Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why welfare reform is needed

Simon Collins has a story in the Herald today about the Government's proposed welfare reforms; check this out:

Melanie Hoto, 33, worked in a lunch bar on the North Shore and then at a fish market in Tauranga but eventually ended up on the DPB.
"I came back to Auckland and lost interest [in work]. It was so hard trying to find work. I even applied to work here at McDonald's," she says over a hot chocolate at McDonald's in Glen Innes.
"In the end I fell pregnant with my daughter and I thought, 'I get a good amount of money on the benefit, why bother working?"'
Her partner "was never in the picture".
"It was a one-night stand," she says. "He's in jail now for robbing a shop. He was into drugs - a lot of people are into it, it's easy cash."
She realised later that the benefit was hardly enough to live on and got work in restaurants and rest homes while her daughter, now 6, was at kohanga and then kindergarten. But each job ended, for various reasons, and she found herself back on the benefit.
She became pregnant again recently near the end of a two-year relationship that she left because her partner was obsessively controlling. She says she would not have let herself fall pregnant if the new law had been in force.
"I would have been more cautious about what I do in that department. I just think it's not fair [to have a] child if you're not going to be there."
Another woman, Renee, became pregnant with a flatmate while on the benefit when her first two children were 8 and 5, and says it "was never a boyfriend/girlfriend thing". She also thinks the new law is "fair".
"If the law had been in place, I just would have been probably more cautious," she says.
At another McDonald's recently, she overheard two young mothers with babies talking about how they were trying to get pregnant again.
"I'm loving this benefit shit," one said. "I'm going to have another baby, I'll keep having them, it's free money."

Over the last few years we've done quite a bit voluntary work. And the story that Collins reports at the foot of that extract is one that sadly, we've heard over and over again. We certainly don't believe that this was what Michael Joseph Savage had in mind when the Welfare State was established way back before we were born.

So how can this be rolled back, given that we are a generation on from the Bolger/Richardson benefit cuts of the early 1990's. And what future do those children who are effectively being conceived as "free money" have?

Of course, not all those on benefits are looking to rip the system off. But a growing number sees the state as its meal ticket. A society is judged on how well it looks after its most vulnerable, but those who abuse the system make things a lot tougher for those in genuine need of state support.

Welfare is a very emotive issue, but it is also one that has a significant economic effect; the more people on welfare and the fewer earning and paying taxes, the greater the burden on every taxpayer. The Government is trying to strike a balance between fairness and affordability, and for every person who is critical of the moves to transition people off benefits and into work, there will be someone who says that the pace of reform is not fast enough.

Tampering with welfare almost always has political consquences. But is that an excuse for doing nothing?

Is Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat?

The US Anti Doping Agency has formally laid charges against road cycling's most successful rider Lance Armstrong; the New York Times reports:

The United States Anti-Doping Agency has officially charged Lance Armstrong with a violation, accusing him of doping during most of his cycling career and taking part in a doping conspiracy.
The case against Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who retired from cycling last year, will be heard by an arbitration panel if he rejects the charges. That arbitration hearing could be open to the public, if Armstrong chooses, and could be held by November.
Armstrong, 40, has hinted that he will fight the charges, which are the latest in more than a decade of doping allegations against him, but he has not announced how he will move forward. He says he has never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s longtime team manager; Michele Ferrari, Armstrong’s former trainer; two team doctors and a team trainer also were charged with doping violations. They were accused of involvement with the suspected scheme while with the United States Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.
If the charges against them are upheld, Armstrong and the others cited face lifetime bans from cycling and other Olympic sports. 

 Despite his claim to be the most-tested athlete on the planet, there has always been a question-mark over Lance Armstrong. Professional cycling is rife with drug cheats; is it plausible that Armstrong was so much better than those who were chemically assisted for so long?

Battle lines have already been drawn; read on:

Robert D. Luskin, one of Armstrong’s lawyers, sent a statement on Friday that said Armstrong was “exploring all his legal options.” He called the antidoping agency’s decision to charge Armstrong “wrong” and “baseless.”
“There is not one shred of credible evidence to support USADA’s charges,” Luskin said.
Luskin said the antidoping agency charged Armstrong based on an e-mail message from Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the Tour title in 2006 for doping, and a television interview given by Tyler Hamilton, who last year admitted being part of a doping scheme on the United States Postal Service team. Both were Armstrong’s teammates and have claimed that Armstrong doped and encouraged doping.
The antidoping agency has said, however, that it has more than 10 cyclists who will testify against Armstrong, as well as other team employees who will say Armstrong doped. The agency says it has firsthand witnesses for every charge. 

This investigation will become one of 2012's biggest sporting stories , and we'll be keeping a close eye on it. We'll be interested to hear what our in-house cycling expert James Stephenson has to say, given that he follows the sport a lot more closely than we do.

Watch this space...

In the nick of time...

Skiing isn't on our must-do list when winter rolls around. Sliding down mountains and getting cold and wet isn't our idea of fun, but it brings important revenue to places like Ohakune, Raetihi and National Park.

And this week in the nick of time, the North Island skifields got just what they needed; snow; around a metre of it! The photograph above is from the Giant Cafe at Turoa, at 4.30pm yesterday. With the school holidays beginning, the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts folk and all the businesspeople of the towns mentioned above will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Turoa has a snow base of 1 metre, and Whakapapa isn't far behind. Given that the CNI mountains get most of their snow in July, August and even September, a fantastic season beckons. Over the last few years, there's still been enough snow to ski until the end of October, so having a start like this to the season is a bonus.

And hopefully some of those venturing up for a ski will bring their bikes as well, now that the Mountains to the Sea Cycleway is up and running; all the way from Ohakune to Castlecliff Beach, through some of New Zealand's most picturesque scenery alongside the Whanganui River.

The greater Whanganui region is a happening place; come and try it out for yourself!

Armstrong on "those" targets...

