Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quote of the Day - 31 May 2012

As May draws to a close, and as we get within hours of the official start of winter, Rob Hosking provides a gem from the NBR. Sadly, we can't give you a link, because the story is behind the pay-wall!

But Hosking says this:

"It's clear, from what is on the public record, that the likelihood of Mr Liu passing any objective good character test may be about as high as Kim Dotcom becoming Weight Watcher of the Year"

We can't help but wonder...

Movie mogul James Cameron is continuing his buy-up of New Zealand property; Stuff reports:

Movie mogul James Cameron has continued to snap up land in Wairarapa, adding a further three properties to his growing Kiwi empire.
The Overseas Investment Office has given Cameron the green light to buy nearly 30 hectares in south Wairarapa, where he already owns over 1000ha of farmland.
Spread across three properties on Western Lake Rd, the prices are all listed as confidential.
The OIO summary of Cameron's latest purchase states that the director plans to reside "indefinitely" in New Zealand with his family.
"They are acquiring the land as part of a larger acquisition of land in South Wairarapa, which they will use as a residence and working farm, " it states.
Cameron and wife Suzy Amis have said they want to raise their children - 10-year-old twins Claire and Quinn, and Elizabeth Rose, 5 - "close to the land and with a strong work ethic".
It is believed Cameron paid about $20 million in January for two large rural Wairarapa properties, one a 250ha dairy farm, the other a much larger 817ha hillside property overlooking Lake Pounui - a lake he also now owns. 

So we can't help but wonder; where is the outrage from David Shearer and Winston Peters? Where is the rhetotric about New Zealanders "becoming tenants in their own land"? Will Peters repeat his assertion that this "has been a shonky, jack-up job between Prime Minister John Key, his ministers, and the communist government of China."?

Oh; hang on; James Cameron is from Canada, not from China. Park those thoughts, because there's nothing to see here; move on...


A different kind of grief

As the parents of the triplets killed in the dreadful fire in Doha on Tuesday grieve, there's a different kind of grief surrounding British parents Mick and Mairead Philpott; Sky News UK reports:

The parents of six children killed in an arson attack on their home in Derby have been charged with murder.
Derbyshire Police had arrested Mick Philpott, 55, and his wife Mairead, 31, on suspicion of murder on Tuesday.
The pair will appear before Southern Derbyshire Magistrates' Court on Thursday morning.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "The evidence was reviewed by a Crown Advocate from the CPS East Midlands complex casework unit, who decided that there was sufficient evidence to charge and that it is in the public interest for a prosecution to take place.
"It is important to note that the defendants are entitled to a fair trial and nothing should be said or reported that would prejudice that right."
Duwayne Philpott, 13, Jade Philpott, 10, and brothers John Philpott, nine, Jack Philpott, seven, Jessie Philpott, six, and Jayden Philpott, five, all died as a result of the fire.
The fire broke out at the house, in Victory Road, Allenton, in the early hours of May 11.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill said: "Following the appeal yesterday a number of people have come forward with more information but I want to stress that the two charges this evening should not be seen as the end of the investigation.
"We are determined to get to the truth of what happened and still want people to speak to us to tell us what they know about this tragedy."

We heard about this awful loss of life a few weeks ago. But the arrest this week of the parents of the six children is something of a bombshell.

Obviously, the Philpotts are entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, but we assume that the Derbyshire Police have some pretty strong evidence against them. But the enormity of this alleged crime is almost unfathomable. We'll follow its progress with a mixture of interest and disbelief. 


Grant us strength!

Just when you thought that reality TV couldn't get any worse, it does; Stuff reports:

Jaime Ridge is set to go toe-to-toe in the boxing ring with one of the stars of TV show The GC, as she battles to secure her own reality TV show.
 Ridge, 18, will fight Rosanna Arkle, who is understood to be boxing in just a bikini, during an undercard match at the KFC Godfather of Fight Nights in Auckland on July 5.
The organiser of the event, David Higgins, was this morning reluctant to talk about Ridge's inclusion in the event as a formal announcement was scheduled for 11am, but he confirmed she would fight.
He would not comment on her opponent, but it's believed it will be Arkle, 23, a Whangarei-raised self-declared glamour model, who is one of the female stars of TV3's The GC.
The show follows a group of young Maori living on the Gold Coast. 

Arkle flew into Auckland yesterday.
The pair will fight over three two-minute rounds.
The main bout, held at the SkyCity Convention Centre, is between heavyweights Shane Cameron and American Monte Barrett.
The daughter of former Kiwis captain and All Black Matthew Ridge has been training with former Warrior and boxer Monty Betham and the pair have been tweeting about her progress.
"That is how you train. Have to breakdown before you can rebuild stronger. Great workout today at Boxing Alley," Betham tweeted on May 24.
Ridge wrote on the same day: "Got to go through the pain to gain."
She also tweeted about an early morning shopping trip to Britomart to buy "my new training outfit".
The fight is no doubt more made-for-TV fodder for a reality TV pilot Ridge is filming with her mother Sally. The pair have been seen with a camera crew catching up with gal-pals at Ponsonby hotspot SPQR and were recently followed to Colin Mathura-Jeffree's 40th birthday party. 

Stories like this make us delighted that we have Sky TV, with a wide range of programme choices. Imagine if this was the only channel one could watch, as it was back in the good old days. It doesn't even bear thinking about!

Suffice to say, we'll give this one a miss...

Where now for Jesse?

Jesse Ryder has turned his back on New Zealand cricket for the immediate future. He has made himself unavailable for an NZC contract for the 2012-13 season; Stuff reports:

Jesse Ryder and New Zealand Cricket have had an amicable parting of ways, leaving his international playing future in limbo.
The troubled but gifted New Zealand batsman will cease employment with NZC on August 1 after making himself unavailable for a national contract for 2012-13.
Ryder, 27, was unlikely to be offered one anyway after his recent off-field and fitness issues, but told NZC's director of cricket John Buchanan of his decision at his annual player review in Wellington yesterday as he works towards "a number of health and fitness-related goals".
His manager, Aaron Klee, and NZ Cricket Players Association boss Heath Mills, accompanied Ryder to the review and supported his decision.
NZC chief executive David White, in England on ICC business, was briefed last night.
"All of the evidence shows that Jesse is on the right track, both on and off the field, but we're aware that there are still steps to be made," White said.
"While cricket remains an important part of his life, it is his health and wellbeing that need to be the primary focus. Jesse wants to concentrate on his personal goals without the media pressures, commercial pressures and other demands associated with being a contracted player." 

