Month: June 2014

National’s Gisborne bridge bribery – a waste of money

National’s newly announced $212 million roading package for the regions is a perfect example of pork barrel politics. It’s also a handy little way to blunt Labour’s attack on National for having abandoned the regions. Of the various regional projects, Gisborne gets two – speeding up the development of slow vehicle bays on State Highway 35 (which will be welcomed), and replacing the Motu Bridge.

The latter project has produced a number of quizzical looks here in Gisborne. For those who don’t know the area, the Motu Bridge is a one lane bridge almost an hour out of Gisborne, just past Matawai on the way to Opotiki. The Gisborne – Opotiki journey is not a particularly high traffic route. There are apparently only 900 vehicle movements across the bridge every day, and I can only recall one occasion in the last year and a half where I have had to stop for a vehicle coming the other way. There are no safety issues with the bridge that I’m aware of, and it doesn’t cause traffic blockages.

The quizzical looks are only increased by the fact that approximately $100,000 has just been spent strengthening the bridge, future-proofing it for the next twenty-five years and allowing heavier truck movements across it. That strengthening work is due to be completed in the next fortnight – a complete waste of time and money if National now intends to tear the bridge down and build a new one.

The cost of replacing the bridge is estimated at between $3m to $5m. As a Gisborne resident, I can think of a multitude of other roading projects that would be of far more value to the region, at a fraction of the cost. As Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown has said:

“I can understand the Government wants to be seen to throw some sweets to the regions, but I think we have other projects that need funding before these ones. It really makes a mockery of the process council and NZTA has organised that includes a series of workshops with representatives from the transport sector, community, council and government agencies. What we come up with is supposed to then be checked with the public before being confirmed.

“The announcements yesterday undermines whatever the outcomes of that process are.”

Dead politician replaced by robot

Image

In bizarre political world news, an aspirant Republican congressman, Timothy Ray Murray, has claimed that his opponent was executed in Southern Ukraine in January 2011, and was replaced by a robot. Mr Murray, pictured above, has written on his website:

I, Timothy Ray Murray, am a human, born in Oklahoma, and obtained and continue to fully meet the requirements to serve as U.S. Representative when honored to so.  I will never use a look alike to replace my (The Office’s) message to you or to anyone else, as both the other Republican Challengers have.

Rep. Frank Lucas, and a few other Oklahoma and other States’ Congressional Members were depicted as being executed by The World Court on or about Jan. 11, 2011 in Southern Ukraine. On television they were depicted as being executed by the hanging about the neck until death on a white stage and in front of witnesses. Other now current Members of Congress have shared those facts on television also. We know that it is possible to use look alike artificial or manmade replacements, however Rep. Lucas was not eligible to serve as a Congressional Member after that time.

Congressman Lucas, the alleged robot, has denied Mr Murray’s claims, stating that he had in fact never even been to Ukraine, let alone been executed there. He noted:

“It does come as kind of a shock to read that you’re not you. Many things have been said about me, said to me during course of my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot.”

Obviously, one should never trust the wearer of a moustache as sinister as that sported by Mr Murray. Nonetheless, Congressman Lucas does not appear to have provided any evidence to prove that he is in fact human.

The replacement of serving politicians with robot body-doubles may present a disturbing new tool used by the shapeshifting aliens that walk among us. John Key’s chief of staff has of course previously been unable to present any evidence that Mr Key is not a shapeshifting reptilian alien ushering humanity towards enslavement. Body-double robots may well be the next step in Mr Key’s cunning plan. And it would certainly explain the strangely dead look in Paul Goldsmith’s eyes…

Poll of Polls update – 29 June 2014

Having gone head to head with TV3 for the last few poll cycles, One News have gone a few days later than their competition this time, with their Colmar Brunton poll coming out this evening – 3News having run their latest poll two days ago. Like the 3News poll, there’s no good news for Labour (as with countless recent polls). National may have dropped 1%, but that still leaves them on 50%, while Labour also drops 1% to 29%, offset by the Greens rising 1% to 12%.

For the minor parties, it’s another bad news poll for NZ First, who drop 1% to 3.8%, remaining below the 5% threshold. Internet Mana rise 1.2% to 2.3%, which would likely bring in three MPs; the Maori Party rises 0.4% to 1.2%, which would likely provide Te Ururoa Flavell with a Parliamentary colleague; ACT drops 0.1% to 0.7%, leaving David Seymour as the party’s sole voice; the Conservatives drop 0.3% to 1%; while United Future fails to register (for the fourth major poll in a row).