John Armstrong's column this morning contains a salutory lesson for the parties of the Left, and it's right there in the very final paragraph:

As usual, the left has underestimated Key. As he says, his Government is going boldly where no government has gone before. Others are struggling to keep up.

The Left has been underestimating John Key ever since he entered Parliament. They simply cannot understand how a man who has not lived and breathed politics for every waking and sleeping moment of his life can lead a political party. They don't seem to grasp that not being a career politician is actually Key's greatest strength and that because he doesn't look at everything in purely political terms, they can't pigeon-hole him.

So how did John Armstrong get to that final paragraph? What was his rationale? Let's go back to the beginning; check this out:

If Labour thinks National's new five-year targets for improvements in some of New Zealand's ugliest and most depressing statistics are little more than a political gimmick, the party should think again.
Last Monday's announcement by the Prime Minister laid out the percentage changes required to meet the targets which cover such things as violent crime and beneficiary numbers.
It was widely misinterpreted as a bid to shift the focus away from National's unpopular legislation paving the way for the partial sale of state assets.
In fact, National had promised the percentages would be released by the end of this month.
More crucially, National sees the targets as devices which will not only be agenda-setters, but something enabling National to claim ownership of vast areas of policy territory usually the preserve of Labour. That makes the targets vital components in National's 2014 election strategy.
There is no indication Labour has woken up to the fact that some of the targets - such as boosting child immunisation rates, lifting the numbers getting trade qualifications and tackling youth crime - amount to an invasion of its traditional domains.
It is still high risk stuff on National's part, however.
The 14 targets which pertain to the portfolios of six of the Cabinet's 20 ministers traverse some of the country's most deep-seated social problems.
There is no guarantee either that National's according priority to things such as violent crime in general and assaults on children in particular will produce any rapid turnaround in the figures.
The public will be able to judge. Data measuring progress will be released at regular intervals once departments have finalised "action plans" outlining how the targets will be met.
Although they do not have to be reached until 2017, the unstated expectation on ministers is that the figures will be moving in the right direction well before the 2014 election.

John Armstrong is right on the money here; National has caught the opposition parties flat-footed. Labour and the Greens especially were so busy dying in a ditch trying to stop partial asset sales that Key and his Ministers were able to ambush them. 

And even after the targets had been released, Labour was slow to react. Key was quick to embarrass Chris Hipkins for his "pretty meaningless stuff" comment when what National is targetting is anything but meaningless.

And Armstrong can see the strategy at play here; read on:

National could have taken the easy option and picked targets which would not have been hard to meet. But there would have been little point in doing that.
It goes without saying that the inevitable mix of a tiring Government, and an electorate tiring of the Government while the Opposition parties revitalise, mean the odds are stacked against National winning a third term.
The easy option would not have paid the kind of political dividends that a party seeking a third term would need to compensate.
It can be assumed that the targets - which include cutting violent crime by 20 per cent and reducing the numbers on working-age benefits by 30 per cent - are the result of focus group research.
It is all about getting the fundamentals of the economy, health, education, law and order and so forth right.
Voters may not like some of the things National is doing. They may not like National full stop. But they are willing to ignore those negatives if those fundamentals which determine their standard of living and overall wellbeing are looked after.
In particular, National believes women apply this logic in determining their votes. And National's capacity to retain the female vote it took from Labour in 2008 will determine if it hangs on in 2014.
It is classic conservatism. It is classic John Key.
It is also classic Bill English. He is the one driving what is a slow but unrelenting process of transforming the public service into the kind of results-driven beast capable of delivering on the targets.

John Armstrong has clearly sat down and thought this through, unlike the Labour and Green MP's who have shot from the lip. And he is dead right, in our ever-humble opinion. Whilst Labour and the Greens were obsessing about a petition that will have no tangible effect, and the closure of a state-funded television channel that is being closed because so few people watch it, the Government has been working away behind the scenes preparing this week's announcement.

So let's go back and revist Armstrong's close:

As usual, the left has underestimated Key. As he says, his Government is going boldly where no government has gone before. Others are struggling to keep up.

Dead right; and just because someone hasn't devoted their life to politics doesn't mean that they cannot be a very clever political operator, as John Key has proved here. 

Tokoroa tough guys

There are some really tough guys loose on the streets of Tokoroa; the Herald reports:

Bob Gabolinscy never realised his forehead was streaming with blood after a group of young men attacked him with a pack of pre-mixed drinks outside his home late at night.
He was too worried about rescuing his wife Margaret, who tried to reason with the men - and got a punch in the face and a black eye for her trouble.
Mr Gabolinscy was shutting the front gate on his Weka Place property in Tokoroa about 10pm on Thursday night when he heard three young men punching the fence that separated a walkway from their home.
The 73-year-old says he turned to the men and said: "Don't you have any respect for people's property?"
In response, the men walked over to the gate he was standing behind and started kicking it. They were each carrying a box of a dozen cans of Cody's pre-mixed bourbon and cola.
Mr Gabolinscy screamed at them to stop. As he walked inside to call the police, the men started hurling full cans of the alcohol at the back of his head, leaving a nasty gash.
"They chucked about 12 or 14 at me," Mr Gabolinscy said.
Mrs Gabolinscy, who was inside putting wood on the fire, walked out to confront them.
"They were yelling and still chucking cans and I said, 'Look, go away'," she said.
"They were yelling, 'Come out, you old man'."
Then the largest man in the group, who Mrs Gabolinscy described as a "heffalump", walked up to her and punched her right eye.
The 75-year-old fell back on to the couple's car, sliding down and hitting her elbow as she landed on the concrete driveway.
She was dazed and blood was streaming down her face. She now has a black eye and the right side of her face is covered with a purple bruise.
Mr Gabolinscy walked outside, was horrified to see his wife slumped on the ground and began screaming and swearing at the men.
The men ran off up Weka Place leaving cans scattered over the couple's lawn. Police later found another full box of Cody's on a verge across the road.
A neighbour found the distressed couple in a state of shock. Mr Gabolinscy had been so concerned about his wife that he hadn't realised he had a large cut on his head.

