Life and Politics

Occasional comment on politics and the media in New Zealand

Economic Benifit of the RWC…?

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Remember when the British and Irish Lion’s came to town? They closed Courtney Place, and we all had a party? It was awesome, and I hope next year’s Rugby World Cup will be somewhat similar (although now living in Auckland, I’ve come to the realization that no one does a party quite like the Capital).

I was somewhat intrigued by this frontpage article in Saturday’s Herald:

Home available for World Cup – for a cool $120,000

Orakei resident Danny Gelb plans to rent his 454 sq metre house out for $120,000 for the two months of the Rugby World Cup. I find it mind boggling that someone would have $120,000 to spend on a two-month holiday in New Zealand. I don’t think I know anyone that could realistically afford that, but then, Mr Gelb is obviously reasonably successful at whatever he does for a living (a google search would suggest he’s a commercial mediator), he probably knows this market pretty well, and I suspect is hardly pitching it towards the domestic punter (even if the Herald was giving him a prime weekend advertising spot). If he is able to pull this off, good on him I guess – I wish I was in a similar financial position.

But it made me wonder how much the economic benefit is going to be shared around the rest of New Zealand. The Herald puts the economic benefit of the Rugby World Cup at $1.15 billion, but how much of that is going to trickle down to the working class? Or those living outside of the major centres? I seem to remember pub owners on the main road between Auckland and Wellington setting themselves up to accommodate the influx of English camper vans that were going to visit them during the Lions tour – many of these pub owners where incredibly disappointing when the influx never happened. You have to wonder whether the World Cup will bring a similar result.

And for those lucky enough to secure the high-rents like Mr Gelb is hoping, how many of them are going to spend the aditional money in New Zealand, and thus helping to stimulate the economy? Not Mr Gelb – after paying for a host, chaufeer and a chef and filling the Merc with petrol, Gelb will be taking his wife and three children to Europe for two months.

It’s great that New Zealand is going to be hosting the Rugby World Cup. It is our national sport, and will bring  economic benifits. But let’s not get carried away about expectations, as reality may not be quite as rosey.

UPDATE: As an aside, I’ve just read David Farrar’s post about the threat of the Sevens coming to Auckland. God, Auckland would be brilliant for the Sevens… if they’d built the Waterfront Stadium. Holding the Sevens at Eden Park or Mt Smart would be a fizzer. Keep it in Wellington.

Maurice Gee’s Going West

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I’m posting this far and wide mainly because I think it’s really cool.

Hattip: India at clusterflock

It’s just a shame that the actual train trip from West Auckland to the city isn’t nearly as exciting as Gee makes out :)

I have to admit that the only Maurice Gee books I’ve read are Under the Mountain and The Champion (which was made into a movie and filmed in Helensville) when I was a kid. I’ll have to pick up a copy of Going West this weekend, I think.

The Maori Party and the ETS

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Of all the things that were going to rip the Maori Party apart, it looks more and more likely that it’s going to be support for National’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Russell Norman’s observations in The House are telling:

Hekia Parata from National has been given the job of sitting next to Te Ururoa Flavell in the House to make sure the Maori Party do what they promised in their dirty deal. Now he’s been taken outside to be leaned on in private.

But don’t worry – everything will be alright now Maori have been given the honour of flying ‘their’ flag on the Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.  Although given that Maori – like any other ethnic group – are hardly homogeneous, just what their flag is is still open for debate.

Speaking of Hekia Parata, is there any truth to the rumour that she’s currently advertising for her fourth executive assistant in little over a year?

“Battle of the Babes”

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

OK, the Herald has sunk to a new low.

Not only will two 20-something females potentially be contesting Auckland Central at the next election, but Steve Crow will be moderating the Herald-sponsored electorate debate. The candidate’s policy platforms will play second fiddle to how they look in a bikini, but rest assured, the hard-hitting questions will still be allowed.

Excuse me while I vomit. Both Kaye and Ardern are very capable candidates, yet the Herald has trivialized the contest down to ‘babes’. If ever there was any doubt, this confirms that the Herald’s target demographic is the average 14 year-old Grammar boy.

