David Farrar

Second-guessing the Northland by-election

There’s an interesting debate over at The Standard regarding what Labour and the Greens should do in the Northland by-election, should Winston Peters announce that he’s standing.

Te Reo Putake, in his post entitled ‘Stand by Your Man‘, argues that if Peters stands, Labour and the Greens should withdraw. The basic thrust of the argument is that it would show opposition solidarity (a government in waiting!). Plus, there’s the chance that Peters might be able to take the seat in a one-on-one battle, forcing National to rely on two minor votes to pass legislation, rather than just one.

In a counter-post, Micky Savage argues that doing so would make Labour appear weak, would remove the party’s ability to campaign on issues important to it, and may give NZ First momentum that Labour may regret. Further, Peters just can’t be trusted to actually side with Labour in 2017:

Memories of 1996 when Peters campaigned through the country promising a change of Government but then sided with National are still strong.  And he is the worst sort of politician who can campaign against the cynicism of politics as usual but then engage in the most cynical of politics.

Interestingly, the Greens have now made the decision not to stand a candidate. In a press release, they state:

“It is our strategic assessment that we should not run in the by-election and instead focus on our nationwide climate change and inequality campaigns,” said Green Party Co-convenor John Ranta.

“The world’s attention will be focused on fixing climate change this year and we will be at the forefront of that issue here in New Zealand.

“We have a real opportunity to address both climate change and inequality and we want our party focused on those issues.”

The justification given for not standing is laughable. Standing a candidate provides an easy platform for the party to campaign on climate change and inequality.

So why then aren’t the Greens standing a candidate?

Is it money? Election campaigns are never cheap, and the party might well have decided it simply doesn’t have the resources to spend this soon after a general election.

Or are the Greens trying to lure Peters into the ring, considering him to be the best chance the opposition has of decreasing the Government’s parliamentary majority?

David Farrar at Kiwiblog evidently believes it’s the latter, describing it as “The beginning of the dirty deal in Northland”. I’m unconvinced though. There’s no love lost between the Greens and NZ First, given Peters’ history of trying to shut the Greens out of government. And there’s still no indication as to whether Peters will or won’t stand.

I simply cannot see the Greens pulling out of the race out of the goodness of their hearts, in an attempt to aid a yet-to-be-announced run from Peters. Especially given that Labour have already announced their candidate, and are therefore unlikely to withdraw and upset their local support base.

To my mind, the Greens simply don’t see much opportunity to gain political capital in the upcoming by-election. It’ll be just over half a year since the last general election, and there’s no new policy that can be campaigned on. There’s probably very little spare cash lying around, and they know their candidate can’t win. (Their 2014 candidate, list MP David Clendon, lives in New Lynn, so isn’t even Northland-based.)

If the by-election were being held mid-term, it might have been a different story. Right now though, the timing’s just wrong for a cash-strapped minor party, with no high-profile local candidate.

That joke isn’t funny anymore

I’m no great fan of hip-hop. Guns, bitches and bling become very wearing very quickly. Nonetheless, give me a bit of Dead Prez at their political best, the Roots (when they’re not being someones backing band) or NZ’s own Tommy Ill, with his booze-fueled witticisms, and I’m a happy sort of fellow.

And I rather liked Homebrew’s debut album. Tom Scott, the apparent creative driving force behind the group, cut a gleefully anarchic figure, both on stage and lyrically. David Farrar may have spluttered into his champagne as he witnessed Homebrew call John Key a c**t at the Vodafone Music Awards back in 2012, but their live performance was, frankly, the only interesting part of the night.

Saying something vaguely shocking, and awaiting the reaction, is one of those amusing pastimes one learns as a child. Then, one grows up. Unless one is Paul Henry or Jeremy Clarkson. So, calling Key a c**t at the Music Awards was one of those mildly amusing moments where, if you’re like me, you roll your eyes, chuckle, and say, “Oh, those young rappers! [for I’m still not sure whether hip-hop equals rap, or whether they’re completely different beasts] Whatever will they think of next?”