Jesse Ryder remains probably the most naturally-talented player in the current New Zealand cricket scene. When fully fit and in form, he is a superb timer of the ball, he has proved that he can "bat time" as the current vernacular goes, is surprisingly agile in the field and is a more than useful bowler.

His off-field dramas have been well and truly thrashed out, and there's no need to re-hash them. We hope that time away from the pressures of international cricket will see Ryder recover in the widest sense of the word, and again be available to represent his country at some time in the future. At least he should have some money in the bank after the IPL, so he should not be under financial pressure to play when he is not ready.

We wish him well.

Around the traps: Robert Winter from Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow expresses similar sentiments. And over at LiveSport, there's an interview with Jesse Ryder's manager Aaron Klee.

Mortgage wars

One of the few positives about the current state of the economy is that interest rates have remained low, and seem likely to in the near future; good news for those with mortgages, but not so good for those looking for a good rate of return on their investments.

But as the Herald reports this morning, there's plenty of healthy competition between the banks at the moment:

Mortgage rates have hit rock bottom as banks offer thousands of dollars in cash and slash advertised interest rates in response to pressure from home-buyers for deals.
A mortgage broker has described the market as "frantic" and "the best it's ever going to get" after negotiating rates as low as 4.75 per cent for clients.
"Banks are cutting each other's lunch. They are incredibly good rates ... but these kinds of deals are not sustainable the more people jump on the bus."
Advertised fixed-interest rates on home loans are at historic lows, but customers can save thousands more dollars by haggling for even lower rates. The Herald has spoken to new home-owners who negotiated large cash bonuses and heavily reduced rates.
One, who asked not to be named, was given cash as well as a 4.9 per cent one-year rate after asking ANZ to match Kiwibank's 4.99 per cent offer.
Another couple switched from ASB to ANZ after being offered $2000 in legal costs and cash back and 0.5 per cent off the advertised floating rates.

We had a productive meeting at the bank yesterday where we were pleased to discover that merely by paying a few dollars extra each fortnight on the half of our mortgage which is fixed, we have taken a couple of years off the term. Given that we had budgeted for a rise in the floating rate in that period (which we're not allowed to pay extra on), we've upped the rate we will pay, and hope to be able to shorten the term even further. When that half comes up for review in a few months, we'll hope that rates are still low, and quite possibly lock it in for a little longer.

We're sure that there are plenty of other people in the same situation as we are, who are enjoying the chance to clear some debt, and we're equally sure that the banks will continue to be aggressive in trying to secure new business. Rod Emmerson has an amusing visual take on it:



Now; if only we could find out which bank is offering a new set of golf clubs; perhaps we could be persuaded to move our business! 

Speaking of food...


Whilst we're on the topic of food (and before we have our breakfast), here's a story for seriously adventurous foodies; the Herald reports:

A new Auckland restaurant that serves only puffer fish is struggling to convince diners it is safe to eat the dishes on its menu.
Chowon Puffer, a Korean-styled restaurant in Takapuna, has a range of puffer-fish dishes - barbecued, boiled, steamed, deep fried and in noodles or rice porridge.
But because it does not have trained chefs to prepare the fish, some diners are worried meals could be poisonous.
The toxin tetrodotoxin - up to 1200 times more lethal than cyanide - is found in the puffer's liver, ovaries, testes, intestines and skin. There is no known antidote, and ingesting it can cause death within minutes.
But the restaurant owner, James Ahn, says he does not need trained chefs, as his fish is imported from South Korea with the toxins removed.

Unsurprisingly, it's taking a while to catch on:

Mr Ahn said business at the Hurstmere Rd restaurant had been "slow" since it opened on April 18.
"I wanted my restaurant to be different from the others in New Zealand, but I know some people are still afraid that eating puffer fish is poisonous," he said.
"I have placed advertisements in the [local] Korean newspapers to tell customers our puffer-fish meat comes from a safe source and has New Zealand food safety approval, but outside the Korean community it is still difficult."
He remained optimistic demand for the delicacy would increase.
English-language teacher Ross Manson left the restaurant without ordering last weekend when he learned it did not have chefs trained to prepare puffer fish.
"I pride myself on being adventurous with food, but I am not stupid," said Mr Manson, who works in Japan.

And there's a very strong incentive for the chefs to get it right; the "eliminations" are far topugher than anything you'd see on Hell's Kitchen or Masterchef:

Puffer fish is also a delicacy in Japan, where it is known as "fugu".
Japanese chefs are required to undergo at least three years of training and apprenticeship, followed by a test that only one-third pass, before they are allowed to prepare their first fish.
Traditionally, fugu chefs who caused the death of a customer by not preparing the dish correctly were obliged to commit ritual suicide using their own fish knife.
The Ministry for Primary Industries, which oversees food safety, said the onus was on the restaurateur to ensure puffer fish was safe and suitable.

We enjoy fish, but this is one Asian delicacy that we think we'll give a wide berth. But if anyone survives the experience, we'd love to hear about it!


But wait; there's more...

KFC fans rejoice; the Double Down is making a comeback. And as they say in the best advertorials, but wait; there's more; Stuff reports:

The much-maligned but best-selling Double Down burger is coming back, along with a new product to tempt your palate.
Fast-food chain KFC has confirmed it's bringing back the successful Double Down burger later this year and is also putting its own Kiwi pie on the menu, possibly as early as next week.
The notorious Double Down sent sales soaring around the country in May last year and was even dubbed an extremely unhealthy "crime against food".
KFC is planning to sell the bunless burger later this year as it seeks to boost revenue after reporting deflated first quarter sales yesterday. For the uninitiated, the burger has bacon and cheese served between two chicken fillets instead of bread.
KFC, one of three major brands operated by the stock exchange-listed company Restaurant Brands, relies on new product releases - like its popular $5 lunch box deal - to help beef up its bottom line.
That's where the KFC pie comes in. "They're not intended to be as big as Double Down but certainly they're strong propositions," group chief executive Russel Creedy said.
A first for the KFC brand globally, the pie will contain chicken, potato mash and gravy.
"I can confirm I had a few and it's an excellent product. It's New Zealand-made as well," Creedy said
Kiwis' passion for pies is not lost on the company - it even debated calling the offering George the Pie, a nod to the now-defunct Georgie Pie chain. Creedy said he believed the calorie count on the KFC chicken pie would be similar to standard pies on the market.
Restaurant Brands will gauge the pie's popularity before it makes any firm decisions about how long it will be on sale.
"If it's a fantastic product we'll certainly look to put it on the menu permanently," Creedy said. 