The Labour selection in Auckland Central will have a list of potential candidates as long as my arm, but personally, I think the more interesting contest will be Waitakere. Former MP (now list MP) Lynne Pillay has announced that she will be retiring at the next election and Auckland Central-based Phil Twyford has announced he will be seeking selection. Another candidate has announced to the Labour Electorate Committee (which I attend as an interloper from Helensville) that he will be seeking selection as well, although I’m not sure this is public at the moment.

I have a real problem with carpet-baggers, and while I personally quite like Phil, I’m not sure the people of Waitakere will be quite so forgiving. Having said that, I understand Pillay was living in Central Auckland when she won, and, according to the Register of Financial Interests (pg 9), Paula Bennett doesn’t own any property in West Auckland, only a townhouse in Mt Eden (proud to be a Westie, eh?).

It’ll be fun to watch the positioning over the next few months before the selections early next year.

National on Student Loan Interest

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Last week the University of Otago Vice Chancellor David Skegg suggested that 10% interest should be added to student loans in order to increase funding for Universities. Education Minister, Anne Tolley responded with:

The office of the Education Minister, Anne Tolley, says the Government is not considering reinstating interest on student loans.

Well, the prospect of (as Skegg puts it) “a little interest” on student loans obviously isn’t off the table, as Bill English’s website is polling on the issue:

 

(Click here to see a full version of the screenshot)

Judgement Day

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

There is a lot of talk about what is going to happen to Hone Harawera today. He is giving his first public interview since he revealed that he took a side trip to Paris with his wife when he was supposed to be at an EU meeting in Brussels, and then didn’t mince his words when responding to an email question from a high-profile Maori Party supporter.

Will Hone simply apologise, or will he go down in a screaming heap? Will he jump parties, force a by-election, or flip the bird at his critics? But, perhaps more importantly… Read the rest of this entry »

There’s Something About Hone

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I quite like Hone Harawira, and I honestly didn’t expect to when he entered Parliament in 2005. I tarred him with the antics of his mother, but was pleasantly surprised. His ability to engage with and advocate for his constituency, his ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude, and his ability to cut through the crap that politics tends to generate would generally make him a successful politician.

And this week he doesn’t fail to disappoint.

First,  he went off on a Richard Worth camel ride trip to Paris instead of attending official meetings in Brussels, then he responded to an email questioning his actions in less than poetic language. This has really got under the skin of Stuff.co.nz commentors, who are almost unanimously calling on him to be sacked. The Prime Minister has called Harawira’s comments “deeply offensive”, while Tarina Turia has waded into the fold claiming that Harawira’s actions were damaging to the Maori Party’s reputation.

Now, the trip to Paris wasn’t a great idea (worth noting that Labour MP Rajen Prasad stated at the time “what goes on tour, stays on tour”, while Harawira went right ahead and outed the trip in his own newsletter), and an MP responding to correspondence from a member of the public with abuse isn’t a good look. But the thing is, Harawira doesn’t need to appeal to commentors on Stuff.co.nz. Or John Key. Or even Tariana Turia. Harawira has to appeal to the voters in the Te Tai Tokorau electorate. As Harawira said, his own people will judge him – he’s a straight shooter, doesn’t hide a thing, and I think his constituents respect him immensely for that.

Brendan Burns has blogged that Hone looks likely to go. As much as Labour would like to see the Maori Party cull their most effective highest profile MP, I don’t think it’s very likely. Harawira has a huge majority in his electorate – 32% over Labour’s Kelvin Davis – while Labour won the Party Vote. While Turia and Shapples are bullshiting about their “mana enhancing relationship” with John Key and Rodney Hide, Harawira is saying it how it is, and because of that, I’d say he’s staying right where he is.

***

On a related note, I’m informed that Hone turned up to Sue Bradford’s valedictory, but sat in the public gallery wearing a Hawaiian shirt. You got to hand it to him – the man’s got style.

