Friday, February 27, 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. 

Wednesday, February 25, 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. 

Friday, February 20, 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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

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!

Wednesday, February 11, 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 ;-)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Five Eyes Coalition, a Fossil Fueled Monster?

I currently have a mental image of the eye of Sauron every time I hear mention of the Five Eyes alliance. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States combine to make a powerful front for the fossil fuel industry and I can see the vast desolate landscape of the Alberta tar sands or the massive Australian coal mines providing an equivalent of a Modor landscape. The Five Eyes nations also appear to behave rather 'orcishly', both domestically and globally.

The Five Eyes' nations make a pronounced impact on our world. Per capita the five countries are amongst the highest consumers of fossil fuel and largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions:
The Five Eyes countries also have a history of illegal military interventions and supporting unwarranted torture. To provide a legitimacy that the United Nations wouldn't provide, the US used a 'coalition of the willing' to support an invasion of Iraq based on a claimed (but nonexistent) threat of weapons of mass destruction. The war involved a huge loss of human life, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to over a million (most were civilians). Although New Zealand was not officially part of the coalition of the willing, in Other People's Wars Nicky Hager revealed a level of military co-operation with the coalition that was significantly greater than was officially claimed. 

The Iraq war may have come at a huge human cost but many companies based in the coalition countries found the war hugely profitable. Dick Cheney's Halliburton, sucked out $17.5 billion in revenue from its involvement. The US, as the dominant Five Eyes partner, used the 'war on terror' to justify torture and human rights abuses. Even though at least 25% of those tortured by the US turned out to be innocent Dick Cheney claims it was acceptable "as long as we achieve our objective". 

The Five Eyes coalition is also supporting the US drone attacks being carried out in Pakistan and Yemen. So far around 3,500 people have been killed with drones (208 children), many identified through the Five Eyes spy systems. John Key was comfortable with a New Zealander being killed by a drone without being formally found guilty of committing a crime under international law. 

With the most recent focus on the supposed terrorist threat of the Islamic State the Five Eyes coalition is already looking at another joint military operation. As with the previous Iraq war the lack of a shared plan or strategy to limit human suffering is apparent.  

Most of the Five Eyes countries have amongst the highest levels of inequality in the OECD, with New Zealand having the fastest growing. The deterioration of democracy in all five countries has also been identified with heavy-handed action taken against whistle blowers, human rights activists and investigative journalists
  • Australia has caused major concerns because of its poor treatment of refugees, its aborigines and its reluctance to question abuses in countries it trades with.
  • Canada has a concerning record for its treatment of indigenous peoples especially in relation to extractive industries and the limiting of civil society organisations to lobby the government on human rights abuses.
  • Despite its constitution, those in the US who are poor or black tend to suffer more within its domestic economy and legal system. The US has particularly harsh penalties for minor offenses and it imprisons more people per capita than any other country, even children (around 250,000 children a year are sentenced or imprisoned as adults). The shooting of unarmed blacks by police has caused widespread protests. The privatisation of education and health in the US has resulted in a culture where quality of service is dependent on your income
  • In the  United Kingdom senior Ministers within the Conservative Government are attacking their Human Rights Act and the Government is talking about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK has also cut services for women, particularly older women and those with disabilities. Refugees and travelers in the UK suffer housing discrimination and Prime Minister Cameron has threatened newspapers that have expressed concerns regarding mass surveillance. 
  • New Zealand had 155 recommendations from the UN to improve its human rights' record, from ratifying numerous agreements that provide protections to vulnerable groups to properly addressing issues around growing inequality, child poverty and the welfare of their indigenous people. Leading academics are voicing public concerns about the erosion of democracy.
The Five Eyes are not just spying on those who could be real national security threats or potential terrorists, whistle blower Edward Snowden has revealed that mass surveillance, through the many different data collection systems, is a reality. Even world leaders of other OECD countries are not immune as Germany's Angela Merkel discovered

