Wow – How closing the KiwiSaver tax loophole gave the Govt a springboard for a world-class policy somersault

The Ardern government  has  improved  its gymnastic  skills  and  this  week  executed one  of  its  fastest   somersaults  of  its  turbulent  career on  what  the  mainstream media  had  labelled  “the  KiwiSaver  tax  grab”.

Of  course, that label was a  misnomer.  Even so,  a  clever politician would have  sensed the  gathering  storm  long before   it  burst.

Even  now, the  government  is  left  fretting as  it  surveys  the  damage  done, rather  like  the Nelson residents  who lost  their  homes  last week.

It  was  Revenue Minister  David Parker  who  had   to  front the  media  to  do  what he  could  to  salvage  something from the wreck.

It  wasn’t  much. And  he might still get  most of the  blame for it all. Continue reading “Wow – How closing the KiwiSaver tax loophole gave the Govt a springboard for a world-class policy somersault”

The economic importance of coal – why we shouldn’t rush to toss the baby out with the bath (or Bathurst) water

Defying the  critics  and  climate  change warriors, the country’s biggest coal miner has reported a near tripling of its underlying profit as higher prices lifted revenue.

At  the  same  time the  company,  Bathurst Resources, underlined  its  value to the broader  economy by generating a  substantial proportion of  its earning from  exports.

Coal production was down about 8% to  1.9m tonnes, of which just under half was export coking coal used in steel making. Production was affected by bad weather, which caused flooding and slips.

The  company  is  looking  at expanding production, including the output from one of  its Waikato  operations.

The profit of $30.5m for the year ended June compared with $66.7m the year before.  But stripping out one-off items, such as changes in value of investments and the previous year’s impairments, the underlying profit was $43.1m compared with $14.8m. Continue reading “The economic importance of coal – why we shouldn’t rush to toss the baby out with the bath (or Bathurst) water”

Long Covid: less about health, more about politics?

Covid doesn’t grab British headlines these days.  Recent coverage instead picked up on heat-related deaths from July’s scorching weather.

Shame that there wasn’t more probing into that data set.  Because there was some good news.  The – deep breath now – age standardised mortality rates for England and Wales in the year to date are at almost their lowest-ever level.

That seems worth a bit of celebration, even if it is what you might expect with the pandemic’s passing.

But hang on, the Financial Times’s diligent John Burn-Murdoch has been able to dig a little more out of the government statistician’s recent mortality data.

He notes that excess deaths (i.e., those which exceed historically-based expectations), which were overwhelmingly attributable to Covid during the pandemic, are now increasingly non-Covid related.  

“Between July and December 2021, England recorded 24,000 more deaths than in a typical year, but only two-thirds of these could be attributed to Covid. And this year, less than half of the 10,000 excess deaths accrued since May were Covid-related. In total, there have been just over 12,000 additional non-Covid deaths across the two periods.”

Astute readers will no doubt be struggling to reconcile low and falling mortality rates with continuing excess deaths.  Among other things, it might have something to do with using the best years for the baseline.

Burn-Murdoch is particularly interested in the possible correlation between non-Covid excess deaths with growing A & E waiting times.    

All seems to be going well, until he leaps – perhaps a little too quickly – to a familiar villain, namely the government’s “… failure to address the failings of a chronically under-resourced and overburdened system”.

To be sure, the Socialist Worker was fulsome in its praise.  And quick to argue for strikes in Britain’s National Health Service as a final solution to the excess-death problem (this might be sounding a little more relevant to New Zealand readers).

But really, has there ever been a time when a free health system has not been “chronically under-resourced” and overburdened by its patients.

Before drawing a single striking conclusion from statistically-based calculations during an abnormal public health event with data attribution challenges, it might just be sensible to look a little more closely at the flexibility of the health system’s response in switching resources during and after the pandemic; and examining just how much of the continuing excess mortality is due to the delay and even cancellation of other treatments during the pandemic. Burn-Murdoch has an honourable record in this line of work.

It might be that the health business is one of many in which degraded service quality is symptomatic of policy-driven lack of flexibility and loss of productivity.

