Paying one’s debts (or The Ongoing Art of Political Stupidity)

No one likes being caught saying one thing and doing another. So it’s been more than a little embarrassing for Andrew Little to have been talking up the need for Labour to reach out to small business and contractors, only to be busted for not having paid a contractor’s $950 invoice for four months.

Many Labour supporters will argue that it’s a minor issue, blown out of proportion by Patrick Gower’s gleeful penchant for sensationalist reporting. Nonetheless, the problem for Andrew Little is that it’s a very simple issue that all small business owners and contractors can relate to: you do the work, you send out the invoice, and you wait, and wait, and wait. And while you wait, and pay your own bills, you think how nice it would be to have that money sitting in your bank account. Because there’s a rates invoice due in a few days, or a GST payment coming up fast, or the oven at home has just committed hara-kiri.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the invoice sat on Andrew Little’s desk for four months, with Little making a personal decision to obstinately not pay it. Instead, it will have been with any number of underlings, who are paid to sort such things out.

They’ve certainly dropped the ball on this one, and not merely in their handling of the (non)payment of the invoice.

For a start, the contractor, freelance journalist David Cohen, writes for the National Business Review, a publication not often known as a bastion of left wing journalism. Cohen’s latest NBR piece states that he was contracted to “take a few hours to talk with Mr Little and then independently distill his views as they might sound to an outsider”. Quite why anyone in Camp Little thought that the ideal independent outsider to hire was a right wing journalist is rather beyond me.

As The Dim-Post‘s Danyl Mclauchlan writes in the comments to his latest post:

Here’s how a similar conversation would go in the National Party:

Aide: We’ve arranged for Danyl Mclauchlan to interview you then distill it into key messages.
MP: Who’s he?
Aide: He’s a left-wing blogger, his wife was a senior staffer for the Greens . . .
MP: Let’s not use him. That’s just stupid.

Nonetheless, the political preferences of Mr Cohen presumably wouldn’t have been an issue had the invoice simply been paid. But it wasn’t, and according to Mr Cohen on Morning Report this morning, that’s despite him having contact with various Little staff members, including Chief of Staff Matt McCarten.

Did no one, especially Mr McCarten, think, “We owe an NBR journalist $950. We should probably pay that before he turns feral…”?

And so Mr Cohen writes a story about his shoddy treatment, exposing Mr Little’s hypocrisy and making Little and his staff look like a pack of extremely odd individuals.

And so Andrew Little is embarrassed in Parliament by Stephen Joyce, who gleefully lampoons Little’s “no payment contract”.

And so Patrick Gower makes Mr Little look like a fool on 3News, as Gower asks again and again when and why the bill was suddenly paid, and Little tries not to answer.

It’s an issue that should never have got to that stage, and it beggars belief that Little and/or his staff allowed it to end up on the six o’clock news. Reverting to type, Labour once again fluffs its basic political management.

And John Key didn’t consult either…

Following yesterday’s discovery that there will be no minor party involvement in the oversight of our spy agencies, Andrew Little was castigated for his failure to consult with either the Greens or NZ First regarding his nomination of David Shearer to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As I wrote yesterday, there is a legal requirement for the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders before making a nomination. This puts Labour in the strange position of essentially having to argue that, despite having already announced Shearer’s nomination, consultation can still occur prior to the nomination being officially made. (At present, the nominations aren’t yet official.)

John Key was approached for comment on Little’s decision, but as far as I can see, none of the reporting yesterday focussed on the issue that both Andrew Little and John Key had consultation requirements. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 requires the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders, but  it also requires the Prime Minister to consult with the leaders of all parties in government.

John Key has confirmed he’ll be nominating National’s Chris Finlayson and Amy Adams. Surely, given that ACT, United Future and the Maori Party all have confidence and supply agreements with National, Mr Key must therefore have consulted with David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox before coming to his decision?

Well, Peter Dunne yesterday tweeted:

FWIW no-one has consulted me under either 7(1)(c) or 7(1)(d) [the relevant consultation sections of the Act]

Maybe Mr Key, like Little, intends to get around to “consulting” with the other party leaders prior to the nominations of Finlayson and Adams becoming official.