We never did get around to trying a Double Down, and as we are still on a quest to improve our health (almost 17kg lost since New Year!), we'll probably turn down the opportunity this time around.

But the thought of a KFG pie is interesting indeed. Chicken, potato and gravy encased in pastry has to be a winner for those cold winter days that lie ahead, provided that the tastes remain authentic to "real" KFC. 

Given that we don't want to fall off the wagon, we'll probably give the pie a miss as well; then again, we've long said that we can resist anything except temptation! But we'll be interested to hear from anyone who does try one, whilst we stick to our starvation rations. 



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Auditor-General to investigate Shane Jones

The Auditor-General Lyn Provost has decided that the Shane Jones/Bill Liu affair warrants investigation; check this out:

Inquiry into citizenship decision

30 May 2012
The Auditor-General, Lyn Provost, has decided to carry out an inquiry into the decision by the former Associate Minister of Immigration, Mr Shane Jones, to grant citizenship to Mr Yong Ming Yan (also known as Yang (Bill) Liu).
This document sets out the terms of reference for the inquiry.

Background

Mr Yan was granted permanent residency in 2002 and subsequently applied for citizenship. The Minister of Internal Affairs decides whether to grant citizenship, supported by the Department of Internal Affairs. Mr Jones, as the Minister who dealt with the application, approved Mr Yan’s application for citizenship in 2008.
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr David Shearer, has asked the Auditor-General to carry out an inquiry into the probity of the decision to grant citizenship to Mr Yan. We have agreed to do so. The inquiry is being undertaken with the agreement of Mr Jones.

The inquiry

The inquiry will examine: 
  • the policies and practices of the Department of Internal Affairs when advising the Minister on applications for citizenship, in particular where the applicant’s ‘good character’ is in question;
  • how and why the Minister decided to grant citizenship to Mr Yan; and
  • any other matters the Auditor-General considers it desirable to report on.
Francis Cooke QC has been appointed to lead the inquiry, which is being carried out under sections 16 and 18(1) of the Public Audit Act 2001. We will publish a report when the inquiry is completed.

Interestingly, The A-G's inquiry includes the "how and why" of the decision itself, not just the process as requested by David Shearer. And it will be interesting to see whether anything fits in to the "any other matters" category, the blanket clause in the Terms of Reference.

Whilst we would far prefer that there was a wide-ranging inquiry into this matter, what Lyn Provost has announced today is certainly an improvement on what David Shearer requested. We look forward to the outcome.

Sad, but inevitable

The families of the Pike River miners have accepted that there is little chance of the bodies being recovered; Stuff reports:

The families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine have quit their battle to retrieve the bodies.
The decision was made at a meeting in Greymouth last night, where the families were told that a recovery operation was too dangerous.
Families spokesman Bernie Monk this afternoon said two Australian experts told the families that there was only a five to 10 per cent chance for the bodies to be recovered.
"In our hearts, we know it's not going to happen," he said.
"[The families] knew this day would come. They just wanted to explore every avenue."
The decision was a drastic u-turn by the families. Just two weeks ago, when Solid Energy confirmed it bought the mine for $7.5 million, they threatened to physically stop the company from taking coal from the site, if it started mining before recovering the bodies.
Solid Energy had said it would recover the bodies only as part of future commercial mining operations and if it was "safe, technically feasible and financially credible to do so".
"The families are hostile and they're not putting up with it," Monk said at the time.
But today, he said their position had changed.
The families would still push if any opportunity to recover the bodies arose, but had come to the realisation that safety of other people came first.
It had taken 18 months to get officials to sit the families down to show them the "wider picture" and look at them in the eyes, Monk said.
"They didn't tell us anything we didn't know. It was just the wider picture, the implications and the hardship of recovery."
"No one has ever come to us until now, and spoken the truth to us on what has to be done down there," he said. 

There was a sense of inevitability about this day, but that does not make it any easier for the families to bear. But it has become clear to everyone that the Pike River mine is still highly volatile, and that any attempt to recover the bodies would pose significant danger to those tasked with the recovery. The loss of 29 lives was 29 too many, but it would be an even greater tragedy if more lives were lost in a futile recovery effort.

We cannot begin to understand the stress and strain that the Pike River families must have been under in the last 18 months. We hope however that having come to terms with the reality that bodies will not be recovered will in time help them in their grieving process, and allow them to move on with their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

How far does free speech go?


Pamphlets promoting white supremacy ideals and dropped in letter boxes have disgusted a resident in a Hawke's Bay suburb.
Households in Havelock North received the pamphlets in the mail on Wednesday, asking them to "support the Right Wing Resistance" because "it's alright to be white".

One Napier Rd resident who received the pamphlet - and did not want to be named for fears of his safety - said the propaganda was shocking.

"It smacks of a racist, xenophobic, totalitarian, right-wing flavour, and anything like that sends off warning bells for me," he said.

"It's not something that we expect in a place we like to think of as civilised, I like to think of New Zealand as being open to different cultures and ethnicities."

The Right Wing Resistance website described its organisation as having a "mission," and listed Hawke's Bay as one of it's Central Region branches.

"We are an organised unified resistance movement against mass immigration, the dilution of our European culture and pride, and the current multicultural agenda created by the current government networks designed to destroy our colonial rights and identity.

"Our primary purpose is to recruit like-minded individuals and groups into an organisation of active men and women,"the website said.
The resident spoken to by Hawke's Bay Today said he threw the flyer away, but the message it delivered was "unbelievable".

"The human race is one species, not fragmented into a hierarchy.

"I am European and I don't understand what these sort of people believe in."

We have mixed thoughts on this. First and foremost, we abhor the aims and aspirations of the Right Wing Resistance movement. They foment racial hatred, and follow an extreme right-wing agenda which is opposite to pretty much everything we believe in.