[EDIT: Oh snap, Jake]

Democracy in the Unions

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

If you ever wanted proof that Unions were democratic beasts, here it is:

Bus drivers reject NZ Bus’s pay offer.

Basically, following negotiations with NZ Bus, leaders of the combined unions agreed to take an offer back to their members with the recommendation that it be accepted and ratified. Despite the recommendation, the members of the combined unions decided to reject the offer.

Asked if he was disappointed by the rejection, Mr Andersen said: “No, that’s democracy”.

Exactly. Doesn’t stop Zane Fulljames of NZ Bus from slagging off the union for doing their job:

“It is immensely disappointing to our customers, our people and the business. The unions agreed to take and recommend the offer to their members. This did not happen,” Mr Fulljames said.

Wrong, Mr Fulljames – that’s exactly what happened. Except the union members disagreed with the union leaders.

NZ Bus deserves to be slapped around after locking workers out for ‘theatening’ work-to-rule industrial action. Any disruption to services will be because of the actions of NZ Bus, not because of underpaid busdrivers.

Time to Move Beyond the Beltway

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Labour: English’s homes saga not over

Um, yes, it is. Well, at least in the eyes of voters beyond the beltway.

I earlier posted that Bill English should go. I personally still believe he should be removed, but any legal grounds for him to be removed have now been extinguished by the auditor general’s report. In the eyes of your Joe Bloggs voter, English has paid back the money and the auditor general has vindicated him – this matter is closed. Labour need to face the facts that it has lost this one and move on.

And Labour will continue to lose the wider debate if it insists on focusing on issues which don’t generally affect undecided voters without adequately framing what the implications are. Included in this is the opposition’s obsession with the amount of Urgency being used. Yes, the government is rushing legislation through, riding rough-shod over the legislative process – but for your average voter, this means that our politicians are wasting less time debating ‘innane’ laws and more time actually ‘doing their job’ – win-win in their eyes.

Labour has been handed their opposition agenda on a platter – there is plenty this government is doing that could be used against them:

These are the Government’s equivalent of Labour’s ‘lightbulbs and shower heads’ issues. I’m not saying that these should form the basis for the next election campaign – New Zealand deserves to be offered something a little more comprehensive and strategic than “vote for us, because we’re not them” – but these are issues that get under the skin of voters and could be used to lever support away from the Government.

At the moment, Labour is getting too caught up trying to act like a Government-in-waiting. And there will be a time when this is called for, but first they have to act like an opposition and go after the Government on issues which are important to the voters, not issues that are important to the MPs.

I’m Glad I’m not an ACTivist

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Labour seems to be getting a little traction with Rodney Hide and Heather Roy’s ‘abuse of power’ surrounding party fundraising breakfasts where they are billed as speaking in their ministerial capacities. Using your Ministerial position for the financial gain of your Party is stupid, and it must be nice to ‘bust’ the perk buster ‘abusing’ the power of his office – much like catching Grammar boys doing something really stupid. But, to be honest, unlike the guys over at The Standard, I find it difficult to get worked up over this one.

Well, at least not over the ‘crime’ itself.

Yes, it’s not a great look, but we’ve seen Hide and Roy squirm for a while and admit what they did was wrong. My reservations are that this seems to be a little bit of a grey area to me. For example, is a Minister speaking as a Minister whenever they speak in public? What happens if a Minister speaks at a fundraiser in their capacity as a constituency MP, but is asked a question about their Ministerial portfolio? What if the function was billed as being a speaking engagement with the Minister, and was free (or at-cost), but there was a collection or a raffle for the local party branch? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Ministers not to undertake fundraising activities, and I think it’s difficult for a Minister not to draw on their Ministerial portfolios when speaking – it’s often their area of expertise and what they are passionate about.

What annoys me is hearing Heather Roy (parroted by her loyal party hacks) lay the blame on an over-excited (and obviously ill-informed) party activist, as if it were actually the activist’s fault. Since when did party activists determine the diary arrangements of a Minister of the Crown?