Nonetheless, if that’s the defence that both major party leaders intend to rely on, it makes a mockery of the duty of consultation. What it shows is that both Key and Little consider the statutory duty of consultation as nothing more than a nuisance; an exercise in ticking boxes before doing precisely what they want.

And we’re supposed to blindly trust them to protect our rights and interests as they oversee the spies…

UPDATE (18/02/15):

Oddly, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has confirmed on Twitter that the Maori Party were consulted:

So why was the Maori Party consulted, but Peter Dunne wasn’t? Was ACT?

Ill tidings for oversight of spy agencies

We mere citizens don’t get to know too much about how our spy agencies operate and what they get up to. There are good reasons for that. A spy agency that gives out all of its secrets probably isn’t going to function particularly successfully.

Unfortunately, our spy agencies, just like the police, sometimes don’t appear to know the law. And sometimes, even when they do know the law, they choose not to follow it.

Which is why it’s rather vital that there’s oversight of our spy agencies. In New Zealand, that oversight is provided by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. It’s a five person committee, made up of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, two MPs nominated by the PM, and one MP nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

Now you’d expect that the committee that makes sure the spies aren’t breaking the law would be lawfully appointed, wouldn’t you?

Turns out that Andrew Little didn’t appear to have read the relevant law. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 provides that the member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition must follow “consultation with the leader of each party that is not in Government or in coalition with a Government party”.

Little has nominated Labour’s David Shearer, which has provoked howls of outrage from the Greens and NZ First, both of whom say they were not consulted.

Russel Norman had previously been on the Committee, but was not nominated by Labour this time round because he’ll be stepping down as Greens’ co-leader in a few months. Little didn’t nominate the other Greens’ co-leader, Metiria Turei, because he wanted someone with “skills, understanding and experience”.

Labour’s view appears to be that there’s no breach of the law, because David Shearer hasn’t yet been officially nominated, and the party will consult with the Greens and NZ First before the nomination is confirmed. Quite what that “consultation” will consist of, given that Shearer’s name has essentially been put forward as a fait accompli, remains to be seen.

National, meanwhile, has announced that it’s nominees will be GCSB and SIS minister Chris Finlayson and Justice minister Amy Adams. They’re both National, meaning that no minor party will have a role in the oversight of the GCSB or SIS.

Now here’s the worrying party. John Key has previously signalled that the Government intends to introduce a new round of tougher surveillance laws this year, further eroding our rights. So he supports Labour’s stance, because:

“A range of opposition voices from the minor parties could railroad the process.

“I don’t think the committee was terribly constructive over the last few years, I think it was used less as a way of constructing the right outcomes for legislation, and more as a sort of political battleground.”

In short, John Key doesn’t want dissent. He wants as little scrutiny of our spy agencies as possible.

Here’s Russel Norman responding to Labour’s decision:

“I think it’s a bad call. It means it’s the old boys’ club – Labour and National – both of whom have been responsible for illegal spying.

The Greens were the only ones on [the committee] with clean hands . . . the spy agencies will be extremely happy. The duopoly of illegal spying will be maintained without any independent oversight.”

The spy agencies will indeed be extremely happy. They’ve been given an indication from Key and Little that, for the next three years, oversight of their activities will be rather less stringent than it has been in previous terms.

Masters of the Universe

I’ve never read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, nor seen the film. Consequently, Andrew Little’s description yesterday of John Key and Bill English as “Masters of the Universe” caused my brow to furrow.

Other minds apparently initially leapt to He-Man and the Power of Greyskull. However, my childhood didn’t tend to involve the watching of cartoons, so I completely missed He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Google tells me there was also a Masters of the Universe movie in 1987: I missed that too, which was probably a good thing, given the rather negative online reviews.

No, my mind leapt towards an early song by Pulp entitled Master of the Universe, with the immortal lines:

Oh now look what you have done.
You’ve spoilt it all for everyone.
The master masturbates alone,
In a corner of your home.

Thank you, Mr Little, but that wasn’t an image I ever wanted to associate with the Prime Minister or Finance Minister…

If only I’d watched more cartoons as a child.