Since then, Tom Scott has, I learned today, left Homebrew and formed a new crew – @peace. And @peace have released a song called Kill the PM, which isn’t the most subtle song title to ever grace an album track listing. It contains the lyrics “ain’t join’ nothin’ so I’m gonna kill the prime minister” and “I been trying’ to get a job but they got none/so instead I got a sawn-off shotgun/and ‘pop’.”

Morrissey, back in the day, got his home raided by Police after he released a song called Margaret on the Guillotine, in which he wished that someone would carry out his dream of disposing of Margaret Thatcher (the preferred method being somewhat obvious from the song title). It wasn’t the Moz’s best work (although the acoustic guitar work in the coda still stands up quite nicely). Singing about having political figures killed is really just a little crass. There’s nothing witty about it. In fact, it’s a bit of a lyrical cop out really; the sort of nadir you sink to when you’ve run out of ways to lampoon a person’s beliefs and policy.

So, message to Tom Scott: Calling John Key a c**t had some mildly amusing shock value back in 2012; calling for his death in 2014 isn’t even remotely witty. To quote Morrissey completely out of context, “That joke isn’t funny anymore”.

UPDATE:

Just the song for yourself here.

Dirty Politics – sunlight is the best disinfectant

Well, there’s only one political story today – Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment. And it’ll likely be the only political story for a wee while yet, as journalists digest the full range of allegations and try and pin John Key down on what he knew about what his office was up to.

I haven’t yet read Dirty Politics (although it’s definitely on my reading list, once I obtain a copy). I only know what’s been reported and debated online. (For a useful synopsis, check out Danyl Mclauchlan’s post at The Dim-Post.

There are a few allegations that seem to have captured the attention of the commentariat:

  • That Cameron Slater and Jason Ede accessed the Labour Party’s computers in 2011, in the lead-up to the election.
  • That the Prime Minister’s office, through Jason Ede, used classified SIS documents to damage a political enemy, Phil Goff, by de-classifying them and telling Cameron Slater to OIA them.
  • That Cameron Slater and political strategist Simon Lusk blackmailed Rodney Hide into resigning as leader of the ACT party.
  • That Judith Collins, when she was Minister of Corrections, arranged to have a prisoner transferred at Cameron Slater’s request.
  • That Cameron Slater is paid around $6,500 per month from a tobacco lobbyist, Carrick Graham, to publish pro-tobacco, pro-alcohol attack posts. Those posts are written by Mr Graham, and are published under Slater’s by-line without attribution.

Yes, everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. Political parties dig for dirt on their opponents (remember Mike Williams’ flight to Australia to find non-existent dirt on John Key?). Nonetheless, if the allegations are correct, there’s some seriously disturbing stuff taking place on the ninth floor of the Beehive. It’s taking negative campaigning to a new level. It’s a systemic abuse of power.

How much of Hager’s claims are based on incontrovertible documentary evidence, and how much on tenuously joined dots remains to be seen. Matthew Hooton has come out this morning and labelled as flat-out wrong and a lie an allegation that he arranged for a liquor company to sponsor David Farrar and Slater.

It’s worth noting that Slater has responded to some of the allegations against him, in his post “The three biggest lies of Hager’s book“. Firstly, he disputes that Labour’s computer system was hacked (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and secondly:

The second big lie is that PM and/or the PM’s office told me about Phil Goff’s briefing from the SIS. They did not.  

I wrote my own OIA and boy did I get pressure to pull my OIA. Pressure came from very senior people to actually withdraw my OIA, very serious pressure…mostly by phone. I was told it wouldn’t do the Nats any favours.

I resisted that and basically told them to piss off, I was entitled to ask an OIA and I did, proving that Phil Goff lied about his briefing.