Sheesh; you have to be a REALLY hard man to punch a 75-year-old woman in the face. Here's hoping that one of the people whom these thugs will doubtless have boasted about their bravery to has the decency to shop them to the Police.

And at the same time, these punks have given those who support an increase in the drinking age, or the split purchase age option plenty of ammunition. 

A vexacious litigant?

Meet Benjamin Easton, who is about to officially become Wellington's vexacious litigant; the Dom-Post reports:

Wellington ratepayers have spent more than $350,000 defending doomed legal action by serial protester Benjamin Easton, sparking a rare bid to declare him a vexatious litigant.
Council lawyers have written to the solicitor-general trying to block the self-proclaimed "unemployed political busker" from filing endless court proceedings and appeals.
Mr Easton, 52, is a voracious litigant who has taken many court cases against the council over its Manners Mall bus route. He was nearly Tasered for wielding a sledgehammer during a 2010 central city protest. The social justice campaigner was also the central figure in a protracted anti-capitalist Occupy Wellington demonstration in Civic Square, and more recently he barricaded himself in a Housing New Zealand apartment complex to protest against the forced eviction of tenants.
The move to block him from the courts is considered a "drastic restriction of civil rights" by the Law Commission and "measure of last resort".
Only seven other people have been declared vexatious litigants since 1965.
But the council says its bid is justified.
Figures made public under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act reveal that ratepayers forked out $319,932 on legal action involving Mr Easton in 2009 and 2010 alone, with thousands more going on GST and expert witnesses.
The spending related to multiple court cases trying to overturn the bus route decision, tenancy tribunal hearings after his eviction from a council flat, and Occupy Wellington legal expenses.
No attempt had been made to recoup the money because "such a step was assessed as futile given the circumstances". 

Mr Easton sounds like Wellington's version of Penny Bright. And this is not the first time that he has come to the public's attention. He stared down Social Development Minister Paula Bennett two years ago, and lost. We blogged this at the time:

An unemployed Wellington man who boasted he was living on the dole to run court crusades on social issues has been told to report for an immediate work test.
Benjamin Easton, who has lodged an Environment Court appeal to stop Manners Mall being turned into a buses-only road, told The Dominion Post on Tuesday he was "deliberately and directly" on the dole so he could bring "the people's challenge to the courts".
"It is a sacrifice, really. I am perfectly capable of earning."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was "appalled" by the comments, and Work and Income officials had called Mr Easton in for an immediate work test after reading them.

Work and Income's response was quick, and Easton's benefit was stopped:

Mr Easton said after the meeting that he had no intention of looking for paid work and had not applied for any jobs since going on the dole in 2007. "I am not going to stop doing what I'm doing."
Work and Income deputy chief executive Patricia Reade said all beneficiaries knew of their job-seeking obligations.
"This is a person who has a track record of challenging the system and by his own admission does not want a job."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was appalled that Mr Easton had no intention of finding a job despite being on the benefit.
"That's simply not acceptable. It is an abuse of a welfare system designed for people in real need.

 Somehow, Mr Easton has managed to carry on with his one-man campaign against the citizens of Wellington and their elected representatives, and a number of other organisations. Unfortunately, he doesn't do it very well; read on:

A letter to Crown Law from council lawyers Phillips Fox says the council has been subjected to a continuous stream of litigation from Mr Easton and aligned group The City is Ours. His pleadings were often incomprehensible with "no realistic prospect of success", the letter says.
A judge had described his arguments as "convoluted, long-winded, tortuous and circuitous". He refused to accept adverse decisions, simply filing new appeals with higher authorities after each successive loss.
Although the council was a main target, other defendants drawn into his many proceedings included Radio New Zealand, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Human Rights Commission, the Broadcasting Commission and Bank of New Zealand.
He had also threatened proceedings against the New Zealand Fire Service and Environment Court, and threatened judicial complaints against several judges.
"The council is becoming increasingly concerned that the ratepayers of Wellington are funding the defence of Mr Easton's persistent and repetitive litigation.
"This is despite the fact that his proceedings have been consistently found to be without merit." 

Declaring Benjamin Easton a vexacious litigant is not a decision that would be taken lightly, but Crown Law is keeping a close eye on him:

  A Crown Law spokeswoman said the office was keeping a watching brief on Mr Easton and his many court proceedings, which included action this week before the Supreme Court. 
If satisfied he had met the threshold, Crown Law would make an application to the High Court under the Judicature Act on behalf of the attorney-general to prevent him bringing civil proceedings without the prior approval of a judge.
Mr Easton told The Dominion Post he would challenge any such application and embarrass the council.
"I'm going to slaughter them because they're cheats."
He defended his right to bring matters of public interest before the courts, but dismissed the justice system as biased and "corrupt". 

Now, where have we heard that before? But seriously; as he was when his benefit was stopped, Benjamin Easton is about to become a victim of himself. If his right to bring legal actions is terminated, he will have only himself to blame. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tweet of the Day - 29 June 2012

Some people shouldn't use social media:

We hope that someone will take us out and deal to us if we ever indulge in ad-homs such as this one from The Jackal, a well-known Left-leaning blogger

Where's David? Where's Winston?

Movie mogul James Cameron has bought more land in New Zealand; the Herald reports:

Hollywood film-maker James Cameron has snapped up more South Wairarapa farmland - extending his holdings in the area to more than 1100ha.
The Canadian director of Titanic and Avatar was given the all clear by the Overseas Investment Office in decisions released this month.
He will buy 26.8ha of land on Wharekauhau Lodge on Western Lake Road near Palliser Bay.
The decision is the third stage of Cameron's land acquisitions in Wairarapa this year but it is unknown whether he is yet to buy more land in the region.
The OIO first gave approval in February for Cameron to buy South Wairarapa land - two Western Lake Rd properties, including a 250ha working dairy farm and a 817ha hillside block overlooking Pounui - and in March allowed him to buy 10.11ha of land on the same road.
The prices of the land at Whakekauhau Lodge have been suppressed.

