Wood is proving adept at steering major initiatives through Cabinet – but winning public approval for them will be more challenging

Transport Minister  Michael Wood  is  winning  a  reputation  for  his  bold political  initiatives. They  include, for  example,  the  announcement  of a second Auckland  harbour  bridge crossing  (but  only  for  cyclists and walkers, costing an estimated $780m).

Then came  a  “feebate”  scheme  to  hasten  the  transition  to electric  vehicles.

And earlier  there  had  been  a  move to “review”  the  Light  Rail project  in  Auckland, the  commitment  to which  had   proved a  political disaster  for Wood’s  predecessor, Phil  Twyford.

Wood  may  regard  himself  as  the  chosen  one,  enjoying  the  favours  of  his  political  seniors.  Certainly  he  appears to  have a gift  for  steering  his  initiatives  through Cabinet.

But to what effect for the political fortunes of the government?

The harbour  bridge for strollers and cyclists  drew a  spectacular  response,  coming  as it did when  Prime  Minister Jacinda  Ardern was  pointing  out  the government  was “strapped  for  cash” and  could  not meet  the  nurses’ demands  for a higher  wage rise  than the 1.38%  offered  by their  state  employers. Continue reading “Wood is proving adept at steering major initiatives through Cabinet – but winning public approval for them will be more challenging”

Three Ministers to pick up extra duties while Kiri Allan is treated for cancer

Marama Davidson – we note – is not one of three Ministers who will take care of Kiri Allan’s portfolios while the well regarded Labour politician takes leave of absence to be treated for  cancer.

Pity. Being given one of the three acting positions might have enabled Davidson to issue more press statements, lifting the number from the grand total of four in her name on the Beehive website. 

Kiri Allan, the Minister of Conservation and Emergency Management and Associate Minister for Arts and Culture, has issued four statements since March 21.  Her tally since she became a minister after the 2020 general election is 30.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today Allan is taking a leave of absence while she undergoes medical treatment for cervical cancer.

The only other statement on the Beehive website this morning was from Police Minister Poto William, who announced the members of the Ministers Arms Advisory Group, established to ensure balanced advice to Government on firearms that is independent of Police. Continue reading “Three Ministers to pick up extra duties while Kiri Allan is treated for cancer”

Biosecurity Minister shows signs of a foot-in-mouth affliction – it doesn’t require culling but will he be put out to pasture?

According to his critics, Damien O’Connor may well have contracted a nasty dose of foot-in-mouth disease.

Whether his personal struggle with the condition is good or bad for a bloke who happens to be our Minister of Biosecurity is arguable.  The portfolio requires the Minister and his ministry to ensure against foot-and-mouth disease sneaking into the country (among a formidable list of threatening pests and diseases).

Foot-and-mouth is much more virulent than foot-in-mouth and an outbreak on our farms would be calamitous for the economy.

Foot-in-mouth, on the other hand, is common among politicians and tends to be more damaging to the afflicted politician and his/her party than to the national economy.

Accordingly, when it is detected, the authorities do not declare an emergency and immediately put down the politician and cull every other beast within a certain distance, as would happen with livestock, although a polls-sensitive PM might be tempted to demote the culprit and put him or her out to pasture on the back benches.

Mind you, a politician might be accused by Opposition politicians or media commentators of having foot-in-mouth disease when others think the accused politician’s remarks were eminently sensible.

Damien O’Connor found himself embroiled in a trans-Tasman brouhaha when he suggested Australia could improve its relationship with China by following this country’s lead and showing more respect to the Asian powerhouse. Continue reading “Biosecurity Minister shows signs of a foot-in-mouth affliction – it doesn’t require culling but will he be put out to pasture?”

Davidson tweets her rebuttal (with a “racism” barb) in spat over homelessness and crime but has yet to issue a ministerial press statement

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson’s accomplishments as Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness) became an issue that aroused our interest during the past week, although mainstream news media seemed more fascinated by Davidson’s playing of the race card when National’s Nicola Willis linked crime with homelessness.