I’ll be interested to read Hager’s evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, I’m amused that thus far there’s no denial from Slater that he takes money from a tobacco lobbyist to run PR attack lines. As Mr Slater is fond of saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Indeed…

But will the current furore result in any change in the polls? It’s hard to say. If John Key can distance himself from everything, there may not be much of an impact. Broadcasters such as Sean Plunket and Mike Hosking are busily running the line that there’s nothing to see here that no one didn’t already know. 

“Nicky Hager taking the moral high ground is nauseating.”

That’s a text message I received this morning from a swing voter. They’re not going to read Dirty Politics, and they undoubtedly assume that whatever National is alleged to have done, Labour will also have done. They just don’t care, and that’s a depressing thought…

A brief word on animal testing & cosmetics

Labour has announced that all imported cosmetic products that have been tested on animals will be banned. Whether the policy is likely to shift many votes to Labour remains to be seen. Animal testing doesn’t generally appear on the top 10 list of voter’s concerns.

Nonetheless, National’s online proxies have begun a demonisation project that appears to lack much of a basis in fact. National itself doesn’t yet seem to want to talk about the issue, presumably on the basis that advocating for animal rights isn’t a huge vote winner for the right, but that actively advocating for animal torture might just lose a few votes.

The National Party charge is being led instead by David Farrar at Kiwiblog, who lists 181 cosmetics companies and brand names that use animal testing. The thing is that the list contains companies/brands that undertake any animal testing at all. It doesn’t mean that all products by that company/brand will be razed from New Zealand shelves. The fact that Mr Farrar fails to identify is that the EU already has such a ban, as does India, Israel and Norway. That means that every cosmetic that is stocked in the EU is able to be stocked in New Zealand. As National Anti-Vivisection Society spokesman Stephen Manson told the NZ Herald:

“There might be a few products, but it’s not like you’re going to see shelves emptying. The EU’s a huge market and anything that’s sold there can be imported here. I can’t see it having a massive impact as far as consumer choice goes.”

Labour’s new monetary policy tool

Labour has announced its new monetary policy tool – a variable savings rate (VSR) which would allow the Reserve Bank to vary Kiwisaver savings rates. It would be an alternative to raising the OCR to raise interest rates.

It’s a fascinating idea, although I’d need to see some fairly detailed modelling to have any idea whether it would actually work.

The policy is aimed at a number of different targets:

  • There’s the obvious target – reducing interest rates rises. Essentially, the Reserve Bank would use the VSR to take money out of circulation, rather than higher interest rates.
  • There’s exchange rates. Labour argues that our dollar is over-valued, and most analysts seem to agree. Lower interest rates make our dollar less attractive, helping exporters.
  • There’s New Zealand’s woeful savings rates. Labour would be making Kiwisaver compulsory, and the higher the VSR, the higher our level of national savings. According to David Parker, Labour’s finance spokesperson, Labour wants to see the Kiwisaver contribution rate rise from its current rate of 6% to around 9%. That’s a significant increase in national savings…
  • There’s our ever-ongoing annual current account deficit. A lower dollar makes imports more expensive, while making exporting easier. Over time, our current account deficit should diminish.

The policy seems likely to be sold on two fronts. Firstly, it’s a blatant pitch to those with a mortgage – “We’ll keep your interest rates low!” Secondly, judging by David Parker’s language on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon show, there’ll be a nationalistic attack on overseas banks – “Keep your money in Kiwisaver, rather than giving it away in profit to overseas banks!”

(The second sales pitch seems somewhat dishonest to me. When mortgage rates go up following an OCR increase, term deposit rates increase as well – when New Zealanders with a mortgage pay more, New Zealanders with savings in the bank earn more. Banks have a gap between what they borrow at and what they lend at – that’s where they make their profit (not including the various accounts they charge). Bank profitability isn’t hugely impacted by whether the OCR sits at 3% or 3.25%.)

