still largely under the radar. To outside investors New Zealand represents green fields of economic potential and, as the second easiest country in the world to do business in, we are ripe for the picking. Our control over our resources and economy is slowly being eroded as more and more outside investors and companies move in and get footholds in our major industries; own more of our property; infiltrate our energy supply; and dominate our financial systems.

Like the Maori we see treaties or agreements as a way of protecting our interests but forget that such documents are generally used as tools by larger powers to enable colonisation. The TPPA will likely have two versions, the one we think we have signed (Te Tiriti) and the version that exists in the small print of legalese that can be exploited by well paid corporate lawyers. Once the TPPA is signed we will most likely find that we gave up more power than we expected. If we try to take control back, and stop any damaging exploitation of our resources, we will find that free trade agreements and international laws will over-ride our domestic legislation.

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process will likely be part of the TPPA and this will enable corporate interests to protect themselves from domestic law changes that impact on their profits. Over $675 million has already been paid out under US trade agreements alone and around 70% relate to challenges to governments' natural resource and environmental policies. Tobacco companies have used ISDS to challenge tobacco control policies enacted to implement obligations under the World Health Organisation Framework. OceanaGold (which also operates in New Zealand) is using ISDS to claim $300 million of potential lost earnings from impoverished El Salvador. The Australian owned company is claiming its right to a guaranteed profit trumps the provision of healthy water for the El Salvador people.

Under the TPPA it is quite possible that we will lose our ability to use Pharmac to keep prescription prices affordable. Our doctors and other health professionals have sent an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing their concern that we may lose the ability to improve our domestic legislation to meet our health needs. Leaked drafts of the TPPA show there has been substantial pressure applied to negotiators by drug companies.

The TPPA is being decided in secret and the Government is claiming we can trust them to negotiate a good deal. However the spectre of the SkyCity deal is hanging heavy over us at the moment and the failure of this Government to hammer out an economically sensible and socially responsible deal with a gaming company does not fill me with confidence when operating in an international forum against even stronger corporate interests. They also sold us short with their Warner Bros and Rio Tinto deals, their track record is poor.

In a few decades the first people of Aotearoa found themselves over-run and colonised, losing their right to self determination and governance of their land and resources. They became slaves to the new economy and any legal rights they may have had under Te Tiriti were were apparently replaced by new legislation. Economic growth and the protection of the new order was deemed more important than their wellbeing and their historical and spiritual connections to the land. In a decade or so the same may be true for current New Zealanders, our ability to determine how we live and how we use and protect our natural resources will be taken from us via free trade agreements. Corporates and wealthy investors will lead the recolonisation of our country...God Defend New Zealand!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SkyCity's Glorious Deal

SkyCity is a largely Australian owned gaming company that has just announced a $66 million profit, largely from gamblers, over the last 6 months. With this Government it has also scored a corporate jackpot and shows that under John Key's leadership all you need to do is ask and your wildest dreams can come true.

SkyCity: Could we have an exclusive deal for building the convention centre that shuts out other competitors?

John Key led Government: Yep

SkyCity: Could we do a backroom deal with no documented evidence of our negotiations?


SkyCity: Could we have a law change that will allow us to substantially expand our gambling capacity as part of that deal?


SkyCity: Would you give us a compensation clause that will protect our operations for the next 35 years?


SkyCity: Could you stop funding the most effective anti-gambling organisation?


SkyCity: Could you turn a blind eye to our lack of monitoring of problem gamblers?


SkyCity: Would you be able to give us some taxpayer owned land adjacent to the Casino for our hotel and conference centre?


SkyCity: Could you get the taxpayer to cover around 20% of the building costs of the convention centre (up to $130 million)?


SkyCity: That was easy :-)

JKLG: We haven't risen to the second easiest country in the world to do business in for nothing ;-)