So here’s how the Poll of Polls now looks:

National: 49.3% (+0.1%)

Labour: 29.0% (-0.1%)

Greens: 11.8% (nc)

NZ First: 4.5% (nc)

Maori: 1.1% (nc)

United Future: 0.1% (nc)

ACT: 0.6% (nc)

Internet Mana: 1.6% (nc)

Conservative: 1.5% (nc)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 63 (nc)

Labour: 37 (nc)

Greens: 15 (nc)

NZ First: 0 (nc)

Maori: 2 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 2 (nc)

Overall, there’s very little change, with National and Labour shifting by just 0.1%, and all other parties remaining unchanged. That’s because the latest Colmar Brunton poll really isn’t that different from the previous Poll of Poll standings. In fact, the polls have been remarkably consistent lately, showing National governing alone, and a Labour / Greens combination lagging with an approximate 10% deficit.

I noted last update that Labour continues to slide, perilously close to dipping below 29%. Well, they’re now bang on 29%, about as perilously close to dropping below 29% as you can get.

NZ First arrests its slide. It’s now six polls in a row that have had them below the 5% threshold, with four of those five polls placing the party below 4%, but my bias correction to Colmar Brunton’s poll prevents NZ First from sliding further.

Overall, the right bloc continues to hold a huge 65 seats in total, compared to just 54 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance.

Lucan’s luxurious long locks

Since Hawke’s Bay student Lucan Battison won his High Court case on Friday, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who see Justice Collins’ judgment as stating that schools can’t enforce their own rules. Of course, that’s not what the judgment says at all (copy of the judgment attached here), but I guess the Paul Henry’s of this world don’t feel the need to let the facts get in the way of a good gripe.

The Court’s judgment makes two major points. Firstly, that the school’s rule regarding hair length and style was not certain. The school’s rule stated that students must have “hair that is short, tidy and of natural colour. Hair must be off the collar and out of the eyes.” Given that Lucan’s locks were worn tied up in a bun, it was deemed to comply with a possible reading of the rule, especially given that Lucan had worn his hair in that style for three years at the school without similar problem. The judge also noted that opinions differed as to whether Lucan’s hair was short, with Lucan providing evidence that at least one hairstylist thought his hair was short.

The second major point was that the Education Act prohibits suspension of a student unless the principal is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the student’s misconduct or continual disobedience is a harmful or dangerous example to the other students at the school. In Lucan’s case, the Judge noted:

“The fact one teacher was apparently unable to cope with the length of Lucan’s hair, and that other students may have been watching what happened to Lucan are not facts which satisfied the high threshold of Lucan being a harmful or dangerous example to other students.”

Essentially, suspension should be a last resort, used only when all other options have failed. The school could have prevented Lucan from representing the school in rugby or other extra-curricular activities, until such time as he ceased his disobedience.

The downside of the judgment, from the viewpoint of Boards of Trustees and principals, will undoubtedly be the extra effort that schools need to put into to ensure that contentious rules are clearly written. As Dr Bill Hodge says in the NZ Herald:

“You’d have to have a pretty good lawyer who is experienced in this sort of thing and it is not going to be easy to get these things right.

“And it is not just about hair — presumably it is also about bringing a Swiss army knife or aspirin or some sort of substance that isn’t necessarily an illegal high. All of these things will have to be prescribed to that standard. That just makes governance as well as management so much more difficult.”

My view? If a school is going to punish someone for a breach of a rule, the rule should be clear. If schools have to spend some time and effort in making their rules certain, then so be it. Sure, it’s more work for the school and its board, but it’s hardly the “sky falling’ situation that is painted by Paul Henry et al.

Poll of Polls update – 27 June 2014

TV3’s Reid Research poll was released yesterday, and the news remains fairly dire for the Left. National may have dropped 0.6%, but they’re still sitting pretty on 49.7%. Meanwhile, Labour drops 2.2% to 27.3%, offset by the Greens rising 2.5% to 12.7%.

For the smaller parties, NZ First drops 2% to 3.6%, well below the 5% threshold. Internet Mana rise 1% to 1.8%, which would bring in Laila Harre, the Maori Party rises 0.9% to 1.5%, ACT drops 0.1% to a measly 0.4%, while United Future fails to register at all. The Conservative Party will be pleased though – they rise 0.5% to 2.8%, their best poll result this year.