There are a number of fishhooks and double-edged swords in the policy though. The major fishhook is also a major selling point (to me) of the policy – those with mortgages are a minority in New Zealand; those who earn a wage or salary and would therefore be subject to compulsory Kiwisaver and the VSR are a majority. Any movement in the VSR will therefore directly impact a far wider pool of consumers than would a movement in the OCR. That’s a problem for those with little discretionary income who don’t have a mortgage, but it also makes the tool rather more effective. The Reserve Bank has always had to struggle with the fact that a majority of mortgage funds are often fixed, meaning that increases in the OCR can take longer periods of time to impact on many mortgage holders.

For those with a mortgage and a wage or salary, the benefit of interest rates not rising is offset in the short- to medium-term by increased Kiwisaver payments. Sure, they’ll get those funds back on retirement, but it’s not money that is available for them to reduce their mortgage or otherwise tap into prior to retirement.

Then there’s the issue of the value of the NZ dollar. It’s been high for some time now and consumers appear to have gotten quite used to cheap electronics and the like. Drive the dollar lower and all of those manufactured goods become more expensive, which isn’t crash hot news for consumers, especially not those who have just watched a higher portion of their wage disappear into their Kiwisaver account. Drive the dollar lower and watch the price of imported fuel increase, with all of the flow on effects that entails. There are pros and cons to whatever level the dollar is at. How does the Reserve Bank decide what the “correct” value should be?

Obviously it’s a policy that is going need some further fleshing out. For instance, Labour doesn’t yet know whether the Reserve Bank would have the power to adjust the VSR itself or whether it would have to provide advice to the government of the day on whether it wanted the VSR raised or lowered (presumably, if the government failed to follow that advice, the Reserve Bank would then act using the OCR). However, it’s certainly a policy worthy of broader discussion.

Regardless, the attack lines from the Right are already out. Just look at David Farrar’s headline at Kiwiblog – “Labour proposes a cut in everyone’s after tax income“…

If everyone voted…

Following on from my ponderings yesterday about the so-called ‘missing million’ voters that Labour seems to be relying on as its election strategy, David Farrar at Kiwiblog has gone back to a blog post from November last year by Andrew at Grumpollie – “If everyone got out to vote in 2011, what difference would it have made?”

The basic conclusion from Andrew is that if everyone who was enrolled to vote in 2011 had actually voted, National’s vote would have increased by 0.14% and Labour’s by 1.68%, while the Greens would have decreased by 1.04% and NZ First by 0.82%. Not much of a difference. Mr Farrar concludes, “So my take on this is that just inspiring a larger turnout won’t necessarily help Labour.”

In 2008 though, National’s vote would have decreased by 3.81% while Labour’s would have increased by 3.76%. The Greens would have increased by 0.58% and NZ First would have decreased by 0.09%. That is a significant difference.

Of course, the problem (which Andrew notes and accepts) is that the data being relied on (from the NZ Election Study) involves a very small sample size – just a few hundred. It’s pretty hard to extrapolate too far with such a small sample and the correspondingly large margin of error.

At Polity, Rob Salmond is unimpressed with their conclusion regarding the 2011 election:

Here is why I think they are both wrong:

1. 25.8% of people did not vote in the last election, but only 8.2% of the population admitted it in the survey Grumpollie was using. That’s a very big discrepancy.

2. There is a long-standing tradition to lying to pollsters about whether you voted. It is based on “social desirability bias.” And the people most susceptible to it, people who often do vote and are embarrassed that they did not in 2011, are also in my view among the most likely to have voted for Labour in 2008.

3. The analysis, and David Farrar’s conclusion, is based on the idea that Labour will go hunting for non voters randomly around the country, convincing non-voters in the bluest parts of Clutha-Southland to vote just as much as we do in Labour stronghold areas. We are a bit smarter than that.

This year, I expect Labour will put considerable effort into turning out people who we think like Labour but we think may not have voted in 2011. And National will do the same for people suspected gf being lapsed National supporters. Two parties: one task. The difference, which gives Labour an advantage, is that we are better at this task than National.