So where is the hysteria from opposition parties over this revelation. After all, you couldn't shut Winston Peters up when the Chinese Shanghai Pengxin (or is that Shanghai Penguin?) consortium was given permission to buy the former Crafar Farms. And David Shearer was so incensed about land sales to foreigners that he drafted a Members' Bill to make it illegal.

But their silence today is deafening. Could it be that neither consider a rich Canadian movie maker to be a foreigner? And if that's the case, isn't that just a wee bit hypocritical? 

Emmerson on the Dotcom fiasco

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson takes a swipe at the Police this morning, in the wake of yesterday's High Court decision by Justice Helen Winkelmann; check this out:

It's another excellent effort from our favourite cartoonist. Given however the suggestions this morning that Crown Law might also have a high degree of culpability, perhaps a lawyer or two on that old truck might enhance the image...


If there's not an overt campaign going on to replace David Shearer as leader of the Labour Party, there seems at the very least to be a subliminal one. How else would you explain this?

Following on from the 3News caption last week that identified Andrew Little as the Labour Party leader, this gaffe will do nothing to dispel suggestions that Mr Shearer is only a caretaker leader. But we doubt that Mr Robertson, ambitious as he is for his boss' job and no shrinking violet himself, will be doing anything to correct the error.

Hat-tip: Whaleoil, via his tipline

Raffa gets Rosoled

In the biggest shock of the tennis year, Rafael Nadal has been knoocked out of the Men's singles at Wimbeldon by Lucas Rosol; David Mercer from BBC Sports categorises it thus:

David Mercer,BBC Sport
"These great championships have produced huge, huge upsets in history, but this is one of the greatest in history."

This is indeed an upset of David and Goliath proportions. So there's only one thing to say; Raffa got Rosoled!

The Dotcom fiasco

Justice Helen Winkelmann gave the NZ Police a good, swift judicial kick yesterday, ruling that the warrants used to search Kim Dotcom's property at Coatesville were illegal; the Herald reports:

Internet mogul Kim Dotcom won another victory yesterday in his fight against charges of criminal copyright violation when a High Court judge said the heavily publicised police raid on his mansion was illegal.
Chief High Court judge Helen Winkelmann found that search warrants used in the raid were invalid because they did not adequately describe the allegations against the internet multi-millionaire.
She said the warrants, issued by the District Court, gave police authority to seize too wide a range of items.
Dotcom and Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk were arrested in January after a request for assistance from the FBI.
The United States claimed the men were behind the world's biggest criminal copyright violation through Dotcom's filesharing website Megaupload, which carried about 4 per cent of the world's internet traffic. The men deny the charges.
The ruling yesterday is the third embarrassment in the case for Crown lawyers, who are representing the United States in the arrest, seizure and extradition process.
It has previously emerged they used the wrong type of restraining order to seize Dotcom's funds and seizing his property without notice when he should have been given the chance to challenge the seizure.
Then it emerged the Crown knew it was using the wrong order while the raid was in progress.
During the raid, police seized computers, phones and anything which appeared to contain a hard drive - a total of 135 items.
Ms Winkelmann said the search warrant was too broad in the way it described what could be taken.
"These categories of items were defined in such a way that they would inevitably capture within them both relevant and irrelevant material. The police acted on this authorisation.
"The warrants could not authorise seizure of irrelevant material, and are therefore invalid."
She added: "The police relied on invalid warrants when they searched the properties and seized the various items. The search and seizure was therefore illegal."

The Police have an obligation to follow proper processes and the law, and clearly, they have been found not to have done so. Questions need to be asked as to how the Police and Crown Law could have got things so wrong. That the Police and their legal advisers have been so publicly chastised is a real embarrasment.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall has been outstanding in the role since replacing Howard Broad, but the buck stops with him. We hope that this is a learning experience for Mr Marshall.

We are still not convinced that Mr Dotcom is the injured innocent that he and a compliant media protray him to be. But if any evidence of wrongdoing by him is to be accumulated, it must be done by lawful means and not by way of a fishing expedition.

Over at No Minister Nick K has described the whole situation as a MegaF**kup. It's hard to disagree with that assessment!

Footnote: For those who may be interested, Justice Winkelmann's full decision can be read here.

UPDATE: Over at Newstalk ZB, Leighton Smith has just read out an e-mail from someone close to this whole business that suggests that Crown Law brought pressure to bear on the Police to execute search warrants that the Police were not comfortable with; interesting...

The retro Olympics

The uniforms for the athletes selected for the New Zealand Olympic team were unveiled last night, and retro is in. And on first glance, we love the look.

The design is intended to be a nod to the athletes that represented New Zealand the last time the Games were held in London; 1948; the Herald reports:

The New Zealand Olympic team will bring a 1940s flavour to London next month.
Athletes last night unveiled their uniforms for the 2012 Games at a catwalk show in front of a packed crowd including Prime Minister John Key.
The mainly grey, white and black pieces were inspired by uniforms from the 1948 New Zealand Olympic team - the year the summer Games were last held in London.
They were designed by Rodd and Gunn's Irena Prikryll.
The NZ Olympic Committee had been left embarrassed when, hours earlier, photos of the uniforms were posted on the brand's website before the official unveiling.
All Whites soccer player James Musa opened the show at Auckland's Viaduct Events Centre, sashaying down the runway in front of a large photo of the 1948 team celebrating arriving in Britain.
The 20-year-old was dressed in the formal men's uniform - a neat combination of grey slacks, a black blazer with white piping and a pinstripe shirt.
The blazer with the white piping along its edges is the most significant link to the 1948 team uniform.
New Zealand women's hockey star Melody Cooper, 29, donned the women's formal uniform, which will be worn with the black blazer at the opening ceremony.
The Black Sticks defender told the Herald she was impressed with the design of the white, above-the-knee cotton dress patterned with the New Zealand fern and Olympic rings emblem.
"It's really comfortable ... and tonight was the first time I had seen it.
"I really like the detail of the rings and the fern."
The rest of the pieces were a variety of training and informal casual wear, mostly black in colour.
However, splashes of blue featured on T-shirts, shorts and tracksuits as a tribute to New Zealand's Pacific heritage.