It wasn’t the fault of an unpaid activist that Hide and Roy were put into this position – it was the fault of the Minister’s paid staff. All Ministers (even Ministers outside of Cabinet) have advisors whose job it is to make sure the Minister is not put into a position which could potentially embarrass them. I’ve organised events that were attended by then-Labour Ministers, as well as senior National MP’s (and even Rodney Hide) – a good Ministerial advisor or parliamentary staffer will check the details (like, is there a charge to attend the event? Is it public? Who will be there?) before accepting any invitation – Steve Maharey’s office used to even send out a three-page form to fill out, and Bill English’s office used to do a similar check to the n-th degree. I would have thought that any Minister worth their weight would have similar checks and balances.

If I was a member of ACT, I’d be questioning ever offering to help out Roy in future.  Obviously, if she does something which draws flack, she has no hesitation in sacrificing those unpaid activists who worked so hard to put her where she is.

In the [Grammar] Zone

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

There’s a billboard on the side of a building facing the north-bound lane on the Southern Motorway at the Newmarket viaduct – this billboard here. It currently has an advertisement for McDonald’s Angus burgers, stating that “It’s a little bit fancy – like living in the Grammar zone.” The reputation of Auckland Grammar is such that parents will literally buy houses in Grammar zone to ensure that their offspring get the opportunity to attend the esteemed school. I only know a few Grammar alumni and they’re great guys (in fact, I’m going to be the best man for a Grammar old-boy at his wedding in February) – I have no reason to believe it’s not a great school.

Over the past few months there has been a bit of negative publicity surrounding Auckland Grammar.  Back in August, the AGS First XV got into a fight with Kelston Boys, which was compounded by the fact that the AGS players appeared to get off lighter than Kelston – cue the baying masses crying racism and old-boy interference from Grammar.

And then over the weekend, a group of Grammar boys uploaded pictures of themselves doing Nazi salutes and kissing a swastika. Cue same baying masses calling for heads to roll / expulsions / students held back a year / corporal punishment to be reintroduced etc etc.

OK, so it was a pretty stupid thing to do. In fact, it was a very stupid thing to do – let alone the disrespect and insult it would have caused. There is no excuse for this, they really should have known better. And then to upload them to Facebook. Were they arrogant or just plain ignorant ? Needless to say, the students concerned should be punished, and the punishment that was dished out (to teach visitors to Auckland Museum about The Holocaust) in my opinion, fits the ‘crime’.

But do these kids (yes, they’re children) really deserve the media circus that has erupted around them? I would suggest that they probably don’t.  To their credit, the usually-terrible NZ Herald has been quite measured in it’s response – well, at least when compared to Stuff – I especially liked their choice of photo:

Nazi-worshipping schoolboys arrived at Aucklands War Memorial Museum to apologise.

The blurred image of ‘perpetrators’ trying to hide their faces from the waiting gauntlet of media as they face their execution punishment - this must be the sort of thing normally reserved for the wet dreams of news editors up and down the country.

Is this a reaction to what these kids did, or a reaction to the fact that these kids attend one of the top schools in New Zealand? It’s hard to separate the two – because they attend Auckland Grammar, a much higher standard is expected of them. But I’m not entirely sure this warrants the media coverage that it seems to have generated.

A friend of mine who attended Kings College once told me that because students at exclusive schools (such as Kings and Grammar – in contrast to Kaipara College, where I went to school) get treated like ‘gentlemen’ at school, as soon as some of them step outside the school gates, they act like mongrels. Maybe the behaviour of the Grammar boys is – at least in part – a reaction to the way they are treated at school?

BTW: James (an AGS old boy) has posted about a ‘live cross’ to the Museum on TVNZ last night. Oh how I love the live cross. Really adds to a news story.

EDIT: Got my Grammar’s mixed up. Sorry ’bout that.

Images of the Decade

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

The Standard have posted a link to the Guardian’s Ten Images of the Noughties. It’s an interesting, yet very UK-focused collection of photos (for example, Jade Goody hardly defined my decade – I had to Google her to see who she was).