Which would have worrying implications for everyone.

In times of rising living standards – like those pre-Covid years – we all too easily forget that this benign state of affairs depends on us all getting more productive in our job; or, if we don’t, losing it and getting another; and then making sure our children get even more productive jobs than we had.

In most places, it seems to be dawning that something went wrong with this during the pandemic.  

The next shoe to drop is that adjustment to the new reality is necessary.  And it’s not feasible in the long run for the government to pay us for work we have not done and compensate us for changes we need to tackle ourselves.

Sadly, Burn-Murdoch’s article also reminds us that no government has had much success applying this analysis to the health sector.  Even so, the gradations of failure are quite important.

New Zealanders facing some whopping price / quality adjustments (for example, those desperate to get out of the country) might also wonder if their government has been slower than most in twigging the need for adjustment. Better hope the Ukraine war does good things for commodity prices to support the always “chronically under-resourced” health system.

A2 share price rallies sharply after the dairy processor reports big jump in net profit

A mixed  bag  of  news  came  down the  line  for  New Zealand’s  dairy  industry  over the  past  week.  On  one  side,  Fonterra trimmed   its  forecast  payout  for  the  season, while  on  another a2  Milk   surprised   its  critics  by  reporting  a  42% jump  in  net  profit  to $114m.

Any   company  listed  on  the NZX  and  sitting  on a  cash  mountain  of  $800m  must  be  doing  something  right.    Yet  some of  the  headlines  on   its  result  focussed  on  what  might  go  wrong   for   the  company  that specialises  in marketing  a2 milk  and  infant  formula.

For  example  Business  Desk’s  Jenny Ruth  says the    biggest source of uncertainty for a2 Milk right now is China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) deadline of February 21, 2023, for companies selling infant formula in China to get a new form of approval.  It’s called the GB standard, which is a Chinese national standard. Foreign companies won’t be able to manufacture formula for the Chinese market beyond that date unless they meet the new standard and have that all-important tick from SAMR.

But the  investment  community  was  cheered  by the  result in  what  is  currently  a rather downmarket climate. A2 Milk’s  share price rallied sharply after the company reported the  leap in profit which was driven by strong growth in its infant formula business in China. Continue reading “A2 share price rallies sharply after the dairy processor reports big jump in net profit”

There’s a lesson here for Tamati Coffey – you should tweak things to fix a cock-up, not to create one

Buzz from the Beehive

Inland Revenue Minister David Parker joined the ranks of the Government’s tweakers when he  announced his department is refining the screening tests for eligibility for the Cost of Living Payments ahead of the second payment being made from 1 September.

This refinement – the introduction of extra checks to stop cost-of-living payments being made to people based overseas – follows Inland Revenue’s finding about 31,000 of the 1.4 million people who received the first payment might have been overseas.  They will have to provide further information before receiving further payments.

The announcement on the Beehive website was accompanied by five other press statements, when Point of Order checked this morning. Continue reading “There’s a lesson here for Tamati Coffey – you should tweak things to fix a cock-up, not to create one”

Unlike our leader, Joe Biden is a bloke and he is much older – but another big difference is that he is a Democrat

Point of Order’s attention was drawn to a post on The Standard headed Labour’s Ardern and Democrats’ Biden: Learnings.

Written under the pseudonym Advantage, the article kicks off:

For those fishing around for a progressive playbook in this fractious world, Biden and Ardern are pretty similar. But Biden appears to be turning the fortunes of the Democrats around, but Ardern is currently unrewarded. Is there anything to learn?

The author proceeds to check a few common fields, such as…

COVID 19 Action

Both Biden and Arden administrations successfully mobilised the largest free vaccination programme in the history of either New Zealand or the United States of America. Arguably the recalcitrance of Republican-controlled states and conservative media cost far more lives in the USA than any resistance in New Zealand. The Biden administration effort got over 75% of U.S. citizens fully vaccinated, and the New Zealand response and population-wide effect was even better.

Further comparisons are drawn under topics such as “guns” and “international leadership”.