So here’s how the Poll of Polls now looks:

National: 49.2% (-0.1%)

Labour: 29.1% (-0.3%)

Greens: 11.8% (+0.3%)

NZ First: 4.5% (-0.1%)

Maori: 1.1% (nc)

United Future: 0.1% (nc)

ACT: 0.6% (-0.1%)

Internet Mana: 1.6% (+0.2%)

Conservative: 1.5% (+0.1%)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 63 (nc)

Labour: 37 (-1)

Greens: 15 (nc)

NZ First: 0 (nc)

Maori: 2 (+1)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 2 (nc)

Readers may look quizzically at National’s result – they poll 49.7% in the latest TV3 poll, but drop 0.1% to 49.2%. The Poll of Polls adjusts for the average in-house bias of the polling companies, meaning that the TV3 bias-corrected result for National is just below 48%, resulting in a slight decrease in National’s fortunes. Nonetheless, they remain on 63 seats, comfortably governing alone.

Labour continues to slide, perilously close to dipping below 29%. Of the last six major polls released, the party has been above 30% just once, while the TV3 poll is the third poll in a row to put Labour at 28% or less.

NZ First also continues to slide. Five polls in a row have now had them below the 5% threshold, with three of those five polls placing the party below 4%.

Overall, the right bloc holds a huge 65 seats in total, compared to just 54 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance.

Labour appears set to renew its focus on policy. Given the way the party’s focus on donations scandals and “cash for access” has blown up spectacularly in its face, a concerted policy push is needed to try and reverse the current terrible run of polling for Labour.

The Colin Craig conundrum

On Monday, Matthew Hooton made an interesting statement on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon weekly political punditry segment. Mr Hooton noted that National were expecting that an electorate deal with Colin Craig would cost National 2% to 3% of the party vote. To make the electoral maths work for National, they would therefore need the Conservative Party to be picking up 3% to 4% of the vote.

Presumably, National’s internal polling is showing that 2% to 3% of its voters would consider walking if the Conservatives were given a boost into Parliament. That’s not surprising. A significant chunk of National’s current support is relatively soft. Those supporters have no real allegiance to National – they might have voted for Labour during the primacy of Helen Clark, or might have occasionally flirted with the Greens, but consider the opposition too  much of a mess to switch back. However, a significant chunk of that soft vote might very well consider Colin Craig’s particular brand of crazy a leap too far.

That makes for interesting times in Camp National. If Mr Hooton’s comment is based on actual intel on National’s internal polling, a significant chunk of the right-wing vote is at risk. If National does a deal with Mr Craig, 2% to 3% of the right wing vote disappears; if no deal is done, the Conservatives’ party vote ends up being wasted, essentially re-allocated between the parties that do make it into Parliament.

So is an electoral deal worth it? To date, the Conservatives are not exactly lighting the political world on fire. In this site’s Poll of Polls they are currently sitting on just 1.4%. Of the last ten major polls released, they’ve ranged between 0.5% and 2.3%, getting 2% or above in just two of those polls. If National loses 2% to 3% by making a deal, there’s currently no gain for National and possibly a net right-bloc loss.

The Conservative vote may well rise if National gives a clear indication that a vote for the Conservatives is not a wasted vote. On the other hand, if National says no deal and declares war on the Conservatives, they may well keep the wasted vote down to the Conservative’s current one point something per cent.

National certainly have a conundrum on their hands.

Donghua Liu – a little clearer, but still muddy

So, Donghua Liu has clarified some questions regarding his 2007 donations to Labour. Apparently, the “close to $100,000” that the NZ Herald was reporting had been spent on a bottle of wine was in fact the total amount of donations.

That figure includes the $50,000 to $60,000 spent on hosting Rick Barker on a Yangtze River trip, which appears to have been the staff party that Mr Barker rode shotgun on. Although it’s something that Mr Barker should probably have disclosed in the Register of Pecuniary Interests, it seems rather unfair to call a staff party a $50,000 political donation.

If one subtracts the Yangtze River trip from the “close to $100,000”, that leaves between $40,000 to $50,000, which includes a confirmed $2,000 to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club (which of course is not the Labour Party), the bottle(s) of wine purchased at a fundraising auction and anonymous donations to MPs.

A key quote from the Herald’s reporting is Liu’s statement that:

“I did say I made a contribution of close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement… that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

That means that unaccounted for $40,000 to $50,000 could have been donated to Labour over a three year period, and could have been a mixture of donations to both central HQ and individual electorate MPs.