Personally, the past decade have been rather special for me – it’s pretty safe to say that this decade is the first that I actively remember – for example, I clearly remember seeing the year 2000 in (I was on top of the downtown parking building in Auckland, drinking Lindauer out of the bottle in the driving rain) – in contrast, I don’t remember a huge amount about 1990.

What are the images you most remember about the past 10 years? A few of mine a below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Samoa Tsunami could be chance for Key to show Pacific leadership

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Ok, this isn’t going to happen very often. Deep breath. Here goes. Credit where credit’s due: Whaleoil is almost right on the money with his post regarding our Government’s response to the Samoan Tsunami. The devistation in Samoa is beyond belief, and it is time for John Key and Bill English to step to to the plate and demonstrate why New Zealand is a leader in the Pacific.

So far, the government’s response has been to stand back and wait for Samoa to ask for help. Bill English has ‘flown back to Wellington from his home in Dipton’ (coincidence? I think not) while our fearless leader remains on holiday in Florida – his fifth week of holiday since taking office at the end of last year.

This is real politics. Not only are there over 130,000 Samoans living in New Zealand, but we are a regional leader in the South Pacific – it’s time for some real leadership at the highest levels. And this means more than just dishing out aid and drinking kava. This means actually treating the situation in Samoa as though it were happening on New Zealand shores – every available RNZAF aircraft and Navy vessel should be on its way to Samoa with supplies and helpers – and this should happen without being asked, as a responsible regional leader.

It’s time for John Key to show that there is more to him than the smiling exterior. It’s time to step up to the plate and prove you belong in the A-League.

FOOTNOTE: It’s interesting that while Whale’s post is quite measured and reasonable, some of his commenters give us an interesting insight into how some people on the right think.

FOOTNOTE 2: Chris Carter and Luamanuvao Winnie Laban are tweeting from the ground in Samoa. It’s quite harrowing.

It’s time to keep the heat on Bill English

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

While I am grateful for Jake’s kind offer for me to share his blog, I’m afraid I’m going to take this opportunity to disagree with his earlier post.

It’s time for Bill English to go. Yes, there are much more important issues at hand, which is why English must be stood down, sacked, removed – whatever – from his Ministerial portfolios, in particular as Minister of Finance. He’s under investigation from the auditor general. He’s a distraction, he’s lost a lot of credibility. As long as he sits on National’s front bench, he provides Labour with a stick to hit the government with. At this time of economic crisis, New Zealand needs a strong Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister – English is no longer is that position. Time for a reshuffle, John, and the first person to go has to be the guy sitting next to you.

What annoys me more than anything else is the development of a ‘Poor Bill’ syndrome (as our friends at the Standard have so appropriately put it). We’re supposed to feel sorry because his family will have to move back to Dipton, and we’re somehow questioning his roots in the deep South. And (astoundingly) the system has let HIM down. No one is suggesting for a moment that the English’s should have to move back to Dipton – I can understand his desire to have his family living closer to him. And I actually think his ancestral connection (and obvious pride) in the deep South is admirable – I wish my MP had the same connection to his electorate - actually, any connection would be nice.

The problem is that English changed the status of the trust which owned his family home in Karori so he was no longer a beneficiary , in order to claim a higher living allowance when he became a Minister.  He then paid the money back - as Trevor Mallard points out, how can Bill English have paid money back that was paid to a trust which he had no interest in?

I’m pretty sure English isn’t the only MP (or Minister) that has used trusts to claim more in terms accommodation allowances. However, he is the Minister of Finance and is calling on spending with-straint in the public sector, which is resulting in pay freezes and redundancies, while his living allowance increased by more than the average wage.

I would have thought that John Key would regard this situation for a Senior Cabinet Minister as a liability, and would throw Bill English overboard – just as he did to Richard Worth. Let’s see how many more questions from the opposition that Key will have to field before this happens.

Auckland City Liquor Laws and Aaron Bhatnagar’s Facebook Democracy

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I love listening to Sean Plunkett when he’s playing with his interviewees. It’s the radio equivalent of watching a cat toy with a mouse it’s just caught – it’ll let it go for a bit, but quickly re-catch it. Of course, Plunkett (like the cat) is always in control. To his credit, he takes the same line with the right and the left, which, in my opinion, makes him New Zealand’s top interviewer.