It is interesting that Islamic State terrorism is put at a level of risk that is well beyond the reality for the citizens of the Five Eyes countries. All have much greater problems with poverty, domestic violence, obesity and alcohol abuse than any terrorist threat. Yet the New Zealand government will be working with their spy partners in looking at infiltrating social media to deal with radical activity. John Key has suggest there are 40 people in New Zealand that have been identified as being influenced by Islamic radicalism, but it is debatable whether increasing spy activity and funding to address the supposed threat would be worth the effort. Given our 'low risk' terrorism assessment, there is a good case for spending the money on social housing instead. In the past our security agencies and police were also prepared to use a terrorism act to deal to environmental and indigenous activists. The definition of radicalism and terrorism is not that clear in legislation, which allows for governments and surveillance agencies to widen their interpretations.

When Finlayson claims that the Five Eyes' partners will be "working together to deal with terrorist groups' use of social media and also sharing ways of identifying and handling people who become radicalised" one wonders if they also intend to deal to those 'radicals' who are attempting to limit the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and other large commercial interests. 

While national security and the threat of terrorism are most usually used to justify the Five Eyes spy activities there is clear evidence that commercial interests are also being supported through spying activity. While digital espionage is a concern there is an aggressive element to spy activity that goes beyond ethical and sovereign boundaries. The New Zealand spy agencies and police ignored the rights of a New Zealand resident to support the commercial interests of a Five Eyes partner. 

The Five Eyes spy alliance is clearly providing useful tools to access and control information to support the international and domestic power of the governments involved. There are real questions about the justification and oversight of those powers and the real influence of spy agencies, especially the NSA.

It appears that the Five Eyes are an integral part of some of the largest polluting countries in the world, with significant military might, that regularly ignore UN conventions and human rights. New Zealand is either being used as a pawn by the larger powers within the alliance, or is a willing and active partner (whose government is deliberately hiding the extent of its involvement). One could also question whose interests we will really be representing on the UN Security Council. We may very well be a vital organ within this fossil fueled monster that has very little interest in seriously addressing climate change or human rights.

Are we really batting for the right side or should we stand up, as we have in the past with our nuclear free stance, and be counted for responding to our moral compass (or what's left of it)?!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Waitangi Reveals Key Still a Hollow Man

Key welcomed the Maori Party as a coalition partner and in exchange for its support over the past six years, inequality has increased and Maori unemployment is up 4.6 % to 15.6% since 2006. Maori still dominate our crime and prison statistics and the relationship has largely seen the demise of the Maori Party, which now has only two MPs.

Key and the National Party have cleverly kept the support of the Maori Party by stringing it along with a series of cheap baubles. Symbolism is important to Maori but means little to Key, as long as the real power remains with him and his Party. Being able to fly the Rangatiratanga Flag from the Auckland Harbour bridge appeared to be a substantial gesture by Key but he knew it cost little and bought grateful support.

When the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 143 member states supported it. At the time there were only four opposing votes and these came from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Key Government, signed it retrospectively. While this was a huge thing for Maori, Key quickly explained in Parliament that the declaration was just "symbolic in nature" as "New Zealand laws took precedence". As far as he was concerned nothing was really going to change.

While the National led Government did revisit the Seabed and Foreshore legislation that was shockingly passed by Labour in 2004 (and caused Turiana Turia to leave and form the Maori Party), the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 still blocked Maori from the legal rights they were hoping for. Many Maori felt the same as Metiria Turei:

"It is a repeal and replace with effectively the same bill that Labour put up, mixed with the Ngati Porou negotiations that occured a few years later."

"...the Maori Party and National members decided that not one change would be made to the bill. What that means is that for every single Maori person, every single whanau, hapu and iwi who came to that select committee, not a single word they said made any difference...because the Maori Party and National denied them the right to have any changes made in this legislation. That is exactly what Labour did in 2004."

Key rarely recognises Maori culture or uses te reo in his public appearances and it was particularly noticeable when he spoke at the opening of the Rugby World Cup.

