Life and Politics

Occasional comment on politics and the media in New Zealand

Tag: Bill English

The problem of Heatley’s resignation for National

by Jake Quinn

Phil Heatley

National Party Minister Phil Heatley’s resignation from Cabinet, probably as a result of a mixture of fear, exhaustion and plain moral decency, has created a concerningly low bar from which to judge Ministers’ future decisions.  This will likely create problems for his colleagues Gerry Brownlee and Bill English now and in the future.

Phil Heatley, we are led to believe (and at this point have no reason to doubt), quit Cabinet over his misuse of Ministerial credit cards.  He signed for some food and wine which was actually just wine.  What’s more,  it was for National Party members at a conference – nothing to do with Ministerial business.

Former Press Secretary to Jim Bolger, now media commentator, Richard Griffen, last thursday blamed Heatley’s Senior Private Secretary (SPS) for the mistakes.  Griffen claimed that a SPS worth their salt wouldn’t have let the Minister get bogged down with looking after that level of detail.

Perhaps, but how is an SPS  to know, let alone control, what their Minister gets up to when at party gatherings, which non-political Ministerial staff are rightly supposed to steer clear of.

The real concern now though is not why (in terms of his thought process or logic) he resigned, but what impact this could have on his colleagues.  Many would agree that Heatley’s crime was less severe than English’s.  Heatley is, arguably, guilty of incompetence with regards to his ministerial credit cards.

English however, in rearranging his family finances and trusts to claim ministerial allowances he subsequently was forced to pay back, was not so much incompetent but conniving.  He deliberately took dubious actions to maximise his own payouts, while calling on the country and the public service to tighten their belts.  Heatley, unlike his Deputy leader, cannot be accused of being a hypocrite.

So what happens the next time a Minister, like Brownlee or English, gets into ‘a little bit’ of trouble over an expense here or an expense there?  The question will inevitably be asked: will that Minister follow the standards set by their former honourable colleague Mr Heatley?


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)

Bill English’s press secretary deserves a DB

by Jake Quinn

So Bill English’s office changed the words of the dodgy promo ad.  That sounds like ‘political interference’ doesn’t it?  That is, untill you read the embarrassing original script, where it turns out it was more like some well timed ass-saving.

BK Drinkwater is on the mark here saying: “The initial TVNZ script was bad. How bad? I’ve walked in on people having really weird sex and the result was less embarrassing than this ad would have been had it gone to air as drafted.”

He outlines the changes:

  • SCRIPT: We can beat those Aussies. Time to back ourselves – kick for the corner then muscle over the line.
  • REWRITE: You know, we can beat those Aussies. It’s time to back ourselves. With a bit of old-fashioned Kiwi can-do, we’ll get there.
  • SCRIPT: It’s time to give the snip snap to the zip zap plastic fantastic (make finger scissors gesture).
  • REWRITE: Lets get investing and back our exporters. That’s where the jobs will come and that’s how we can boost our incomes.
  • SCRIPT: Keep a few bob in the bank and Bob will be your uncle. We’ll get there. Bottom line: it’s your economy too.
  • REWRITE: We’re nearly through the tough times and things are looking up. We have plenty of work to do. But I’m confident New Zealanders are up for it and together we’ll do it.  (Changed by TVNZ for final cut to: We’re nearly through the tough times and things are looking up. Together us Kiwis can do it.)

The mind-numbing rugby analogies creeping into political discourse are irritating at best (“rolling mauls” and all that) and as Mr BK rightly points out, “In my experience, New Zealanders generally can grasp a point without it first being converted into a rugby metaphor. Besides that, the metaphor’s crap: usually, kicks to the corner result in a try more due to the speed of the wingers than the muscle of the front row.”

I can only assume TVNZ’s “writers” were trying to make him sound like the odd-smelling sheep-farming uncle from the bay that no one wants to sit next to at family functions, who speaks in old-timer quips and that nobody thinks is funny.  “Bob will be your uncle!”  Jesus.  Thank goodness his office got to run their pencils over this thing.

Putting aside that this promo video achieved two things, neither of which helped Mr English – it embarrassed the government and its finance minister because it walked and quacked like a political advert, and that it probably quadrupled the ratings of the TVNZ7 economy show – Bill would have sounded like an utter moron had he spoken the original lines.

So while he shouldn’t have done the bloody thing in the first place, top marks must go to his press secretary for saving his/her boss further embarrassment.