Classic example yesterday morning was his interview with Auckland City Councillor, Aaron Bhatnagar.

Basically, the Citizens and Ratepayers dominated Auckland City Council wanted to limit the opening hours for licenced premises outside of the ‘social’ districts (such as Downtown, Parnell, K Road etc). This drew a quick response from several suburban pubs and bars which said that they’d probably go out of business if they had to close up at 11pm. Respectful, civilised places like the Villager and Gee Gees, where nice, upper-middle class folks go to discuss polo results and how to get their children into Kings, as opposed to the booze-fuelled watering holes at the Viaduct where the early twenties frequent and vomit outside in the wee-small hours.

I’m sure Aaron’s a really nice guy when you meet him (in fact, I have it on good authority that he’s a top bloke), but the changes to Auckland suburban liquor licencing were draconian, to say the least, even drawing fire from his National Party mates like David Farrar (although Farrar was very vague about who was responsible for the changes), so to his credit, the changes have been abandoned.

In yesterday morning’s interview, Sean Plunkett toyed with Aaron for a full five and a half minutes (Phoebe wanted to turn the car radio off it was so painful, but I insisted that we continue listening). At one point, Plunkett implied that Bhatnagar has been got-at by the hospitality lobby, which Bhatnagar tries to deny:

(4:10) Aaron: What we are saying is that there are significant public concerns about this, but just in the hospitality industry, but from the public as well.

Sean: How many public submissions did you get on this?

Aaron: Sorry?

Sean: What, can you just name some of the community groups besides the bar owners and the hospitality industry who were upset at it?

Aaron: Oh, absolutely, um, well, we’ve had, um, to name off the top of my head there were, I follow Facebook, and um, online consultation is a great forum for seeing what the mood of the public is, and I think there were something like 4,600 people who had joined a Facebook group to protest, and when you actually see all the people there and the comments they make, it’s actually a very good barometer for…

Sean: Do you think that Auckland City should be run by sort of Facebook polls?

Aaron: No, I actually think that there are many ways in which politicians can get feedback, and I’m proud that I use online feedback to gauge the public mood.

I hardly ever join Facebook groups (I have over 100 outstanding group invites, so stop inviting me) after being let down by a guy proclaiming that he would call his son Batman if a million people joined his group. I have also been invited to fan groups of the ‘Cool Side of the Pillow’, as well one proclaiming that David Bain’s trail-by-media got the wrong verdict (oh the irony). There are so many Facebook groups, and they are so easy to set up (let alone join), that they have lost all effect as a political lobby in my opinion – if they ever had any effect in the first place, that is.

While I agree that the changes to the law should have been canned, Bhatnagar really should have built a more solid rationale for his change of heart than “the hopitality lobby were going to be inconvenienced and a group on Facebook convinced me”. Something simple like: “Auckland is a big city, and we’ve come to the realisation that one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work across our diverse communities” or “we’re exploring other avenues for dealing with this problem”.

But the way Aaron left this, the perceived problems surrounding inconsistency of liquor licencing laws remain unsolved. Bhatnagar and his Citizens and Ratepayers pals have put this into the ‘too hard’ basket, and defaulted them to the Super City council. Bhatnagar is deluding himself thinking that regulating liquor laws across the Super City going to be any easier. For example, where I live in Waitakere City is under the jurisdiction of the Waitakere and Portage Trusts (more commonly known as ‘The Trusts’), which restrict where alcohol can be sold, and puts the profits back into the community. Aligning Waitakere’s licencing laws with the laissez-faire licencing laws of Rodney District and Auckland City is not going to be easy.

Is this what’s going to happen from now until local body elections next year? Anything that’s slightly controversial is going to be palmed off to the new body? I guess this is one of those dead rats that Bhatnagar and his boss, John Banks, probably could do without swallowing, especially if Aaron wants to get the nod from the National Party to be their candidate in Epsom in 2011.

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