Whanau Ora is supposed to be the Maori Party's crowning achievement through their coalition with National, according to Turia (who was made a Dame in 2014). This scheme didn't even meet the radar of Jamie Whyte, the leader of National's other important coalition partner and has struggled to get off the ground with limited funding and poor oversight. The fact that a disproportionate amount of the funding went to Turia's electorate also raises flags.

John Key and his Education Ministers have continuously claimed that they want to lift the so called 'tail of under-achievemen' in our education system and have identified Maori and Pasifika children as overly represented in this tail. They have called them 'priority learners' and the teaching profession has been blamed for failing these children. Much pressure has been placed onto schools to specifically lift the achievement of Maori, but with little extra funding or professional support. Programmes with proven success at lifting achievement have been cut, the majority of special needs support has been funneled to elite private schools, bilingual units and full emersion schools are struggling financially and even the flagship Charter Schools have failed Maori.

With the slow demise of the Maori Party, and the shift in Maori support to Labour and the Greens, it seems that National has given up any pretense of chasing Maori votes. It was especially apparent when Key made the startling claim that New Zealand was settled peacefully and that Maori would have appreciated the influx of capital.

The most pressing issue mentioned by Key at Waitangi this year wasn't anything about improving the relationship between Maori and the Crown, or lifting the socio-economic status of Maori, but about his passion for establishing a new flag (and whether it should feature a silver fern). He used his main speech to promote the sending of troops to Iraq to support the fight against the Islamic State. It is ironic that while Maori make up around 14% of New Zealand's population they make up 22% of our army personnel. A disproportionate number of Maori lives will be at risk through any military involvement.

John Key has generally been careful to distance himself from the blatant anti-Maori rhetoric used by his predecessor in his infamous Orewa speech, but his actions say otherwise. Key pretends to support the interests of tangata whenua, but in reality his words are hollow, he is still a Hollow Man.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is Key really driving with his hands off the wheel?

John Key's management style has always appeared to be relaxed and laid back, but this is clearly a cultivated image heavily supported by his huge team of spin doctors. The budget for the Prime Ministers Office has increased dramatically over the last six years.

Key operates like a swan, he glides over troubled political waters and constant scandals, while under the water his feet and his team of advisors are franticly using all available to them to maintain the image and momentum. I am sure Jason Ede has been replaced by someone else responsible for black ops and I wouldn't be surprised if he continued his work for longer than claimed.

Three strategies seem to be commonly used. The most important tactic is keeping the Prime Minister well removed from any poorly performing Minister and MP or any scandal. The second tactic is shifting the blame and responsibility elsewhere, including his own staff. The third is diversion, and it will be interesting to see when the flag discussion is brought up again or a drummed up accusation against Andrew Little.

The Mike Sabin affair has obviously had all the above applied.

Key has again made sure there is no direct connection between himself and Sabin, and this stretches credibility. One would have thought that the Prime Minister would have had closer contact with any MP he was thinking of making a Minister and would want to be reassured of their competency and stability.

I also struggle to believe that Sabin wouldn't have made sure that the Prime Minister, or his office, was made aware of any personal problem that may impact on the party or his future performance. Most parties would have this expectation drummed into their candidates fairly strongly (a no surprises clause) so that any future risks can be determined and managed if necessary. The NBR has claimed that Key actually was informed of a problem in April 2014.

Even Labour advised the Prime Minister's Office of concerns about Sabin in November while Key insists he had no knowledge until December. This could allow Key to use the defense that his office failed to inform him before. It won't be the first time his substantial office has apparently failed in its responsibilities and it is appalling how much is supposedly withheld from the Prime Minister and how many major decisions are therefore being made by staff without ministerial oversight.

It is my guess that a decision was made to allow Sabin to stand in the hope that nothing substantial got into the public arena until at least after the election. Having a high profile MP withdraw his candidacy before the election (the only ethical option) would have brought attention to his problems and a negative focus on the party, especially when the election result was far from certain. The cost of a later by-election and negative press would be considered a minor issue once the Party was returned to the government benches.