Political advert?

by Jake Quinn

Imagine, just for a moment, that the TVNZ7 logos in the following ‘advertisement’ are replaced with National Party ones.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, there is a reasonably coherent argument to be made that it might just be.. a duck.

[Update: Check out Lew’s excellent content analysis of the ad over at Kiwipolitico]

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.

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.

It’s time to leave Bill English alone

by Jake Quinn

Bill English (Photo NZPA)

Bill English (Photo NZPA)

It’s time to leave Bill English alone. Labour and the press gallery have had a good run with it. Bill’s been embarrassed, he’s paid some money back and the issue will always slightly affect his credibility as Finance Minister. But enough is enough.

Bill’s home in Dipton has been in his family for 120 years. It’s on English Rd. It’s full of his stuff and he is the local MP. Some time ago he decided to have his family reside in Wellington so they could be closer together – his kids go to school there and his wife practices medicine there – it’s an honourable thing to do for someone planning a life in politics.

Bill has to maintain two residences because he has two homes, two rates bills, and everything else that goes with it.

MP’s need to be ultra careful and conservative when it comes to what benefits and kickbacks they receive. The public mood for lynchings is high, especially after the British MPs’ expenses scandal which led to numerous resignations.

Bill should have been more careful so deserves some of the criticism he has received. However, successive Speakers of the House, from both major parties, have signed off on his arrangements and the legal buck stops with them.

What’s more, his being in breach, if he is, is a technicality. He’s only in trouble because the allowance is called an ‘out of town MP’ allowance. If it was called the ‘MP’s who have a home in their electorate but choose to spend pretty much all of their time in Wellington’ allowance then there wouldn’t be an issue.

The issue of him changing the ownership of his Karori home to a family trust that he is not a beneficiary of (in order to receive an extra taxpayer funded kickback) does seem a little fishy though. But Bill has taken enough of a public flogging for this.

It is time to move on. There’s a tsunami on the way for christ’s sake 😉

Update: Do read the comments thread, there are some rather good responses in there

English under the gun but Key won’t be too concerned

by Jake Quinn

The persistant questions around the Finance Minister’s actions concerning his ministerial housing allowance will really have started to bug and distract him.Labour has assigned a double hit squad, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, to target Finance Minister Bill English over his housing allowances.

But their aim is to wound him politically, not force him to resign, says Mr Mallard, who talked to the Herald yesterday about why Labour has renewed its attack six weeks after the facts around his situation emerged.
He is running a blogging campaign against Mr English and Mr Hodgson has been running a campaign in the House for the past two weeks.
Mr Mallard blogged this week on Labour’s Red Alert site that: “This story will last as long as English is a minister”, but he said the aim was not to get him to resign. “Actually we would prefer him to stay there.”
They believe Cabinet colleague Steven Joyce would do a better job for National, so politically Labour would prefer to see Mr English stay.
Mr Mallard said that whenever Mr English “gets involved in trying to cut something or talks about priorities or inappropriate expenditure or whatever he will be reminded of this”.

The persistant questions around the Finance Minister’s actions concerning his ministerial housing allowance will really have started to bug and distract him. But what would Prime Minister John Key think about the whole unsavoury affair?

Labour’s Trevor Mallard speaks to the Herald’s Audrey Young about their strategy to keep the heat on the Finance Minister:

Labour has assigned a double hit squad, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, to target Finance Minister Bill English over his housing allowances.

But their aim is to wound him politically, not force him to resign, says Mr Mallard, who talked to the Herald yesterday about why Labour has renewed its attack six weeks after the facts around his situation emerged.

He is running a blogging campaign against Mr English and Mr Hodgson has been running a campaign in the House for the past two weeks.

Mr Mallard blogged this week on Labour’s Red Alert site that: “This story will last as long as English is a minister”, but he said the aim was not to get him to resign. “Actually we would prefer him to stay there.”

They believe Cabinet colleague Steven Joyce would do a better job for National, so politically Labour would prefer to see Mr English stay.

Mr Mallard said that whenever Mr English “gets involved in trying to cut something or talks about priorities or inappropriate expenditure or whatever he will be reminded of this”.

It might seem unusual for Mr Mallard to be sharing his strategy with the Herald but it’s not. So long as he and his colleagues continue to land hits (and that seems likely as Mr Mallard says “there is more to come”, it will continue to embarrass the Deputy Prime Minister.