But we also believe in the freedom of speech. As we mentioned in our Anzac Day post, three generations of our immediate family saw combat in various wars. One of the things they fought for was freedom, including the freedom of thought and speech.

So where do you draw the line. The Right Wing Resistance pamphlets may offend, but at what point should their right to distribute them be terminated? It's something of a two-edged sword, and we'd be interested to see what readers think.

Begging for a Tui billboard



Whoops; former Maori Party MP Rahui Katene has been caught out in a bit of a faux-pas; Stuff reports:

The Maori Party's former MP for Te Tai Tonga Rahui Katene says constituents are seeking her help because her Labour successor can't keep up with his workload - but until yesterday was advertising herself as the current member of Parliament.
Labour's Rino Tirikatene says Katene has "sour grapes" over losing the seat and has lodged a complaint with the Speaker of the House that her Facebook page had listed her as the MP for Te Tai Tonga.
Katene said today she had been fielding inquiries for the past few months from people who thought she was still their MP.
"I walk into a mall and people come up to me and ask me. I've been getting phone calls. It wasn't just at the beginning when people might have thought I was still the MP.
"I certainly hoped that by now they realise that I'm not, even though I'd still love to be. But because they can't get in touch with their MP, they find it easier to come up and talk to me."
Katene admitted until yesterday her Facebook page still said she was the MP. 

Now good on Mrs Katene for 'fessing up when she got busted. But those brownie points go out the window when she tries to make an excuse worthy of a Tui billboard; read on:

"Unfortunately I couldn't get into it. The person who had the password actually had gone overseas so it was just yesterday that I managed to get the password so I could make the change.
"I could get into it from my ipad but I couldn't make the change because it didn't allow me into that section."
Katene said despite having 2600 Facebook friends, she didn't believe it contributed to people believing she was still the MP.
"At least two of the people that saw me don't have access to electronic and social networking media so it wouldn't have been that at all." 

Someone should remind Mrs Katene that the best thing to do when you're in a hole is to stop digging.

And as for her the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse, there's only two words that adequately describe its credibility; yeah right!

More on Rent-a-Petition

We blogged yesterday about the revelation that the Greens are paying people to collect signatures on the anti-asset sales petition, which we thought was being sponsored by Grey Power and the NZ University Students Associations. Clearly it's not; this is a Labour Party and Green Party initiative, dressed in a mixture of mature and urban clothes.

But it's not just in Christchurch that the Greens are having problems finding activists to get folk to sign "their" petition. They are advertising positions all around the country via their website for "Out-of-Parliament support for Green MP's"; here's what they were looking for:

Out-of-Parliament support for Green MPs


 
 
The Green Party seeks to appoint staff to assist MPs with their work outside Parliament.
The positions will be based in Auckland (6 positions available), Wellington (3), Christchurch (2), Dunedin (1) and Hamilton (1).
Based in our out-of-Parliament offices these roles are predominantly tasked with collecting signatures for a petition calling for a referendum on asset sales. Staff will be required to engage with the public to raise awareness of the petition and gather signatures at a variety of locations (train stations/main streets/sports events, etc.). Data entry duties will also be required.
These roles require excellent interpersonal and organisational skills. Experience is desired in community engagement, cold-calling, direct customer relations, public campaigns and data entry.
The positions will be predominately full-time (40hrs) fixed term contracts from April 30th -June 30th 2012, however part-time arrangements will also be considered. Flexibility of working hours is also desired (weekends/evenings).
To apply please download and fill out the attached application form below and include with your cover letter and C.V. Please send applications to mass@parliament.govt.nz
Applications close 12pm Friday 20 April 2012
The Parliamentary Service appoints on merit and is committed to EEO and good employer principles. Applicants for this position should have NZ residency or a valid work permit.

These, as the advertisement states, are Parliamentary Service positions, which means that you and we are paying for them. That stinks.

But what is worse is that the Greens are using government money to oppose a policy which the current Government campaigned on, and intends to deliver on, having been given a mandate by those who bothered to vote on or before 27 November 2011. There's something fundamentally wrong with taxpayers having to pay for that; it's state funding of political parties by stealth.

Over at Kiwiblog DPF puts it equally plainly:

I have had it confirmed that the Greens are using taxpayer funds to hire staff to collect signatures for the asset sales petition, as speculated yesterday.
This is effectively an abuse of what the CIR process is about. First of all the idea behind citizen’s initiated referenda are that it gives a chance for non MPs to petition Parliament and force a vote on an issue. It has never before been used by the losing parties in a general election to try and over-throw the results of an election, by holding a referendum on the policy which was at the centre of the election campaign. The history of CIR is that they have been on issues for which no party had explicitly campaigned at a previous election.
So bad enough that Labour and the Greens are pushing a referendum on a policy that was debated for 11 months during the election campaign, but even worse that the Greens are using some of their $1.3m of taxpayer funding to purchase signatures for the petition. The same Greens who decry money in politics. CIR are meant to be about showing the level of community support for a vote on an issue. Using taxpayer funds to hire people to collect signatures will demonstrate little other than how much taxpayer money the Greens are prepared to spend on it.
So much for being the party of grass-roots activism.
At least it is a step up from the Labour MP who was paying an 11 year old girl $10 an hour to wave Labour Party placards during the election campaign.

This is an issue that should be referred to Parliamentary Services as a matter of urgency. If it is deemed to be an appropriate use of taxpayer funds, so be it. But as DPF notes, this is an attempt to re-litigate the 2011 election by way of a CIR.

We hope that this matter receives some urgent scrutiny.



Of John Minto and low blows

John Minto has a long and chequered "activist" history. But surely he and the Herald have hit a new low this morning, even by his standards; check this out:

Nearly half of the Government's Cabinet ministers send or have sent their children to elite schools which are unlikely to feel the effects of changes to classroom sizes.
A Herald survey of ministers found that at least seven of the sixteen Cabinet ministers with school-aged children sent all or some of their children to private schools. Four ministers refused to say where their children attended or could not respond, and five ministers said they had enrolled their kids in state schools.
Education Minister Hekia Parata announced as part of the Budget the new standardised ratio for Years 2 to 10 would be 27.5 students per teacher - up four students per teacher.
Critics of the changes to class sizes point out the National-led Government has doubled state subsidies to private schools in its time in charge, allowing them to keep class sizes smaller.
Quality Public Education Coalition chairman John Minto argued in the Herald yesterday that ministers had enrolled their children in schools which were unaffected by the proposed changes.