Peters for Northland? Not likely.

Last week, the NZ Herald reported that Winston Peters was considering contesting the Northland electorate by-election, following the resignation of National’s Mike Sabin:

Speaking from Te Tii Marae at Waitangi today, Mr Peters claimed he had been inundated with calls asking if he would put his name forward for the position.

“New Zealand First is seriously going to consider the issue,” Mr Peters said. “It’s a possibility. I’m a local here, I come from here and I know more about this area than a whole lot of other pretenders. I got a whole lot of phone calls. That’s why I’ve been interested.”

I’d have to say, I’d be highly surprised if Peters does in fact end up standing as a candidate. Remember his musings ahead of the last election about running in East Coast Bays against Colin Craig? Or his flirtations with running against John Key in Helensville ahead of the 2011 election?

Peters loves headlines, and he’s well aware that speculation about whether he might stand in prominent electorate battles is guaranteed to provide headlines.

Nonetheless, Peters would have only an outside shot at winning. With Sabin’s 2014 majority sitting at over 9,000, any opposition candidate is going to have a hard road ahead, no matter what their public profile.

Yes, Peters was born in Northland, and he’s got a bach up there, but given his history of representing Tauranga, and his having subsequently been based in Auckland, there would still be the strong whiff of opportunistic carpetbaggery should he stand.

And yes, NZ First received 12.8% of the party vote in Northland in 2104, but that was mostly at the expense of Labour, which received just 16.6% of the party vote. NZ First didn’t stand a candidate last election, and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime received 25.9% of the electorate vote, just shy of the combined Labour-NZ First party vote of 29.4% party vote.

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important point is that Winston Peters really doesn’t like losing. He won’t put himself forward as an outside chance. His ego simply won’t allow the likely humiliation of losing to an as-yet-unknown National candidate.

Abbott survives. For now…

Tony Abbott has survived the spill motion, with 61 votes supporting his continued leadership to 39 against.

Neither of the two likely leadership contestants – Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop – had announced that they would challenge. In fact, both had publicly opposed the spill motion, not wanting to look disloyal. Without a candidate opposing Abbott, the spill was always more likely than not to fail. Better the devil you know than a leadership void.

And of course Abbott made a “Captain’s Call” to move the vote ahead by a day, wrong-footing those who might have been rushing to lock in the anti-Abbott numbers.

Nonetheless, it’s surely still the beginning of the end for him. Both Turnbull and Bishop know that there’s plenty of time to axe Abbott before the next election. They’ll have been watching to see just how big the ABA (Anyone But Abbott) camp is. Now they know it’s sizeable – 39% of MPs wanted Abbott gone without a challenger even putting up their hand.

From here, the question becomes whether a head-to-head Turnbull v Abbott, or Bishop v Abbott, contest can convert an extra 12 votes away from the Prime Minister.

Given that the latest Newspoll published this morning in The Australian shows the Coalition is a massive 14 points behind the Labor party (the Coalition’s worst result since November 2009), one would have to assume that it won’t take a great deal of persuading for a number of senior MPs to fall in behind either Turnbull or Bishop. Loyalty means little in politics when one’s seat is at stake.

The Coalition’s poll numbers may be looking abysmal, but Abbott’s personal numbers are even worse. The latest Newspoll also shows his preferred Prime Minister rating at just 30% – the worst for a Prime Minister since 1994.

Abbott may have survived for today, but the number-crunching will now begin in earnest. The knives will be well and truly out.

Labour and the polls

When Andrew Little was first elected to the Labour leadership last year, everyone I knew seemed a little dumbfounded. No one, whatever their political stripes, thought him a good choice, with their reasons generally ranging from his apparently humourless personality to his union credentials. Labour had doomed itself, was the general consensus.

Of course, Mr Little then failed to make a right hash of things. In fact, with his “Cut the crap” soundbite, he got a fair bit of positive press coverage, and seemed to have united many Labour Party doubters behind him.

Nonetheless, despite that good initial run of form from him, the mood from the streets of Gisborne, Rotorua and wherever else I wandered remained circumspect. People expected Little to come a cropper sooner or later (perhaps sooner rather than later), and they were hardly likely to switch allegiance to (or back to) Labour until the party had shown it could offer some degree of basic competency.