There's a bit of the traditionalist in us, and we reckon that the look overall is really good. We especially like the piping on the men's and women's blazers; it provides a very traditional sporting team look.

Doubtless there will be those who disagree with us, so tell us what you think and why.

And as a footnote, how the heck did London manage to host an Olympic Games just three years after the end of WW2? 

Collins targets ACC

Judith Collins has set some new targets for ACC; the Dom-Post reports:

ACC minister Judith Collins has ordered the troubled state insurer to treat its clients fairly and improve its privacy controls, in a new contract made public today.
The new three year service and purchase agreement between the government and ACC was tabled at Parliament this afternoon.
It follows a series of scandals that have rocked the corporation, set off by a massive privacy breach last year. ACC has since come under fire for operating a policy that ensured long-term claimants were moved off its books.
Collins has set a series of priorities which include:
  • improve public trust and confidence
  • improve management and security of private information
  • maintain a focus on levy stability and financial sustainability
  • provide high quality services for clients, and
  • ensure early resolution of disputes.

The agreement will take effect from next month.
 "New Zealanders rightfully expect to be able to trust in ACC and its integrity and for ACC to ensure entitlements are delivered transparently and fairly to those who need them,'' Collins said.
"A critical priority for ACC is to promote and rebuild the trust and confidence of Kiwis in the scheme it manages on their behalf. Privacy and information security is also a priority and I expect ACC to improve its practices and culture in this area.''
She said ACC must follow a ''fair process'' and ensure clients receive ''fair entitlements.'' They must also '' minimise the number of disputes proceeding to review and litigation.'' 

ACC, under the stewardship of successive governments and numerous Ministers, has earned itself the reputation of being the bete noir of government corporations. We hope that the departure of the CEO, Chairman and several board members has sent a message to the organisation that change is essential, and that the days of ACC being a law unto itself with little or no accountability are over.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Banning gang patches

Several years ago Michael Laws delivered on a pledge to ban gang patches in Wanganui. The ban had an immediate effect for the better; unfortunately the Wanganui District Council drafted it too loosely, and it was overturned by the High Court. However the Council is currently working through the process of reinstaing the by-law, guided by the High Court decision.

But a more widespread ban on gang patches may not be too far away; Scoop reports:

Rotorua MP Todd McClay’s bill to ban gang insignia in Government premises drawn today
Rotorua MP Todd McClay had his members bill drawn today to prohibit the display of gang insignia from all Central and Local Government buildings around New Zealand.
“The bill introduces restrictions around gang insignia being displayed at places such as Government departments and council facilities, including Work and Income and Housing NZ offices, as well as the grounds of public schools and hospitals,” Mr McClay said.
“Gangs serve no legitimate purpose in our society, and the public has a right to be protected from their intimidation.”
“Gangs are commonly identified by their insignia, which is often worn as a badge of pride. What it really demonstrates, is a high probability that the wearer has committed crimes to earn the right to wear gang colours or insignia.
“Government departments and Crown Entities provide a valued service to members of the public, and staff and visitors deserve to feel safe in the work place or service they are visiting.
“This law would result in arrest, a fine of up to $2000, and the destruction of the gang insignia.
“Members of our community have told me they feel intimidated by gang members. This bill is modelled on the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act 2009.
“This bill is about putting the rights of the law abiding members of our country before those who seek to profit from the harm they cause.
“I look forward to debating this bill in the House and hopefully through to select committee for public submissions,” Mr McClay said.
Gang members would not be banned from visiting government departments or schools. They would merely be required to leave their gang patches at home.

We are delighted for Todd McClay that this Bill has been drawn from the Members' ballot. ASs regular readers will be aware, we abhor gangs, and everything associated with them, They serve no useful purpose in a civilised society.

The Wanganui legislation had an immediate and very positive effect. At the shopping centre from which we collect our mail each day, young gang members used to swagger up and down the footpath in their Black Power patches. But once patches were banned, they disappeared. There are a lot of elderly folk in the area, which has a medical centre and two chemist shops adjacent. Over time, foot traffic in the shopping centre increased markedly as people realised it was safe again.

And even when the patch ban was overturned by the High Court, the gangs didn't return. We reckon they'd got the message that Wanganui didn't want them.

So we applaud Todd McClay on taking this ban a step further. Staff in Government depratments and Crown entities have to put up with enough as it is with often drunk, drugged or abusive clients. Gang members know that their patches intimidate people, and that knowledge is power to them. If Mr McClay's Bill succeeds, some of that power is removed, and good show!

In addition, he's making sure that the scope of his Bill is well spelt out; read on:

1. Prohibit the display of gang insignia on premises of Departments of the Public Service and Crown Entities and Local authorities in New Zealand;
2. Names specific gangs to be covered by the law;
3. Be future proofed by allowing the Minister of Police to add gangs to the prohibited list through regulation setting powers;
4. Cover all signs, symbols, or representations commonly displayed to denote membership of, an affiliation with, or support for a gang, not including tattoos, and includes any items of clothing to which a sign, symbol, or representation is affixed;
5. Include all offices, buildings and facilities both permanent and temporary under the authority of Departments of the Public Service as defined in Schedule 1 of the State Sector Act 1988 and Crown Entities as defined in Schedule 1 of the Crown Entities Act 2004;
6. Include the grounds of public schools and early childhood education facilities;
7. Include the grounds of public hospitals and health facilities under the authority of District Health Boards;
8. Exclude residential dwellings under the authority of the Housing New Zealand Corporation and buildings of State Owned Enterprises;

We wish Todd McClay well with this crusade. He is bound to come under criticism for the Bill having a racist intent, as Chester Borrows did from Metiria Turei in particular during the passage of the Wanganui legislation. It is not racist at all; the Bill strikes at a particular social ill; gang culture. Gangs have no redeeming features whatsoever, and we will be delighted to see this legislation debated and pass its First Reading.