Mr Liu’s statement makes no mention of the book signed by Helen Clark, which the Herald’s “unnamed Labour sources” say he apparently purchased for $15,000 at a fundraising auction. If that purchase occurred, that would leave just $25,000 to $35,000 unaccounted for over a three year period. If Liu’s remaining total donations were at the lower end of that spectrum, and were made through anonymous means, such as trusts or through a law firm trust account, it is entirely possible that Labour has not breached any electoral law at all. New Zealand’s electoral laws at the time provided all sorts of ways for anonymous donations to be made.

Of course, we don’t know any further details about how Mr Liu made the remaining donations, whether it was one lump sum or several smaller sums, who they were made to (HQ or electorates), whether they were in fact spread over three years or were all from 2007, and whether the $15,000 purchase of the signed book occurred. The Labour Party therefore remains largely in the dark, unable to confirm or deny anything unless Mr Liu drip feeds more information.

Colin Craig running in East Coast Bays

Paula Bennett and Mark Mitchell can now breathe a sigh of relief, happy in the knowledge that there’s no chance John Key will take their electorates off them. For Colin Craig has now decided that East Coast Bays is the seat for him. He’s said, “polling received this week showed my support is stronger in East Coast Bays than in Rodney. This result was an important part of my decision”.

Of course, going by Mr Craig’s previous statements that the Conservative Party is aiming for and will achieve 5% of the vote, that he isn’t seeking a deal in any seat he runs in, and that he won’t be able to beat an incumbent candidate, his personal support in East Coast Bays versus Rodney should matter not a jot. Taken at his word, he’s accepted he can’t win East Coast Bays, but that won’t matter because his party will get 5%. Why should he care whether his personal support is slightly higher in East Coast Bays than in Rodney?

However, one should never take a politician at their word. His talk of personal poll ratings is of course more code to National that he’s waiting for a deal; that he’s popular enough in East Coast Bays that he won’t lose the seat if National pulls Murray McCully. As I’ve discussed before, there’s a significant risk for Mr Craig that his very public acceptance that he can’t win on his own may have jinxed National’s ability to get right-leaning voters to play ball, even if National pull their candidate completely.

National have a big decision to make. But at least McCully has indicated that he’ll roll over if required. National’s Dark Prince has the party running through his veins. If it’s required for a third term to be achieve, McCully will take one for the team.

Donghua Liu – clearer than mud

So, just yesterday the NZ Herald were reporting that Donghua Liu would not be commenting further on his political donations and would not be supplying any affidavits regarding dollar amounts, and I was calling for Mr Liu to come clean.

Well, whaddaya know? This morning the Herald has suddenly obtained a signed statement from Donghua Liu dated 3 May 2014, two days after Maurice Williamson resigned as a Minister. I’m interested in where it came from. Stuff.co.nz had previously reported that Mr Liu was poring over an affidavit with his lawyers, who were concerned about the lack of documentation. The statement obtained by the Herald apparently isn’t a sworn affidavit, but it is signed by Mr Liu. One wonders who’s slipped it to the Herald… And is there another draft affidavit out there, lurking in a lawyer’s office, never to see the light of day?

Regardless, this signed statement is hugely embarrassing for the Labour Party, given their “cash for access” attacks on National. The Herald reports the statement as saying:

• Liu paid “close to $100,000” for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

Rick Barker, after challenging Mr Liu to put specific allegations in writing, may now be wishing he’d kept his mouth shut. The contents of the statement mean that Mr Barker has some serious explaining to do. A $50,000 to $60,000 cruise on the Yangtze River is something that should have been disclosed, so will Mr Barker now rely on “brain fade” or will he call Mr Liu a liar?

And of course there’s the big question of what happened to the “close to $100,000” donated to the Labour Party. Many of my questions from yesterday remain.  Why does no one in Labour seem to know anything about this (apart from the Herald’s two un-named Labour sources)? Wouldn’t an almost $100,000 winning bid for a bottle of wine have turned a few heads at the time? Who in Labour received the donation, or was it an electronic transaction? If it wasn’t an electronic transaction, was it cash or a cheque? Did it go to Head Office or to one of the electorate committees?

Over at the Pundit site, Professor Andrew Geddis focuses on donations to Labour from law firms on behalf of undisclosed clients. Labour received three such donations – one of $150,000 from Palmer Theron, one of $50,000 from Simpson Grierson, and one of $30,000 from Morrison Kent. Professor Geddis focusses on the $150,000 donation, suggesting that it might have come from Mr Liu, and noting that if Liu doesn’t confirm or deny it, we’ll never know. However, Liu’s statement refers to a donation “close to $100,000”. That’s a more than $50,000 shortfall between what Liu says he donated and the Palmer Theron donation.