Politicians work hard, regardless of what party they represent. And their hard work and frequent absences from home take a huge toll on their families. Relationships fail at a higher rate than the general population, and we can think of at least two MP's who have lost children to suicide.

To be fair to Minto, his reference to Ministers' children was a small part of a larger overview of proposed education changes. But it was a part that should not have been written, in our ever-humble opinion.

We all have choices. Most of the Ministers in the current Government come from professions which have given them the means to exercise choice with regard to their children's education. By invoking the politics of envy, and by making sly references to Ministers' children, Minto detracts from what would otherwise be a thought-provoking assessment of the Government's education decisions.

Leave the children out of it John; it's precisely stories like your one that make the children of MP's wish that Mum or Dad had followed an alternative career path.

The LV Martin Effect

Those readers who are of a similar vintage to us, and who grew up in the area served by WNTV1 (in the good old days of regional television) will remember the advertisements for LV Martin and Son. Founded by Leo Vincent Martin in the 1930's, the TV advertisements featured his son, Alan Martin. And they launched LV Martin and Son's signature line; "It's the putting right that counts".

There's no easy way to say this; the Government screwed up the rebalancing of class size ratios in last weeks Budget. That has caused a flurry of activity at the Beehive, and it saw Ministers in pretty surly mood in the House yesterday. And quite frankly, it's not good enough.

So Hekia Parata is now invoking the LV Martin Effect; the Beehive website reports:


Minister provides assurances to schools

Education Minister Hekia Parata says no school will lose more than two full-time teachers (FTTEs) as a result of the policy changes in Budget 2012.
“As we've previously said, about 90% of schools will either gain, or have a net loss of less than one FTTE as a result of the combined effect of the ratio changes and projected roll growth,’’ Ms Parata says.
“We have examined the effect on the other 10 per cent of schools, and some would be affected more than we would accept.
“Schools will be given a guarantee that their staffing entitlement will not be reduced by more than two FTTEs over the next three years as a result of the policy changes.
“It is also not the intention of the policy to undermine the specialist technology provision at Levels 7 and 8. The Ministry of Education, together with the sector working group to be established by the Ministry, will ensure that technology provision continues.
“Either way no school will end up with more than two FTTEs fewer than they currently have, because of these policy changes.”
Any additional cost from these changes will be met from a contingency set aside by the Ministry of Education to manage the transition to the new ratios, Ms Parata says.

A week is a long time in politics, as Ms Parata will doubtless be reflecting. She will now be judged not on the gains she achieved for education in Budget 2012 ($500m of additional spending) but by this stuff-up, and her response to it.

 Ms Parata deserves some credit for acknowledging the stuff-up, and for providing reassurances to the schools which were led to believe the worst. But she now has to put the LV Martin Effect into action, and sort her cock-up out. We have lauded Ms Parata before, and hope that she will give us cause to acknowledge her again in the future. In the meantime however, she has some putting right to do.

A boss we once had told us once (and just the once) "I will put up with pretty much any mistake. Learn from it though, because I only put up with it once.". That was sound advice, and we've tried to follow it and turn our mistakes (and we've made plenty!) into learning experiences. We're sure that John Key will have given similar advice to Hekia Parata, and we hope that she takes it on board.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rent-a-petition

We've just been alerted to something very interesting on Twitter; check out this vacancy on the Student Job Search website:





That's right Dear Readers; the Green Party, that last bastion of honesty and principle in New Zealand politics is paying people to go out and collect signatures for their petition against the Government's Mixed Ownrship Model, which they still misleadingly refer to as "Asset Sales".

Two questions come to mind immediately; is it so hard to get people to sign this petition that the Green Party has to pay for people to accost members of the public and bully them into signing; rather like Scientologists do? And can the Green Party give us a categorical assurance that no taxpayer funds are being spent on this initiative?

With various opinion polls putting the Green Party in the mid-teens, you'd think that there would be plenty of Green Party activists willing to get out and do this as an act of service. But if nothing else this reinforces the perception that principles are just an abstract concepot to the Green Party, and that anything goes if the price is right; especially if someone else is footing the bill.

George Gwaze acquitted

George Gwaze has been acquitted; the Herald reports:

George Gwaze has been found not guilty of murdering his 10-year-old niece.
The jury of seven men and five women considered their verdict for almost six hours on Friday and another seven hours yesterday after a four-week retrial at the High Court in Christchurch, before coming to a decision today.
Gwaze had denied one count of murder and two charges of sexual violation of HIV positive Charlene at their family home in Christchurch in January 2007.
The Crown alleged that Charlene, who had HIV, was sexually attacked and suffocated by her uncle.
The defence claimed she had HIV which she had carried since birth, and that was what killed her.

What makes this case rare and noteworthy however, is that it the second time that a jury has acquitted Mr Gwaze. He was found not guilty by a Christchurch High Court jury in July 2009. 

There the matter would normally have ended. However the Crown appealed the acquittal in the Court of Appeal on the basis that the trial judge had erred by allowing defence evidence from a South African paediatric surgeon. The Court of Appeal turned down the Crown's appeal by a two-to-one majority.

Not satisfied, the Crown then took the case to the Supreme Court, and as Stuff reported on 17 May 2010, won a prededent-setting case:

George Gwaze will face a retrial for the rape and murder of his niece in Christchurch after the Supreme Court overturned the jury's not guilty verdict and ordered a new trial.
The Crown has succeeded in a last-ditch bid in the Supreme Court to have murder-accused Gwaze retried.
The Supreme Court released its decision at 4pm to allow the Crown appeal and quashed Gwaze's previous acquittals.
A certified direction for new trial will be issued to the registrar of the High Court at Christchurch, the decision says.
It is believed to be the first time the Supreme Court has overturned a not guilty verdict on a murder charge. 