Winston tells a fib; who would have thunk it?

Winston Peters made a big play in Parliament yesterday, berating his arch enemy Tariana Turia. Ms Turia, he claimed seemed unconcerned Whanau Ora money being wasted on a Palmerston North women's refuge, which sounded, on the basis of the evidence he provided, rather dodgy.

But there's just one small problem that Peters failed to authenticate, and that Mrs Turia was delighted to point out to him; check this out, via Voxy:

Winston Peters has once again demonstrated his love for political theatre by creating a great melodrama out of a series of unproven facts said Tariana Turia following question-time today.
Mr Peters has cast doubt on the value of Whanau Ora - speculating about the spending of "$174 million of hard-earned taxpayers' money-some of which is in this audit here-when many providers are using it to pork-barrel, and rort, and commit fraud".
"Problem is - and it's a problem for Mr Peters - the organisation he referred to in the House today has never received any funding from Te Puni Kokiri; it is not part of a Whanau Ora Collective - and in actual fact in the audit he referred to there was no mention of Whanau Ora.
"Mr Peters makes allegations at his whim about Whanau Ora - and deserves to be challenged about the veracity of these claims. Sadly his attempts to undermine Whanau Ora will not work because there is no truth in these claims.

Whoops; who would have ever thunk that Winston might not having being telling the whole story?

And Mrs Turia acknowledges that there are problems with the refuge, whilst delivering a final counterpunch at her nemesis:

"As to the allegations around the financial position of the particular organisation should be taken up with the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges and the Ministry of Social Development who has responsibility for operational funding for some of the work of the Womens Refuge movement.
"As my colleague Paula Bennett pointed out today, MSD funds some 2,300 providers with over 4,000 contracts. Occasionally if things go wrong, and there is an allegation of wrongdoing, MSD move in and find out what's going on, and that is the appropriate course of action to take" says Associate Minister for Social Development Tariana Turia.
"I'm happy to be held to account for the decisions I take, but I won't stand by and let anyone try and discredit me or my officials with the wild allegations we have seen today. It is a very sad day in politics when grandstanding Winston never lets the truth get in the way of a good story."

Ain't that the truth?!

Photo of the Day - 28 June 2012

Time can heal any wound:

Who would have thought this photograph possible even ten years ago? Reconciliation, even when people hold entrenched positions, is a very good thing.

Is the tide turning?

We saw this poll on Stuff last night:

Is the tide of public opinion turning? The issue of whether or not the Government had a mandate to pass the partial sale legislation was one of the key issues debated in the last couple of weeks. And this poll suggests that public opinion is much closer than it may have been.

Almost 10,000 people have responded to this Stuff poll, so as internet polls go, it is a pretty good and statistically valid number for a poll of this genre. And whether or not people like the idea of asset sales, there's almost a 50/50 split as to whether the John Key-led Government had the right to deliver on a key election promise. 

We reckon that says more about the maturity of the New Zealand electorate than the hyperbolic "the sky is falling" stuff from the opposition parties. So do the polls that show the even more of 50% of Labour and Green Party supporters would like to buy shares in the energy SOE's if possible. The Left is going to have to find another issue to die in a ditch over.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clifton on chow meins

Winston Peters is always good for a chuckle in the House, much as we detest his politics. But of late, he's been increasingly difficult to understand. He caused much mirth a few months ago when he referred to the "Shanghai Penguin" purchasing the former Crafar farms.

But he was in vintage form yesterday, and it didn't escape Dom-Post columnist Jane Clifton's notice; she writes:

In Winston Peters' internal keyboard, there is no such thing as a spacebar. So when yesterday he launched a furious, high-speed question time campaign to resurrect his recent accusations about freeloading elderly migrants, it was quite hard to follow.
At issue was how many elderly immigrants who have never paid tax here receive superannuation.
Mr Peters asked whether Prime Minister John Key had "misledthepublic" by "selectivelyusinganumberof-fourteenthousandonehundredandthirtyfive", when the real number was "fifteenthousandfourhundredandninetynine".
"And-that's-just-in-the-over- 60s-bracket."
Mr Key said figures from the Economic Development Ministry showed only 14,135 non- working or little-working over- 55s became eligible for super 10 years after arrival, "not the 22,000 as per the Dominion Rd Chinese restaurant".
This was a dig at Mr Peters' source for the allegations, an Auckland restaurateur who Mr Peters said was unhappy other Chinese immigrants got a free pension when he'd had to work hard for years to pay for his.
Mr Key said both figures were "a hell of a lot less than" 22,000 Chinese people.
"Who said the figure was 22,000 Chinese people?" Mr Peters thundered.
"You did!" replied half the Government benches.
"Oh, no-no-no-no. Read my speech. Readmyspeech," Mr Peters insisted. "Where in the speech by the leader of NZ First is there any reference to the 22,000 being Chinese?"
Mr Key struck his most aggravating grin. "I'm prepared to accept that, when the member was talking in hushed tones about a Chinese dude he met once who hung out somewhere, that couldn't back up his numbers but liked chicken chow mein from a Chinese restaurant in Dominion Rd, that I may have got it a little confused."
"P'vah," Mr Peters roared - his refinement of the phrase "point of order". "None of [what was in my question] entitles the prime minister, surely, within standing orders, to ramble on about chicken chow mein."
But Speaker Lockwood Smith said the way Mr Peters had phrased his question gave Mr Key plenty of licence.
Mr Peters' glower intensified. "Supschun!" (Supplementary question).
"The member has already used his entitlement for questions with that last question," Dr Smith said.
"Well, that's because you squashed it," Mr Peters said bitterly, not quite sotto voce.
"Fortunately, I didn't hear that last interjection," Dr Smith said judiciously. The House moved on, leaving Mr Peters haka-ing his brows, doubtless planning his next rapid attack. 