Then the author looks into big divergences, including

The CHIPS and Science Act

President Biden signed this into law to accelerate semiconductor manufacturing in the United States. The policy focus is on bringing back manufacturing jobs from China to the United States and advance U.S.-led technological leadership. An equivalent for New Zealand would be to target key offshored manufacturing e.g., requiring Icebreaker, Fisher&Paykel Healthcare, Fonterra, and Fletcher Building to bring all their key ingredients and product lines and R&D back into New Zealand rather than being beholden to more fragile Chinese manufacturing and supply lines. One could only imagine the effect if they were required to as Biden has.

Ardern has been remarkably doctrinaire when it comes to industry protection and in-sourcing, and there’s plenty to learn as a very small and very narrow economy to vulnerability to China.

Point of Order looked in vain for something more when “science” was among the considerations.

In the US, the last time we checked, science is science is science.

In this country the Government is pouring millions of dollars into “science” education and projects that incorporate mātauranga Māori, which has a spiritual dimension.

Kiwiblog yesterday posted an article headed ACC funding lunar healing!

This was prompted by a Stuff report which noted:

A new programme designed to help Māori recover faster from injury is being piloted at the University of Auckland.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar says he hopes the pilot will be independently evaluated.

The Stuff report went on:

Named Ngākau Oho, the university and ACC programme aims to implement rongoā Māori (traditional healing practices) in mainstream healthcare systems in Aotearoa.

Rongoā Māori is the name of a number of traditional Māori healthcare practices and remedies to cure ailments and injuries.

Passed down through generations of whānau and hapū, rongoā Māori involves physical, mental, and spiritual therapy.

Ngākau Oho includes online and in-person wānanga on rongoā Māori, including the use of medicinal native plants, romiromi (body alignment), maramataka (relationships to the lunar calendar) meditation and mahi tinana (body movement).

Farrar wants to know why Māori are being treated as second class citizens who get lunar healing foisted on them, rather than therapy that actually is proven to work?

It is quite possible that certain plants will have medicinal benefits. Meditation and body alignment and movement can be useful also. I have no issue with those.

But to have the Government funding injury recovery based on the lunar calendar is akin to them funding astrology as careers advice.

 But back to The Standard and the article by Advantage.

The final item examined is…

Rescue Plan

All citizens like to think their government has a plan, and the first big one to come out of the Biden administration was simply the American Rescue Plan. This US$1.9 trillion rescue plan paid for the full vaccination programme, family debt relief with mailed cheques to most people, and a new child tax credit that led to the largest-ever one-year decrease in recorded U.S. child poverty.

The Ardern government has been renowned less for its plan for recovery per se than for Ardern’s own daily media briefings. It is s substitute of perpetual visibility for a durable plan. New Zealand’s government expenditure was as a proportion of GDP even greater than that of the United States, but the economic effects have been uneven with unemployment remaining low yet economic growth stagnating.

What hasn’t remained is a sense that the Ardern government is continuing to be guided by a plan, a plan with a visible public shape and direction.

The key differences with Biden’s broad and very bold plans are the focus on costed benefits to citizens, the focus on strong guidance of the whole economy, and translating the legislative and policy wins into fresh political momentum.

Progressives have similarities, but Biden has a performance edge Ardern can learn from.

Here at Point of Order we were bursting to point out a fundamental difference between Biden and Ardern that was not addressed in Advantage’s article.

No, neither the age nor gender of the two leaders.

The big difference is that Biden is a Democrat.

In contrast, Ardern’s Government has been unabashedly undermining our  democracy and she resists efforts to have her declare her position on the basic principle that all citizens should have equal electoral rights.

On her watch, legislation has been passed to ensure some people are given preferential representation on a local authority by being exempted from the need to campaign for electoral support. Instead, they simply  appoint their representatives.

Not one Labour MP expressed misgivings at this anti-democratic arrangement.

Having determined who must be represented on a public authority, regardless of voter support, the Government is working on a process for excluding people, without gauging voter support.

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti is seeking urgent advice about the conduct of school board elections, after a white supremacist, Philip Arps, announced he is standing for Te Aratai College’s board of trustees in Linwood, Christchurch.