Lynn Prentice yesterday referred me to a 2010 blog post by Professor Bryce Edwards, “Pansy Wong’s dubious solicitation of political funding“. It refers to a fundraising event held by Pansy Wong in 2007, at which $200,000 was raised, including $50,000 paid by a Chinese businessman for one of John Key’s ties. The money didn’t appear to have been declared by National in 2008, and Professor Edwards discusses various reasons why that might have occurred. One of those reasons is the then practice (apparently illegal now) of treating a fundraising event as a “bogus business venture”, with all money raised classed as “business transactions” rather than donations. Thus, in terms of the $50,000 tie, the party could argue that the business valued the tie at $50,000 and it was therefore a valid “business transaction”. It’s entirely possible that Labour has adopted the same approach in the Donghua Liu situation.

Professor Edwards has called for a police or parliamentary enquiry. As Professor Geddis has pointed out, “[t]he Electoral Act in 2007 contained a six-month time limit on any prosecutions for filing a false electoral return”. That’s a time limit that has long since expired… The court of public opinion is the only court that Labour will be tried in, which may be damaging enough, given how soon the election is.

Donghua Liu needs to come clean if Labour can’t or won’t

This week, Labour has been under heavy fire for apparently receiving a $15,000 donation from Donghua Liu back in 2007, while David Cunliffe has been under sustained attack for forgetting about a 2003 letter written in support of Mr Liu. Cunliffe’s gullibility in walking into National’s trap regarding the letter speaks volumes about the Labour leader’s political competence, but the more important story is the donation. If $15,000 was given to the Labour party, where did it go and why was it not declared?

The problem for Labour and the media is that there really has been no trace whatsoever of the alleged donation. There’s been an unnamed “Labour source” who provided the initial story, and that’s apparently been backed up by a second anonymous “Labour source”. From there, the trail goes cold. Was it for a book, a bottle of wine, or neither? If it was for a book at an auction fundraiser, wouldn’t a $15,000 winning bid have caused somewhat of a stir at the time? Who in the Labour party received the donation, or was it an electronic transaction? If it wasn’t an electronic transaction, was it cash or a cheque? Did it go to Head Office or to one of the electorate committees?

And of course there’s been the rather large question of “Did it even happen?” With no paper trail and no names, just the word of an anonymous source that $15,000 was received, Labour has only been able to collectively shrug and say they’ve got no idea what anyone’s talking about. Has it all just been a hatchet job by some disgruntled Labourite who wants to watch Cunliffe crash and burn?

John Key was enjoying himself immensely, stoking the rumour mill that Donghua Liu had in fact donated a six figure sum to Labour. There was More To Come, and everyone – Labour included – was Watching That Space. Rick Barker – Labour’s former Immigration Minister – was unimpressed, calling for Mr Liu to make everything public in affidavit form.

Which meant that the rumour mill went into overdrive last night when Vernon Small reported that:

“Labour is bracing for the expected release of an affidavit claiming six-figure donations were made to the party by wealthy businessman Donghua Liu. … It is understood the affidavit was being pored over by lawyers today because there was a lack of documentation.”

However, in the NZ Herald this morning, the reporting related to a media statement by Liu that he had given “equally to Governments of both colours”. All other questions remained unanswered. Amounts? Dates? How the donations were made? Silence. Instead, the Herald reported that “Liu said he would not make any further comments about political donations or swear an affidavit outlining dollar amounts”.

If Donghua Liu thinks that his statement will make the issue disappear, he’s likely to be sadly mistaken. At the very least, he needs to confirm whether, in any single year, he donated more than $10,000 – enough to trigger Labour’s disclosure requirements of that time. If he did, then something either went horribly wrong with Labour’s record-keeping or someone in Labour made a conscious decision to break the law by keeping the donation secret.

Mr Liu may say in his statement, “As a private citizen it’s not for me to make declarations about donations and political relationships.” Nonetheless, if he donated $10,000 or more in any given year to Labour, that information should now be a matter of public record. The fact that Labour can’t seem to find anything in their records surely imposes a moral obligation on Mr Liu to make public what should have been made public over half a decade ago.

If Donghua Liu did make sizeable donations to Labour, someone in the party is surely now sweating bullets.