Jane Clifton has captured Winston Peters absolutely perfectly in this piece, which we reproduce merely to share the mirth which it caused to us!

Hosking on asset sales

Mike Hosking's daily breakfast radio programme on Newstalk ZB begins each morning with an editorial piece. Hosking later posts the transcript of his editorials on the Newstalk website.

This morning, unsurprising, Hosking commented about asset sales and the Mixed Ownership Model; he opines:

So the legislation for the asset float has passed. It would be nice to think those who don’t like it accept it as being part of the process of democracy. The Government has a right to do this - they campaigned on it, the won an election on it, they have the numbers in the house. That’s how democracy works. And perhaps we need to see some of the opposition for what it is. I watched on the news last night some of the protest. Did you see it? How many were there? 12? 15? 20? That’s not a protest and it’s not really opposition. It’s bored people looking for attention.
If there is a failure on the Government’s part in this it’s their inability to sell the concept, to gain broad support. There is not a poll that says a majority of us back the idea but ironically in the polls that tell us the bulk don’t like it, they also show that the majority are keen to buy a stake. So the reality is if we had a choice we wouldn’t sell but if we’re going to, we don’t want to miss out on a slice of the action.

Hosking is right on the money here, in our ever-humble opinion; to quote his words "The Government has a right to do this - they campaigned on it, the won an election on it, they have the numbers in the house. That’s how democracy works.". It is indeed how democracy works, and yet still the Left tries to circumvent democracy by pushing for a CIR, although in this case it should be retitled a PPIR; Political Party Initiated Referendum.

The fact that more thasn half of Labour and Green Party voters surveyed by Key Research would buy SOE shares if able simply underlies the Government's desire that shares remain in the hands of New Zealanders. We blieve that it is highly likely that the share issue for Mighty River Power will be oversubscribed.

Labour, the Greens and the Mana Party will doubtless keep beating the drum to try and keep this issue alive, but even their supporters have acknowldged that the partial sale of state assets will happen, and if you can't beat 'em you should join 'em. When the sky doesn't fall in, electricity prices don't rise, assets are started from the Future Investment Fund and investors start reveing a dividend on their investments, they will wonder what all the white noise was about. 

How it should be done

Hekia Parata has been keeping a low profile as she tries to rebuild her reputation after the class sizes debacle. But she seems to have learned one lesson, as this media release on the Beehive website suggests:

Forum commits to raising achievement goal

The Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising Achievement has agreed to work together on achieving success for all learners.
Forum chair, Education Minister Hekia Parata, welcomed the commitment from all the Forum representatives.
“We know that our education system is amongst the best in the world with four out of five kids successfully working towards getting the qualifications they need at school,” says Ms Parata. “But our goal is about getting five out of five.
“In the Forum we have the expertise and support of the wider education sector. It was great to agree on a common goal of improving education outcomes for every single learner.”
The Forum, which met for the first time today, aims to provide collaborative cross-sector leadership and advice to the Minister on a quality achievement programme for education that will help meet the Government’s Better Public Service Targets of 98 per cent of new school entrants having participated in quality early childhood education and 85 per cent of 18 year-olds having achieved NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification over five years.
Today the Forum agreed that New Zealand has an education achievement challenge in front of it and opportunities exist for all learners to improve their educational outcomes.
The Forum commenced the task of identifying the key issues which must be addressed in four areas: quality teaching; smarter use of achievement information at individual, school and national levels; strengthening the performance and accountability of schools and education agencies for student achievement; and learning environments that are fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Over the coming months the Forum, which includes representatives from primary and secondary schools, early learning and tertiary education sectors, unions, business, academics, iwi and educational experts, will collaborate in small sub groups to identify, clarify, and progress system issues in the four areas.
“We have an opportunity to propel our education system, and all our learners, to greater levels of achievement,” says Ms Parata.
“I look forward to working with the Forum to identify the steps we can take to achieve this outcome.”
The Forum will meet monthly for the rest of the year.

The membership of the Ministerial Forum (which is listed at the foot of the release) is diverse, and representative of all the sector. Many of those on the list have been openly critical of the current and past governments; Ian Leckie from NZEI, Patrick Walsh of the School Trustees' Assn and Robin Duff from the PPTA. 

It is good to see that Ms Parata is willing to engage with the education sector as a whole, even those who may disagree with the direction her Government is proposing. It is equally good that a wide range of sector interests are willing to engage with the Minister, and we hope that agendae can be set aside momentarily to enable progress to be made with the issues that the Forum will address. How differently the Budget announcements may have worked out for Hekia Parata had she got people onside first and foremost, rather than having insults being traded across the battle lines.

Credit where it's due

Further to our blog-post earlier this morning, this has now appeared on Dr Megan Woods' Twitter feed:

Credit where it's due; it was a comment that should not have been made, and we commend Dr Woods for having the grace to apologise.

The SMOG's continue...

Trevor Mallard must have run a sociasl media training session for Labour's new MP's after last year's election. That is the only explanation for some of the outbursts emanating from the Labour caucus during and after the Third Reading debate of the partial asset sales legislation yesterday.

First up was new Wigram MP Megan Woods; Jim Anderton's annointed successor; what was she thinking when she tweeted this?

Dr Woods lectures in history at the University of Canterbury. All we can say is that we are glad that our Darling Daughter's UC degree is from the Faculty of Commerce! Dr Woods may think that she is asking a provocative question, but to compare the partial sale of a few SOE's with the mass extermination of tens of thousands of Jews is deeply, deeply offensive. Dr Woods should apologise for this intemperate outburst.