On Sunday, we had the first television poll of the year: TV3’s Reid Research poll. There was good news for Labour – it was on 29.1%; up 3.5% (or up 4% on its election night result) and close to the near-respectability figure of 30%. And 55% of voters thought that Mr Little was “potentially a better match for Mr Key than his predecessors”.

Leaving aside the usefulness or otherwise of including the word “potentially” in that last polling question, the results really aren’t great news for Labour. For a start, National was up 5.3% to 49.8% (or up 2.8% on their election night result). Labour’s rise in support didn’t come from National…

It’s the post-election summer, and until this frenetic last week, politics has been off everyone’s agenda. With no media exposure, the smaller parties have suffered:

  • The Greens were down 5.1% to 9.3% (or down 1.4% from election night), having had little more than bad publicity since the election after their lacklustre 10.7% showing.
  • NZ First is on 6.9%, down 1.9% on its election night result (although down just 0.2% on the pre-election TV3 poll).
  • The Conservatives are on 2.7%, down 2.2% from the last TV3 poll and down 1.3% from the election.
  • Internet Mana are on just 0.6%, down 1.4% from the last TV3 poll and down 0.8% from the election.

Labour and National have basically just profited from the usual post-election lack of exposure that the minor parties tend to suffer. Labour’s 29.1% leaves the party no closer to governing. National’s back in governing alone territory.

And Andrew Little’s preferred Prime Minister rating was just 9.8%. It’s not a dreadful debut, but it’s still 2.5% less than the terminally disliked David Cunliffe was polling.

Really all that can be said about the TV3 poll results are that there is still more than two and a half years to run until the next election, so it’s early days yet. Plenty of time for Little and Labour to build on an error-free Parliamentary term. Or plenty of time for an implosion.

Where next for the Greens?

In the NZ Herald yesterday, following the announcement of Russel Norman’s retirement from the Greens’ leadership, Fran O’Sullivan essentially called for the head of Metiria Turei. Her argument was largely along the lines that Norman was responsible for providing mainstream credibility, while “Turei’s personal brand is associated with oppositional politics”.

O’Sullivan’s presumption, I guess, is that Turei will now become the main voice of the Greens, given her status as most senior leader. From there, all the bits of the Greens’ policy platform that O’Sullivan liked will be stripped away in a blaze of Marxist glory.

Ms O’Sullivan should, perhaps, at least wait and see who the new co-leader will be before she calls for Turei to walk. The front-runner, Kevin Hague, seems likely to continue in the Russel Norman mould. The party’s policy development for the last election is hardly likely to be thrown out with the bathwater.

O’Sullivan certainly champions that 2014 policy work:

At the 2014 election the Greens did roll out some interesting policies particularly with innovation: 1000 new tertiary places for students of engineering, mathematics, computer science, and the physical sciences; $1 billion of new funding for R&D. They got it that innovation was “one of the best ways to add value to our exports, raise wages, and better protect the natural world we love”.

However, she laments that “there just hasn’t been enough policy consistency in place for long enough for a new image to bed down”.

In the Norman/Turei tag team, Turei generally felt like the better advocate on social issues, while Norman was the more effective advocate on economic questions. If someone like Hague steps up to continue Norman’s role, there is no reason that Greens can’t bed that policy work down, using it as a springboard for 2017.

Of course, the leadership decision is in the hands of the Greens’ membership. Which makes it a little odd that so many commentators mention new MP James Shaw as a dark horse contender for the leadership (for instance, Andrea Vance gives him a plug this morning on Stuff, describing he and Hague as “the top picks”). Shaw was voted down the party list by the membership, who seemingly found him a little too pro-business for their comfort. It seems a large stretch for the party membership to abruptly go from down-grading his list placing, to supporting him for party leader.

(Almost) unconditional support : ACT forgets to play its hand

On National Radio’s Morning Report show this morning, ACT leader David Seymour provided an excellent example of how not to negotiate. With Environment and Housing Minister Nick Smith set to announce tomorrow National’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, Seymour was asked whether he would be supporting the yet-to-be-announced changes.