Arps was sentenced to 21 months’ jail for sharing footage of the Christchurch terror attack. Tinetti wants guidance on the scope of a code of conduct that is being developed for school boards. She and her officials are also looking at eligibility.

If a government can distort the electoral process by barring one group of citizens from standing for  office today, it can further distort it by barring other groups it deems unworthy  from standing for office in the future.

Moreover, it is declaring parents unfit to decide for themselves who should sit on the boards that govern  the schools attended by their children.

After the system for electing school boards has been doctored – who will be next?



Chris Trotter: Mistrusting democracy

Political commentator CHRIS TROTTER writes ….    

JAN TINETTI, Associate Minister of Education, is firmly of the view that those who subscribe to “an ideology of hate” have no place on a school board of trustees. So convinced is the Minister, that she is actively seeking administrative and/or legislative changes to prevent such persons from being nominated. Though doubtless undertaken with the best of intentions, Tinetti’s initiative is deeply troubling. In a democracy, the idea that the state is qualified to decide which ideologies are acceptable for candidates for public office to hold, and which are not, should be laughed off the political stage.

Prompting the Associate-Minister’s authoritarian musings, is the revelation that the convicted white supremacist, Philip Arp, the man sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for distributing terrorist Brenton Tarrant’s recording of the Christchurch Mosque Massacre, had been nominated for a seat on the Board of Trustees of Te Aratai College. Christchurch city councillor, Sarah Templeton, who has children at the school, angrily voiced her frustration that such individuals cannot be legally prevented from becoming trustees. Clearly, her objections have not fallen on deaf ears.

The problem with characters like Arp is that their behaviour is so prone to causing public outrage that  citizens find it all-too-easy for to switch-off their critical political faculties and remain silent when politicians call for Nazis to be declared ineligible for public office. After all, who wants to be seen sticking up for antisemitic fascists?    
Continue reading “Chris Trotter: Mistrusting democracy”

Thanks Minister – we now know what Govt is investing in forestry, but chatting and singing to hasten tree growth shouldn’t cost much

Buzz from the Beehive

Point of Order’s Beehive monitors couldn’t get too wildly excited by the latest announcements from the Beehive.

A bridge was opened  – the press statement calls it the Old Māngere Bridge Replacement, rather than the New  Māngere Bridge.

Pacific peoples and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have welcomed “a new dawn of partnership and prosperity” at a Dawn Raids apology commemoration ceremony in Auckland.  Among other things, this suggests the Dawn Raids apology a year ago is to be remembered in  commemoration ceremonies every year.

New appointments have been made to the Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group and the term of the group has been extended until December.

The Government has activated Enhanced Taskforce Green in response to flooding in the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough districts.

And progress is being made on another Treaty settlement.  Ngāti Ruapani mai Waikaremoana and the Crown have signed an Agreement in Principle.

Each of those bits of news will be welcomed by the constituencies affected, sure enough, but the Point of Order team was tempted to revisit an announcement made about a week ago, when  Forestry Minister Stuart Nash launched the draft Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation Plan at the Canterbury West Coast Wood Council Awards in Christchurch. Continue reading “Thanks Minister – we now know what Govt is investing in forestry, but chatting and singing to hasten tree growth shouldn’t cost much”

Govt will withdraw NZDF deployment (yes, both of them) from coalition against ISIS while stepping up war on monkeypox

Buzz from the Beehive

The Government brought news today of developments in two wars – against monkeypox and against ISIS.

We are stepping up the war on monkeypox and winding down the war against ISIS by withdrawing our troops.

Big deal?

ISIS might not notice.  The deployment of NZDF personnel to the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (D-ISIS)  – which will be maintained until 30 June 2023 – involves just two troops.

In recent weeks, fair to say, much more media attention has been devoted to the health threat from monkeypox than the terrorism threat from ISIS.

Thus, an announcement from Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall – that the Government has secured monkeypox (MPX) medicine tecovirimat – would be widely welcomed.  Never mind we will have to wait a few weeks, because the medicine is not expected to be available in New Zealand until late September.