The media can’t blame Labour for mounting a scurrilous or secret plot against Mr English because Labour’s cards are very much on the table. If it does back fire, which looks unlikely (it would be more likely to fizzle out than backfire), Phil Goff is protected because he has been kept at arms length from it.

The Prime Minister won’t be too concerned either. After all, Mr English as Deputy PM and Finance Minister with Steven Joyce further down the cabinet list is a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer.

Mr English was and remains John Key’s main competition to lead the party and has always fancied himself as the natural leader of a conservative National Party.

While Bill English has questions looming over him about how moral his actions have been, his popular Prime Minister is getting letters from Barack Obama, planning to meet the President shortly, and generally being statesmanlike.

It wouldn’t be a good look for the PM if he had to change his number 2, and i’m sure that he doesn’t want that, at least in this term.

So while Labour keeps the heat on Mr English but without landing the final death blow, Key can keep looking competent by comparison and all while keeping any hint of leadership aspiration from his deputy easily in check.

It is an odd day when…

by Jake Quinn

National Party blogger Cameron Slater nee Whaleoil calls for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to resign the day after I defend Mr English’s actions (and the actions of other Ministers claiming housing allowances in Wellington) to Tory friends over dinner. 

Perhaps there is something in the Auckland water, or perhaps Danyl is on to something.

Interesting iPredict stocks, smack poll & Shearer

by Jake Quinn

iPredict has launched a stock that asks “will the anti smacking referendum be cancelled this week” which has been a quick flop, dropping swiftly to two cents (which means the traders believe it has only a few percent chance of coming true).

And lets not be shy, people in the Prime Minister’s office and throughout parliament and the gallery trade on iPredict. If anyone knew anything that indicated this could happen it would be quickly reflected in the price.

So John Key won’t be cancelling the referendum. Well, at least not this week. Realistically though, he’d be mad if he did. Can you imagine how rabid the smackers would get? Not to mention ‘middle NZ’ who would probably think of it as an arrogant abuse of power, which I guess (even though i’d love to see the bogus poll canned) it would be.

More interestingly, this stock that asks “will David Shearer replace Phil Goff as Labour leader before the 2011” could be seen as quite politically mischievous, and im interested in it’s motives. The person who designed this question is could be seen to be trying to undermine Goff’s leadership by scaremongering about a Shearer leadership bid.

For heaven’s sake, Goff got Shearer his job! They are good mates. Simple decency alone wouldn’t permit such an act that soon. The stock is (this evening) running @ $0.20, or a 20 percent chance of coming true, which is overvalued so will short-sell.

The politically motivated nature of this stock is could be seen as quite blatant. Wouldn’t a more sensible question not be about one of the more often discussed future labour leaders like David Cunliffe?

iPredict should now launch stocks that asked “will John Key resign due to stress before 2011” or “will Bill English roll John Key before 2011”. They are however, like the one above, loaded and leading questions – and in the interest of science are best avoided.

On budget, Oram and weekend reading

by Jake Quinn

In a Queen’s birthday weekend marked by horrific weather and an even worse road toll there was plenty of light reading on offer.

Rod Oram slammed Bill English’s 09 Budget because he failed to transform the New Zealand economy. Oram said English blew his only chance to radically reshape government finances. Govt minus a point.

From weekend paper reading and discussion three conclusions have been drawn:

1) That the average Joe is ambivalent about this year’s budget and sees cancellation of tax cuts and general tightening of departmental belts as prudent and necessary. Govt gets a point.

2) That stopping contributions to the Superfund seemed like a plausible idea for about two minutes, that is – until someone did the numbers pointing out how much money it will actually COST (not save) us. Govt minus a point.

3) That the budget seemingly froze time in a economic recovery sense. That is, there was no plan (beside avoiding a credit downgrade) to get us out of trouble, nothing at all.

Unless you count the national cycleway that has since been downgraded to a series of regional cycleways that might be linked, but not by the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Note: anyone who counts the cycleway should see a doctor.

The theory (for not doing anything in the budget to assist NZ’s recovery) must be that it was the international economy that got us into this mess and if we are to get out of it, it will be the international economy that saves us. Gosh don’t we all feel safe in that knowledge. Govt minus 2 more points. 