Almost as bad was this tweet from Dunedin North MP David Clark:

Dr Clark's allegation was quickly rebutted, as you will see from the reply he received. And we have been advised by several people from outside Parliament that the reason for Peter Dunne's absence from the House yesterday was known to all parties in the House. Interestingly, Dr Clark's profile advises that he is a Presbyterian minister, and marriage, civil union and funeral celebrant. The irony of that cannot be overstated.

And just in case you think that this is just blog chatter, Stuff's lead story at this very moment begins thus:

A Labour MP drew parallels between the National Party and Adolf Hitler as controversial legislation allowing partial asset sales passed by a single vote.
The Opposition benches cried "Shame!" yesterday as National's junior whip Louise Upston cast the decisive proxy vote of UnitedFuture MP Peter Dunne, which saw the legislation pass by 61 votes to 60.
Mr Dunne was not at Parliament for the vote because he was attending the funeral of his son's girlfriend's mother.
In a statement, he said he had intended to speak in favour of the bill at its final reading, which was in the "best long-term interests of the country". 

When Parliament holds its weekly General Debate this afternoon, we suggest that the Labour whips allocate speaking spots to Dr Woods and Dr Clark. Then they can get up and apologise to those who have taken offence at their injudicious use of social media by way of devices provided to them by the taxpayer.

And Labour leader David Shearer should reflect on whether or not this is the kind of "gotcha politics" that he pledged not to indulge in when he took over his role. We suspect that he will not be happy for Labour to be getting this kind of press; here's his chance to put an end to the unpleasantness.

A Prime Ministerial slap-down

It's not very often that the Prime Minister asks a question at Question Time. John Key is, of course, is much more accustomed to being on the receiving end of questions.

But with it being just under six months until Christmas (scary huh!), the Prime Minister decided that it was better to give than to receive yesterday. There had to be a catch, of course, as Labour Whip Chris Hipkins was to discover; here's the action:

Now Chris Hipkins has a reddish tinge at the best of times. But his cheeks seemed especially flushed as Bill English delivered the coup de grace. Yes; it was enough to make a Chippie blush!

If Labour MP's think that increasing immunisation rates, reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever, increasing the participation in ECE, reducing the number of assaults on children, and increasing the percentage of secondary school kids who leave school with NCEA Level 2 is "pretty meaningless stuff", we have to ask this; what IS important to them, apart from seizing power by whatever means they can, and stopping us from having a decent shower.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

UPDATED: The last legislative hurdle

UPDATE: After a robust and at times rowdy debate, the State Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill have passed their third readings, by 61-60.


Legislation to clear the way for the sale of a minority shareholding in several State Owned Enterprises will pass its final legislative hurdle in Parliament this afternoon.

The Order Paper for the business of the House has been released, and here's what the House will proceed to immediately after Questions for Oral Answer:

The legislation to enable the Mixed Ownership Model to proceed was split into two Bills at the conclusion of the committee stage last Thursday, and those Bills will have their third and final reading today. And barring any last-second surprises, the Bills will pass by a margin of 61-60; a small margin, but under the Westminster system of democracy by which the New Zealand Parliament operates, a majority nonetheless.

The parliamentary debate will end today. Labour, the Greens and NZ First will continue the white noise however, but the majority of New Zealanders will simply get on with their lives until the details as to how Mighty River Power shares can be purchased are announced. And already there are signs that the demand for shares is going to be significant.

Tweet of the Day - 26 June 2012

We blogged on Thursday 14 June about the big asset sales protest at Parliament from which thousands were turned away. Thousands were turned away again this afternoon, as Newstalk ZB's Chief Political Reporter Felix Marwick tweeted:

The debate on the third reading of the legislation to enable the Mixed Ownership Model to begin the process of selling a minority stake in SOE's has begun. And judging by the turnout at Parliament on this of all days, and in bright mid-winter sunshine in Wellington, the only people who now care about National delivering on an election promise are those who failed at the 2011 General Election; the Labour Party and the Greens.

We can't help but wonder...

This flyer has gone out in the name of David Shearer:

So we can't help but wonder; which schools are for sale? When were our labour laws abolished? Isn't Air New Zealand already partly privately owned? Where is the Government's proposal to sell Kiwibank? Whose farms are for sale, other than those held by the receivers for Alan Crafar's failed farming company? And most importantly of all, why has Stewart Island disappeared from the map?

This is the kind of disengenuous hyperbole one would normally expect from the Rt Hon Winston Peters, and we are surprised that David Shearer has allowed his name to be associated with it.

For friends

We've learned of two friends this morning who have just lost people close to them. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and we hope that this offering may be some comfort:

Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui; arohanui


Yesterday, it was Winstonomics. Today's featured economist is Trevor Mallard.

Trevor Mallard is shopping this picture around social media sites:

There's just one small problem; the assumption on which the numbers are based on are wrong, and totally contradictory to what Labour has been proclaiming over the last few weeks. So here's what's wrong with it.

For a start, the "Keep Our Assets" number includes parties that did not make it into Parliament. It also makes the assumption that everyone who voted for the Conservative Party, Aotearoa Legalise Cannbis Party, Democrats for Social Credit and the Alliance was opposed to the sale of a partial share of SOE's.

Assumptions are dangerous things to make. For you see that every time someone on the Right has suggested that National had a mandate to enact the Mixed Ownership Model legislation as they will today, people on the Left have suggested that not everyone who voted for National, Act or United Future supported partial asset sales. But now the Left wants to claim exlusive right to the raw numbers through the assumption they make.

Labour and Trevor Mallard must decide where they stand. National and its support parties have a mandate because they control the Parliament and can exact whatever legislation they wish. But Labour can't try and play this kind of numbers game when they are making the very same assumptions that their speakers in the MOM debate last week repeatedly rejected.

So we've worked out what Trevornomics represents; clearly, it is a style of economic argument where one is economical with the truth, or making the numbers say what you want them to say even when they don't.