Today a second High Court jury has acquitted Mr Gwaze. We have grave reservations however that he should ever have been retried. We would be especially interested in comments from some of our lawyer readers on the legal aspects of the case

Whilst the Gwaze family and George Gwaze himself will doubtless be jubilant at today's verdict, they will carry the stain of Charlene's death for the rest of their lives. We hope that they can now find peace as a family, grieve for Charlene, and rebuild their shattered lives in the country they now call home.

Well done that teacher

Whilst we may not have much time for teacher unions, we have a lot of respect for the teachers we know, play golf with and socialise with; it's a profession that we know we're not cut out for.

And we certainly have the utmost regard for a teacher by the name of Felise Tai'i, who defused a very nasty situation yesterday; Stuff reports:

A Paeroa College student watched as a fellow student knocked a girl out of his way before allegedly pointing a BB gun at his face and shooting him between the eyes.
"He was like real angry," the teen told the Times last night.
"He got me in the temple then I went under [the desk] and he got me in the back of the head."
The teen – whom cannot be named for legal reasons – was sitting in class about 10am when the 14-year-old allegedly strode in wearing a gang bandana – covering everything but his eyes.
In his hand was a spring-loaded replica gun.
"I thought it was a real gun because it looked like it."
As the boy pointed the gun at him, the teen sat stunned. Thinking it was loaded with bullets, his first instinct was to duck under the desk, but he wasn't quick enough with one of the plastic pellets getting him right between the eyes.
When the boy's teacher – Felise Tai'i – yelled for the boy to stop, the armed student allegedly turned the gun on him firing three to four times.
Acting quickly, Mr Tai'i "clotheslined" the attacker, taking him to ground with an outstretched arm as the boy continued to shoot the gun towards the wall.
Mr Tai'i kept the teen subdued until police arrived and took him into custody, with a stopover at Thames Hospital to ensure that the "minor" injuries he received during his struggle with the Mr Tai'i were not too serious.
Last night the victim's father was "pissed off" and distraught to see his son so upset.
"He could have lost an eye. It was a plastic gun but he had full intention to use it as a weapon. If he had real gun he could have killed someone."
The teen said his alleged attacker's aggression towards him could have stemmed from an incident last Friday in which a BB gun he'd taken to school fell out of his bag.
He claimed the student picked it up and started pointing at people and was later stood down.
However, the Times understands it's not the first instance of bad behaviour from the alleged attacker this term. 

And Mr Tai'i's actions have also received a big thumbs-up from the local police; read on:

Eastern Waikato area commander Inspector Dana McDonald said the accused would appear in Hamilton Youth Court this morning.
"The actions of the teacher were highly commendable in that he put himself in harm's way to protect students in the class.
"This was one of those incidents I doubt they train you for at teachers' college." 

Mr Tai'i's principal has also been fulsome in his support, and rightly so. As Inspector McDonald noted, it's not the kind of eventuality that teachers are trained to deal with, but it sounds as though a tackle which might have been illegal in rugby or league did the trick! 

So well done Felise Tai'i; we hope that your quick thinking and bravery is both recognised and rewarded. One only has to think of Columbine or Georgia Tech. to have an appreciation of just how this could have turned out had the firearm been real.

Tragedy far away from home

The news that two-year-old New Zealand triplets have been among the victims of a tragic fire in Doha, Qatar is terribly sad.

Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare. To lose three young children at once is almost too horrible to comprehend. That the family was living and working on the other side of the world and away from whanau and friends in New Zealand just adds to the enormity of the loss.

All we can offer is our thoughts, our prayers and our aroha both to the parents and any other family in Doha, and to the family back home. The days ahead will be grim, and we hope that this family will be given the space it needs to deal with its terrible loss.

Dom-Post on the Urewera Four

The Dom-Post has been turning out some excellent editorials in recent weeks. And this morning's editorial on the sentencing of the Urewera Four is no exception. In fact it's so good that we are taking the rare step of reproducing it in full and unsegmented. We'll offer some comments at the end.

Here 'tis:

It is too much to hope that the sentencing of the "Urewera Four" will end a divisive affair that has dragged on for too long, but it should.
By using firearms at military-style training camps in the Ureweras, Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey broke the law. They did so repeatedly and in a manner that damaged relations between the Crown and the Tuhoe people. The Independent Police Conduct Authority has yet to rule on the police conduct of the raids that terrified the residents of the eastern Bay of Plenty township of Ruatoki but, whatever it finds, the ultimate responsibility for the raids rests with the four convicted of firearms offences. If they, and others, had not been playing at soldiers in the bush and taking part in alarming discussions, the raids would not have occurred.
The facts, as set out during sentencing by Justice Rodney Hansen, are these: in January, September and October 2007 Iti organised, and the others participated in, a series of camps, or rama, near Ruatoki. During the camps semi-automatic weapons, sawn-off shotguns, and sporting rifles were fired. In addition, Molotov cocktails were made and thrown at one of the camps. When police terminated their surveillance operation, three rifles, two of them semi-automatic, were found under a tarpaulin at Iti's Ruatoki house, four rifles and a semi-automatic shotgun were found in the boot of Kemara's car and in a caravan he occupied, and a .22 rifle was found in a backpack at a Wellington campsite occupied by Signer and Bailey.
The explanations proffered by defence counsel for the camps and the use of firearms  that participants were being taught bushcraft and survival skills or that they were being trained for employment in the security industry  were dismissed by the judge as "utterly implausible".
The evidence pointed, he said, to the establishment of a private militia. That those running the camps did not know what they were doing and posed a greater danger to themselves than the general public is beside the point. So, too, is the fact that the judge concluded they were motivated by a sense of altruism rather than criminality. They wanted to redress Tuhoe grievances.
A crime committed in pursuit of laudable objectives is just as much a crime as a crime committed for base motives. Those who have rushed to defend Iti and his fellows should ask themselves how they would react if a group of white supremacists was found to be covertly preparing for guerilla warfare.
The judge sentenced Iti and Kemara to two-and-a-half-years' imprisonment. He indicated he was prepared to consider a sentence of nine months' home detention for Signer and Bailey provided a suitable address could be found. They had played a lesser role in the offending.
The sentences are just. They serve as a warning not just to Iti and his fellows, but to others of all political persuasions that political activity must fall within the bounds of the law.
The rule of law depends upon all being equal before the law. 