What would have been a good idea to introduce, paid for – perhaps – by not lowering the top rate of tax from 39 to 38%, was a significant Research and Development tax credit.

This would have attracted international talent and investment to New Zealand companies and products, ahead of our rivals, fast tracking us back towards growth and having us come out of the recession ahead of the pack. Pity no one thought of it.

Will there be howls of outrage?

by Jake Quinn

Where are the howles of outrage? 
My National Party voting friends and colleagues
have for years harranged me about that bloody overtaxing government
that gives the dole to people too lazy to work, funds interest free
student loans for those bloody lazy students, turns middle class familiess into bludgers through working
for families and stifiles entraprenuralism and enterprise with taxes.
God they must be fuming. Yesterday’s budget, which surprised me by han

My National Party voting friends and colleagues have for the last 9 years harangued me about that bloody overtaxing government that gives the dole to people too lazy to work, funds interest free student loans for those bloody lazy students, turns middle class families into bludgers through working for families, does nothing to drag us into the top half of the OECD or to close the wage gap with Aussie, and stifles entrepreneurial and private enterprise by not slashing taxes.

So I suppose they were fuming yesterday as Bill English delivered his government’s first Budget. Tax cuts cancelled, entitlements (to dole, interest free student loans, working for families, level of national super) mostly retained, no bold growth focused policies to rocket us up the OECD rankings and nothing to address the wage gap.

The Budget was bland and that is not an entirely bad thing. As many commentators have noted, there was no deep dark secret agenda. This (minus the mad move to forget about saving for superannuation for a decade or two) was a Labour budget on a strict diet, but without any vision. It just goes to show how significant an impact the last government has had on shifting this country’s political debate leftward.  

So will grumpy National voters be taking to the streets to demand their tax cuts, and that those bloody students and beneficiaries be given a good kicking? I don’t think so. As their rhetoric was, after all, only hot ‘grumpy old man’ air in the first place.

Budget 09 – an opportunity lost

by Jake Quinn

To raise the age of national superannuation entitlement from 65 to 67. Like Australia are gonna do.  We are living longer. We can retire older too can’t we? That debate has now been kicked for touch (to the next election?).

Keith Ng does the numbers on how and where National are cutting future debt:  “how has National managed to reduce future debt? By cutting a f**kload of future government spending”. So, while this budget hasn’t slashed public spending as much as some might have expected, the future isn’t looking too rosy.

Details of cuts (total appropriation in 09 compared to 08) are here.

Quote of the Day goes to Phil Goff: “Standard but Poor National Party Budget” which is slightly cleverer than “Credit Card Opposition and Visanomics” from John Key.

Banks shouldn’t have to guarantee jobs

by Jake Quinn

Yesterday Finsec (the finance sector workers union) hosted by the Greens, delivered a petition carrying 10,000 signatures of support to Finance Minister Bill English.

The petition asked government to force banks to make job protection a condition of receiving the wholesale borrowing and retail deposit guarantee schemes which, in effect, would force government to remove banks from the scheme if they shed staff.

Mr English politely told them to bugger off.

As the standard wrote yesterday: “at a time when banks are making combined profits in excess of $2.5 billion and CEOs receive salary packages of more than $2 million each”, the idea of banks doing something extra to protect  jobs (and that government should be encouraging them to do so) is sound.

So it comes as no surprise that:

The results of a UMR public opinion poll show that 79% of New Zealanders believe the Government should require banks to maintain staff levels in exchange for the guarantee on customer deposits and bank borrowing.

The question however, was loaded in favour of a positive response. Another way they could have put it would have been:

Should New Zealand banks, who are paying a substantial sum to the government to be protected by the guarantee on customer deposits and bank borrowing, also have to guarantee job protection to their staff, no matter what impact this would have on the financial position of their organisation?

This question is not scientific either, but you get my point.

The government will in all likelihood make hundreds of millions of dollars from the guarantee schemes. And they should. The liability for the schemes, if paid out, would bankrupt the country. So the fee structure needed to be such that it made enough to cover its ass in the case of a minor bailout and was not too attractive (or affordable) to those fringe institutions that are more likely to go bust.

The guarantee schemes are in fact a form of job protection and in a way the banks are paying for them by being signed up. If government hadn’t set up the scheme in the first place it would have put our banks (and all their staff’s jobs) at serious risk. Fortunately, our banks are doing just fine, and most of their staff still have a job.