Furthermore, Health New Zealand is working with Pharmac to secure a supply of a smallpox vaccine known as Imvanex or Jynneos, which is effective against monkeypox. Continue reading “Govt will withdraw NZDF deployment (yes, both of them) from coalition against ISIS while stepping up war on monkeypox”

In politics there are lies.  And then there are lies

Russia’s foreign ministry recently put out a handy three minute video to commemorate (celebrate is probably not the word) the 83rd anniversary of the signing of the Hitler-Stalin alliance on 23 August 1939.

As befits professionals, they try to avoid direct lies and use as much of the truth as possible. Inconvenient facts (like the division of Eastern Europe into zones of occupation, deportation and extermination) are omitted.  

But you have to pause at the concluding sentence: ‘Thanks to the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the War began on strategically more advantageous borders for the Soviet Union, and hundreds of thousands of lives were saved’

So much to discuss.

Whether one should still call an arrangement for war a non-aggression pact; whether the alliance was strategically quite so advantageous for others; why that costly advantage (particularly to those rotting away in camps and execution pits on both sides of the demarcation line) was so spectacularly thrown away in 1941; and indeed whether the ministry’s final justification – that ‘ … hundreds of thousands of lives were saved’ – has any merit.

That question must certainly occur to anyone who has read Timothy Snyder’s ‘Bloodlands’  which concluded that the interaction of the two dictators consumed some 14 million (non-combatant) lives in the geographies covered by the arrangements  – many of them in Ukraine.

The question would also have had a particular resonance the following day, which was the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

It is also exactly six months since Russian forces started their third invasion to complete the re-integration of the more Russian bits of Ukraine and neutralise the rest – within strategically more advantageous borders no doubt.

And perhaps that’s also why the foreign ministry chose this moment to signal that Russia doesn’t see a diplomatic solution to the war and expects a long battle.

Fair enough.  Vladimir Putin comes across as a keen student of Carl von Clausewitz and would surely agree with him that  “ … war is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.” 

And his overall political goal must be to convince those who identify as Russian that it is worthwhile continuing the struggle to unite them under his type of government. According to opinion polls, many Russians are sympathetic to this.

But politics works both ways and the progress of the war since 2014 indicates that Putin has also done outstanding work in creating a distinctive Ukrainian identity (one which appears to be shared by many Ukrainians whom he thinks are Russian).

Which suggests that if Ukraine can successfully resist, Russians might conclude that changing the Russian government would be a better way of achieving a sound long-term relationship than by forcibly changing the Ukrainian one.

That might also meet Henry Kissinger’s enumeration of the Western coalition’s logical goals of Ukraine as a “bridge between Europe and Russia” and avoiding a situation where “Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere”.

This leaves the initiative in the hands of the US administration who – despite the sterling efforts of British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and soon-to-be ex-PM Boris Johnson – dominate the supplies of money, weaponry, training and intelligence necessary for Ukrainian resistance and even resurgence.

Luckily, the Americans are playing a blinder on this (as they make clear in their conversations with the sympathetic folk at the Washington Post).  At least, if one judges by their disdain for everyone else.  

They take some pains in bagging Ukraine’s President Zelensky for failing to take their intel seriously.  His response:

“Zelensky heard the U.S. warnings, he later recalled, but said the Americans weren’t offering the kinds of weapons Ukraine needed to defend itself.

“You can say a million times, ‘Listen, there may be an invasion.’ Okay, there may be an invasion — will you give us planes?” Zelensky said. “Will you give us air defenses? ‘Well, you’re not a member of NATO.’ Oh, okay, then what are we talking about?”

The Americans offered little specific intelligence to support their warnings “until the last four or five days before the invasion began,” according to Dmytro Kuleba, Zelensky’s foreign minister.”

As the prospect of a long haul grows, both in the fighting and in the politics, we must hope that the Biden administration continues to perform to its own high standards (and perhaps even exceed them when cooperating with its allies).  Because there is potential for a better outcome than merely more advantageous borders.