The response was a clear affirmative. “It is extremely urgent that New Zealand reforms its Resource Management Act…” Therefore, he’s got National’s back on this one.

So what are the reforms? Well, we don’t know. They haven’t yet been announced.

Does Mr Seymour know? Has he been given a pre-announcement heads up, to ensure that his support is based on some actual intel, or is he simply making the assumption that the changes will be identical (or almost identical) to the proposed changes that were abandoned prior to the last election? It’s an assumption, he confirmed on Twitter to me this morning, based on where Mr Smith’s “thinking is usually at”.

To be fair, it isn’t completely unconditional support that is being offered. On Morning Report, Mr Seymour reserved his right to pull back, should the changes, once announced, be materially different from his assumptions.

Of course, we all know that ACT went into the 2014 election promising to repeal the RMA. Here’s a quote from former ACT leader Jamie Whyte during the election campaign:

The problem is not with the administration of the RMA. The problem is with the very conception of it. The RMA is an assault on property rights that stifles investment and economic growth. The restrictions it puts on using land for residential development are the reason housing is so expensive.

Nonetheless, from a realpolitik perspective, why would ACT simply blindly agree to support National’s proposed changes? If the changes are essentially what National tried unsuccessfully to push through last year, then National will struggle to get support from Peter Dunne or the Maori Party. If National doesn’t want to water down its proposals, then that leaves just ACT. And given ACT’s hatred of the RMA (except, of course, where it stymies intensive development in Epsom), surely this would be a perfect opportunity to press for additional changes?

With National able, on every piece of legislation, to go to just one of ACT, United Future or the Maori Party, opportunities to extract a pound of flesh aren’t going to come along often for those three minor parties. ACT seems to have just blown a prime opportunity to extract concessions on one of the party’s main election policy platforms.

How to spot a cannabis plot

Should you not know how to recognise a cannabis plant, the Southland District police have released a helpful poster:

Cannabis Wanted! Southland Police are committed to ensuring the population knows what cannabis looks like...

Cannabis Wanted! Southland Police are committed to ensuring the population knows what cannabis looks like…

And to aid in the hunt, Stuff reports that they’ve even issued “a helpful guide to identify cannabis operations”. Should you be blissfully ignorant about how people grow cannabis, I guess it’s always good to know that:

People carrying shovels, spades and similar equipment into the bush may be up to no good, as may people repeatedly visiting places at unusual times.

Unusual sightings of lights, head torches, and headlights in rural areas at night may be people growing marijuana.

And did you also know that cannabis can be grown inside?!?

Constantly closed curtains and blacked-out windows, with bright lights on constantly or at strange times may indicate an illegal indoor gardening operation.

I have in fact had cause to call police to alert them to a cannabis growing operation, as, despite philosophically having no issue with people growing their own cannabis, I’d really rather they didn’t do it next to my house.

You see, between my property and the river lay a long swathe of bamboo, part of an ill-maintained council reserve. And at about midday one Monday, I heard the sound of much crashing about from within the bamboo. For a good half an hour, the crashing continued, as several individuals fought their way back and forth, never managing to emerge in the grass at the other end. Occasionally, out would ring the sound of a spade attempting to unsuccessfully dig through bamboo roots.

Eventually, they disappeared back from whence they had come, at which point I ventured down to check out what on earth they’d been up to. It was, of course, an attempt at cultivating cannabis, although they’d eventually given up on the spade-work and simply left several containers filled with dirt and young plants. They’d attempted to conceal the containers, using a screen of fallen bamboo, but this was largely unsuccessful due to one of the containers being a bright pink plastic box. Bright pink is not easy colour to disguise in the wild…

And so I called the local constabulary, who kindly came and took away the plants and their various containers. For ‘twould have been most unfortunate for the police to have located by other means a cannabis-growing operation right in front of a local defence lawyer’s house…

So keep an eye out, oh law abiding populace, for those with spades, head torches or constantly closed curtains. And remember also this further piece of enlightened advice from the Southern District police: a “distinctive smell” coming from rural areas or properties is another obvious sign. No, really?