"A crime committed in pursuit of laudable objectives is just as much a crime as a crime committed for base motives." Therein lies the whole story of the Urewera saga. Whatever the aims and aspirations of Iti, Kemara, Baily and Signer, they were found guilty by a jury of their peers of breaking the law, and they must now accept the consequences of their law-breaking.

There will now doubtless be appeals against convictions and sentences, and Judge Rodney Hansen's logic in applying sentences will be put under the legal microscope. We are sure that he will have researched his sentencing notes well (you can read them for yourself here), and ensured that his sentencing complies with the Sentencing Act; after all, this case was always going to come under significant legal and public scrutiny.

But at the end of the day, the rule of law is paramount. However Iti and his co-defendants perceive their and Tuhoe's grievances against the Crown and against Pakeha, there was no justification for their lawbreaking. Had the Police and the Courts simply turned a blind eye to what some Maori have tried to downplay as a bunch of eccentrics running around in the bush playing war games, we would be on a sloppery slope towards anarchy.

We commend the Dom-Post for an outstanding editorial this morning; one with which we agree wholeheartedly.

A tale of four letters

In the last couple of weeks we have devoted a reasonable amount of space to the Shane Jones/Bill Liu citizenship issue. And pretty much as often as we've posted, Judge Holden has brought Pansy Wong's participation into the argument.

So let's look at the letter she wrote, in comparison to the letters written on Bill Liu's behalf by other MP's. It's a matter of public record that Bill Liu made donations to the campaigns of Mrs Wong, Chris Carter and Dover Samuels, so on that basis, each was treated equally.


Minister of Ethic Affairs Chris Carter wrote a similar letter:


Note that neither Mrs Wong's letter nor that of Mr Carter actually asked for the application to be granted. Both ended in almost identical fashion, expressing a wish that Mr Liu would hear soon from the Department.

Compare these letters with those written by former Minister and then-current Labour MP Dover Samuels. The first was written on 30 January 2008; here it is:


Mr Samuels' first letter is very reasonable, and like those of Mr Carter and Mrs Wong, does not directly petition the Minister for a favourable decision. However his second letter, written in May 2008 is a different kettle of fish altogether:


This is an angry letter. Dover Samuels rails against the concerns raised by Immigration and Internal Affairs officials. He talks about Liu being under "mental torture", and he asks the Minister (at that stage, the Hon Rick Barker). Interestingly, although Mr Samuels professes to have known Liu personally for some time, there is no mention made of his arrest on any return to China, nor execution, nor harvesting of organs. Nor was there any request for Rick Barker to approve Liu's application on humanitarian grounds.

But back to Judge Holden. He/she has tried for days now to embroil Pansy Wong into this turgid mess. But the letter she wrote on Mr Liu's behalf is nothing more or nothing less than would would be expected from an MP writing on behalf of a member of the public. Ask any MP; writing references and testimonials on their constituents for all manner of reasons is a daily occurrence.

And let's not forget that it's not Pansy Wong who is in the firing line; she was no more than an Opposition back-bench MP when this letter was written.  Dover Samuels was a Labour backbench MP, but a close mate of Shane Jones. And although Samuels may have had little impact of Jones' decision, be may be able to assist with the identity of mystery Labour donor Tamati Wu, whose address was the same as that of Jones' senior private secretary

Shane Jones was the Minister who made the decision, and it is his decision on Bill Liu's citizenship application that has caused all the controversy. But Judge Holden can't resist trying to muddy the waters. We can only deduce that (s)he is so embarrassed by the ineptitude of his/her beloved Labour MP's that this is his/her way of dealing with it. But let's not let a good smear get in the way of the facts.


FOOTNOTE: The letters reproduced in this post are documents that are available in the public domain. They were part of a package of documents released under the OIA, to which we linked in a post last week.

Unforeseen consequences

The decision in Budget 2012 to rebalance teacher ratios has had unforeseen consequences; Stuff reports:

Education funding reforms go too far for some intermediate schools, Prime Minister John Key admits.
Changes announced in last week's Budget will see teacher numbers capped over the next four years. The cap is achieved by a series of changes to funding formulas, which rebalance the spread of about 52,500 teachers across the nation's schools.
It is likely some teachers will be laid off as a result of the changes as some schools are forced to meet new, lower budgets.
While the overall number of teachers will not change much, new teachers will likely be competing with more candidates for fewer new positions.
Mr Key admitted there were a few schools where "a significant number of teachers" would have to leave under the proposed changes.
"That would be too many for the Government, so we'll have to work on that," Mr Key said.
"For the overwhelming bulk of schools, we're comfortable – change is very modest. For some, it's more extreme, it's at the harder end and I think we need to look at addressing that harder end." 

Critics of the proposed reform were quick to point out anomalies in the Government's plan. And to their credit, John Key and Hekia Parata acknowledge this, and will be having a re-think.

No government gets everything right. In an ideal world, the full effect of funding changes would have been thoroughly worked through, so that anomalies could be eliminated. 

Clearly, that has not been the case here, and the Government gets a fail mark because of it. Let's hope that their second attempt is more successful, and that "unforeseen consequences" are actually predicted through thorough analysis of the proposals and their downstream effects. In the meantime, their report card reads "Must try harder".

Monday, May 28, 2012

The issue that just won't go away

There was considerable media coverage of the Shane/Jones/Bill Liu issue over the weekend, and it seems unlikely that the story is going to die a natural death just yet.

And over at Kiwiblog, DPF has a lengthy post today summarising much of what has been revealed so far, but including a few other pieces of information that we had hitherto been unaware of. And there are still some significant unanswered questions; here's a small part of Farrar's post where he summarises Bill Liu's past, and the circumstances by which he was granted citizenship:

  • Yan moved to New Zealand and purchased two properties worth $7.4m. He paid cash for them.
  • Yan claims to be a member of Falun Gong, and cites this as why he left China. However Falun Gong prohibit gambling, and Yan was the largest customer of the Sky City casino.
  • Paid Labour Party fund-raiser Shane Te Pou $5,000 to help his citizenship application. Te Pou (whom Clark had banned from the Beehive over ethical concerns) introduced him to Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker. Te Pou was also campaign manager to Dover Samuels, whom his brother had also worked for.
  • Samuels received a $5,000 donation from a Tamaki Wu who appears to be a fictitious person, and whose listed address is owned by Daniel Philips, brother of Shane Te Pou.
  • Yan also donated $5,000 to Chris Carter and to Pansy Wong. Rick Barker also received an “anonymous” $5,000 donation the same year.  It is also a matter of record that Labour held several fundraising dinners at the Jade Terrace restaurant, attended by Yan. At these dinners the “bucket” is literally passed around and no one knows how much any one individual contributed. They are reputed to sometimes raise a six figure sum in one evening.
  • Barker did not recuse himself immediately on the basis of his friendship With Yan. In fact he stayed involved until quite late in the piece when he delegated the decision to Shane Jones (Jones was not the Associate DIA Minister, and any Minister could have been chosen) – the one Minister whose most senior office staffer was the brother of Shane Te Pou who was being paid to help him get citizenship.
  • Jones was strongly advised not to grant citizenship, on the multiple grounds of the Interpol warrants, the criminal charges in China, the multiple identities and the ongoing investigation by Immigration NZ over whether he was even entitled to residency. Jones granted citizenship.
  • Yan given citizenship by Dover Samuels in the Maori Affairs Select Committee Room on 11 August 2008, five days after the decision.

We certainly weren't aware that Shane Te Pou was banned from the Beehive over "ethical concerns". And the "Tamaki Wu" donation has a very odd look to it, especially the use of the address of Shane Jones' senior private secretary Daniel Phillips for the mysterious donor.

And as DPF notes, it's not only the Auditor-General who might be having a closer look at this whole matter; the Serious Fraud Office is now considering an investigation. That would be a logical move, given all the uncertainty over Liu's genuine identity, and his alleged frauds in other countries.

We are not for one moment suggesting that Shane Jones took a back-hander for approving Liu's citizenship application. But there are so many things here that simply do not add up, especially since Jones has attempted to justify his decision citing something that was an absolute red herring.

It will be interesting to see what the Auditor-General says; Ms Provost has indicated that her decision on whether or not to investigate will be expedited. But we remain convinced that a wider inquiry is required to protect the integrity of the system by which citizenship is granted.




Trevor gets served

Why don't have to ask "Where's Trevor?" any longer. He has been served with court documents concerning the defamnation action against him launched by Judith Collins. Here's his comment on Twitter:


Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little made a huge fanfare about avoiding service, which I am sure has made many of their caucus colleagues feel rather uncomfortable, law-abiding citizens that they are. 

But the woman who served Trevor couldn't have been further from the "leather-clad thug" stereotype that Mallard and Little talked about a couple of weeks ago; she looks like someone's granny! And good on her for using subterfuge to get an appointment with Mallard' sometimes, as the old saying goes (and this is analgous only) it takes a thief to catch a thief.

Dom-Post on the Greens and Labour

We're sure that the Dom-Post editorial will have been read in both the Labour Party and Green Party leader's offices this morning. But we expect that the reactions between the two will have been significantly different; here's how it begins:

It is a toss-up which is more embarrassing for the Labour Party – former associate immigration minister Shane Jones' explanation for granting citizenship to a shadowy Chinese millionaire with multiple identities or leader David Shearer's initial acceptance of that explanation.
According to Mr Jones he granted citizenship to Yong Ming Yan, otherwise known as Bill Liu, because an official told him Mr Yan would be arrested, executed and his "organs harvested" if he returned to China.
According to Mr Shearer, he chose not to take action after speaking to Mr Jones about the case because the process by which the former minister ignored official advice appeared "considered and proper".
It was not till others pointed out the incongruity of Mr Jones' claims that Mr Yan's life was at risk if he was denied citizenship and Mr Yan's claims to have fostered better relations between New Zealand and China that the Labour leader decided to stand Mr Jones down as a party spokesman and ask the auditor-general to investigate.
However, Labour's problems go far deeper than Mr Shearer's timorous leadership and Mr Jones' quixotic approach to his ministerial responsibilities. 

The leader writer is pretty dismissive of David Shearer in his opening gambit, and not without cause. Shearer's different positions on the Jones/Liu issue have not been unlike those Phil Goff took in March last year when the Darren Hughes allegations surfaced.

Moving right along, here's what will have been well received in the Green Party's leader's office (or should that be offices?):

While Labour's leader and senior spokespeople um and ah about what they would do differently from the Government, its putative ally, the Green Party, is eating its lunch.
Having shed itself of the nutty Sue Bradford, now helping the Mana Party plumb public opinion poll depths, its 14 MPs are bringing a previously unseen focus to environmental issues.
There will be many who shudder at the prospect of the introduction of a carbon tax, and the other tax changes proposed by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman in a pre-Budget article in last week's Dominion Post. The party's philosophical objections to major roading projects and its feel-good plans for state-owned power companies are equally alarming.
However, there is no disputing that the Greens know their stuff and are arguing from a position of principle. The contrast with Labour could not be starker. It is apparent every day – in Parliament during question time, and on the airwaves.
The Greens are sharper and more intellectually rigorous. Labour's MPs give the impression they are waiting to be told by their researchers what the public thinks about an issue before taking a position. The Greens, on the other hand, are setting out to change public opinion. 

We don't like the policy direction of the Green Party, but credit where's it's due; the Greens have easily been the most impressive of the opposition parties since the 50th Parliament convened in December. At times, Russel Norman has looked like a Leader of the Opposition in waiting.

Oddly though, we don't see much of Metiria Turei. She's often absent from the House, and when she is, Julie Anne Genter often slips into Turei's seat; could that be a sign of things to come?

And whilst the close of the editorial might be a bit of a reality check for the Greens, they will nonetheless be encouraged that the media is noticing their improvement:

It is unlikely the environmental party will ever gain enough mainstream support to dominate a government. The trade-off inherent in their policy between prosperity and the environment limits their appeal.
But while the Greens continue to expose the inadequacies of their Labour opposites, there is little prospect of Labour reasserting itself.
Labour needs to deal with its historical baggage and sort out what it stands for quickly. Otherwise it might as well forget about the 2014 election and start planning for 2017. 

This is an excellent editorial from the Dom-Post's leader writer. Labour has a big challenge ahead of it winning back the support it has lost to the Greens. Likewise the Green Party faces a big challenge in making the transition from a fringe party to genuine contenders. Thus far, the Greens have a significant advantage over Labour.