With respect to Mr Salmond, Andrew’s analysis and conclusion is based on the conceit that everyone will turn out to vote. And part of the conclusion reached is that the non-voters who have a party preference will be distributed largely in line with the voting preferences of those who did vote.

This obviously means that the “missing million” are not all from the political left, just waiting to be hustled along to the ballot box by Labour. Sure, the 2008 non-voter figures used by Andrew show that 52.27% of those who didn’t vote (and had a party preference) would have voted Labour and the left bloc grows to over 60% if you add the Greens figure of 9.55%. Nonetheless, the 2011 figures show almost 50% of the non-vote would have gone National’s way, with Labour picking up just 34.01% – a significant difference to 2008.

Mr Salmond’s point, of course, is that he thinks Labour will be better at getting out the pro-Labour non-vote than National will be at getting out the pro-National non-vote. And he’s correct that Mr Farrar’s conclusion would be wrong – if Labour increases the left wing turnout rate, while the right bloc’s turnout rate stays static, then of course increased turnout would benefit Labour.

But there’s still the problem for Labour that I pointed out yesterday – Labour shows no sign of picking up these “missing million” and making them want to vote for the party. There doesn’t seem to be any significant change between Labour of 2011 and Labour of 2014 that is capable of creating the excitement amongst the non-voters that will bring them back into the fold. And until that step-change occurs, any talk of Labour’s superior machine getting out the Labour-sympathetic non-vote is just that – only talk.

UPDATE:

Andrew from Grumpollie has his own eloquent critique of Mr Salmond’s post here, which is well worth reading.

The SFO and Kohanga Reo Trust Board

Where does one start with the debacle that is the Kohanga Reo Trust Board and its commercial subsidiary, Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO)? Does anyone come out of this looking good?

Not Hekia Parata and her Ministry. Ms Parata looked utterly incompetent as she lurched from holding a late-night press conference announcing that an EY (Ernst & Young) report into the Trust had found no misuse of public funds (nothing to see here, folks!), to suddenly calling in the SFO this next day. Why had the report even been ordered? After all, the allegations that triggered the report couldn’t even be legally investigated by EY. As David Farrar has pointed out:

Ernst & Young have no powers to investigate Te Pataka Ohanga, but the Auditor-General has extensive powers and I believe it would have been far better for the Auditor-General to be asked to investigate.

The Trust Board certainly hasn’t done much to airbrush its image. Derek Fox, the Trust Board spokesperson, came on National Radio’s Checkpoint, appearing evasive, unbriefed and angry non-transparent. What were the new allegations that Ms Parata had heard of only in the last 12 hours? He vacillated between apparently not knowing and stating that there were no new allegations – all allegations were months old, and the Trust Board had intended to meet to discuss them on Sunday. Why had it taken the Board so long to meet, if the allegations were months old? Did the Board not view the allegations as being serious? No coherent answer. Mary  Wilson continued to press, and Mr Fox seemed to show a frightening disregard for transparency. He seemed genuinely aggrieved that the SFO had been called in, as if the Government had no right to demand answers on the use of public money.

Of course, Maori TV looks good. It was their Native Affairs reporters who originally broke the story, in the face of a degree of flack from a number of prominent Maori figures. Those leading the charge against Native Affairs saw the story as a betrayal of Maori values; that the issues should have been dealt with privately, without dragging people’s names out into the light. Given that the Trust Board (from Derek Fox’s Checkpoint comments) does not appear to have actually even met to discuss the initial allegations, and certainly no one from TPO appears to have been disciplined in any way, shape or form, the Native Affairs approach now seems wholly vindicated.

Update:

Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers Union, appearing on the Panel on National Radio, says that EY would generally have no problems investigating subsidiary companies such as TPO. If that’s the case, were EY directed not to investigate TPO or have EY made a conscious decision not to?