It would make sense to maintain an illusion of business as usual as long as possible and Sabin's appointment as chair of the Law and Order select committee and Key's refusal to engage in questions related to the assault investigation was clearly part of the plan. Obviously once the appointment was made it would be even more important to distance the PM from any deeper knowledge of Sabin's situation as that would make the appointment totally inappropriate. Interestingly Cameron Slater contradicts the PMs claim that Sabin was an effective and respected MP and worthy of the support he was receiving.

The sudden resignation 'for personal reasons', before Parliament sat again, was unlikely to be Sabin's decision alone. It also conveniently occurred an hour after Russel Norman announced his resignation as leader of the Green Party, the timing couldn't be better and it would be hard to find a more useful distraction.

I guess some may say that this is all just a conspiracy theory and that John Key has been honest in his representation of events and is totally innocent of any implication that he knew more than he claims. In many ways the PMs version is more worrying as it means we have a Prime Minister who has had a number of Ministers and MPs behaving inappropriately and yet he has often claimed ignorance at what was revealed (he even refused to read John Banks' police report). His Ministers and MPs do not inform him of important issues and his office is making decisions in his absence that should have Ministerial oversight.

Either we have a very dishonest Prime Minister who deliberately uses his public office to unethically control the opposition, micro-manage events and regularly lies to the New Zealand public. Or we have a Prime Minister who has his hands off the wheel of Government and is genuinely ignorant of much that occurs around him. Both scenarios are equally scary.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sorting Out the Greens

Russel's resignation has got the relatives out in force with helpful advice and interesting predictions.

Aunty Fran is very concerned that since Russel saved the Green Party by shifting it closer to the economic centre that Turei will stuff it up with her crazy talk about peace and freedom. Serious politics is about finance and building bridges with the larger parties and apparently Turei is too oppositional to be in opposition. According to Aunty Fran, talking about Key's appalling understanding of Maori issues should never have been brought up in a political Maori setting and was just "deeply gratuitous point-scoring." The Green Party would be better off with someone like Julie Anne Genter who says good things about transport and lives in Auckland (which is the only place that really counts apparently).

Uncle Chris also pitched in with his learned advice. According to him Russel was the champion of the left and was continually fighting against the moderates within the party who wanted to drag it to the centre. Turei fronts the moderates and they made sure that the "overtly left wing" Sue Bradford was pushed aside. As a wise old lefty, Uncle Chris has sadly observed that the Greens are slowly losing the their far left credentials and if Shaw and Genter ever became leaders, "the Greens will belong to whoever offers them the best deal". Russel's resignation signified the dominance the moderate faction in the Green Party and we have lost the only politician who could demonstrate to Labour what being truly left meant.

Uncle John predicts that losing Norman will be a "crushing blow" for a recovering Green Party and that we have lost a "Mighty Eucalyptus".

Cousin Martyn predicts that the "inner conclave"of the Green Party will decide that Hague will leader "with Met leaving in 18 months for Genter".

Cousin Bryce obviously thinks that some guidance counseling was needed because of "how much the Norman-Turei relationship had deteriorated" (according to rumours).

Cousin Cameron had no advice but celebrated the slow death of the "Green Taliban". Apparently "the Ginger Whinger" has been toppled by some superb "low Bastardry" by Kevin Hague, who has been plotting his "bloodless coup" for some time. Norman achieved nothing as leader and the Greens will remain "batshit crazy" under Turei and shed a lot of support.

I will be very interested in what Aunty Jane has to say, as she rarely keeps in touch and generally forgets our birthdays.

What is consistent about all this varied advice is its inconsistency and general ignorance. There is little appreciation of our internal processes, policy development, the values that drive us and the respectful way we manage our differences.

The Green Party will do what it always does, focus on the real issues (peace and freedom are definitely up there too) and choose the best candidate for the job using a process that has no 'inner conclave' dominating or warring factions. This has served us well when we voted in Rod and Jeanette and then Russel and Metiria (and all our other leaders within our party structures).

Thanks for the advice, but no thanks, we will manage perfectly well on our own without outside interference as we have done so for the past 25 years.