At Question Time in Parliament, Willis asked Davidson:  

Can she confirm that in the five months since becoming a Minister, she has not taken a single paper to Cabinet committee or Cabinet and has not issued a single press release?

Speaker Trevor Mallard let her off the hook by ruling this did not relate to the primary question.

Davidson was given a chance to answer the question outside the House, when reporters asked her about her achievements as minister.  But as Stuff reported –

 … when questioned about what she had achieved as minister she abruptly left the press stand-up mid-question.

And:

She said she had been engaging with the community since being in the job, and had continued to oversee the rollout of a homelessness housing plan. “I have continued to progress the actions for preventing homelessness,” she said.

But instead of answering a further question, her press secretary said: “Thanks, guys – that’s enough.” Continue reading “Davidson tweets her rebuttal (with a “racism” barb) in spat over homelessness and crime but has yet to issue a ministerial press statement”

Polls portend the toppling of Peters and his extraordinary political career – replacing him in Foreign Affairs won’t be easy

Will  we  miss him  when  he is  gone?

Love him  or  loathe  him,  Winston  Peters   is  one   of the  extraordinary  characters  on the  NZ  political  stage.  Through  his  remarkable  career,   he  has  registered   the  highs — and  lows — of  politics.

But  now  after  his  latest stint  as  Deputy Prime Minister  and  Foreign  Minister, the latest opinion polling show he is  facing political  oblivion.  NZ  First’s support  has shrunk to  just 1%.

This  perhaps  comes  as  no  surprise    after   the  financial  shenanigans  involving    the  NZ  First  Foundation,  despite  Peters   asserting  the  party  and  MPs   have been  “exonerated”.

 The  Serious  Fraud  Office  announced  last week  that two  people  are  being charged  after  a  probe  into  the  foundation.

The   SFO investigation discovered  credible  evidence   of   criminal  wrongdoing   at  the foundation,  which has  no other purpose  than to  serve  the  NZ  First  Party.

No matter how  Peters rails  against  the  SFO,  the  hard  truth  is that one of the  country’s  major  law  enforcement  agencies  is charging  two  people  with  connections  to the  NZ  First  Party, even if  they  are  not current members  of it. Continue reading “Polls portend the toppling of Peters and his extraordinary political career – replacing him in Foreign Affairs won’t be easy”

Boris shows some backbone

A lot of people – including quite a few in Britain’s Conservative party – don’t like Dominic Cummings, special adviser to PM Boris Johnson and a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 Brexit-focused general election.

So there was some undisguised joy when it was suggested that he had – like some other prominent and now departed public figures – broken the lockdown rules, in his case by travelling from London to Durham to ensure emergency childcare. Continue reading “Boris shows some backbone”

When you sing Happy Birthday while washing your hands on April 11 – think of Winston

How  quickly   the political  landscape  can change.  A   month ago,  Deputy  PM  Winston Peters,  along with  PM  Jacinda  Ardern,   was  deep into  a  trans-Tasman  sledging   match   after  Ardern  attacked Australia’s hardline  deportation.

But   as  the  coronavirus  crisis broadened, it  was  Peters  on the line to  Canberra  seeking  Australia’s  assistance in  repatriating  stranded  New Zealanders in places as far  apart as  Nepal  and  Peru.

Whether    Peters   offered an  apology for his  earlier  megaphone diplomacy is  not  known  (we suspect  not).  He  thought he was  on a winner  back then  in  March  (the coronavirus pandemic  at that  time was being glossed over lightly by the government )  as he  gave   the Scott Morrison government a verbal  towelling.  He told  the ABC  it was a bit rich for Australia to be shipping its unwanted people to NZ when an Australian has been charged over the deaths of 51 people in the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Did we make a song and dance about Australia about that? It was the worst tragedy we’ve ever had – 51 people lost their lives – scores and scores were damaged forever.  Far worse than Port Arthur, and nobody in my country sought to abuse Australia about that, that’s my point … and we want a thing called respect.” Continue reading “When you sing Happy Birthday while washing your hands on April 11 – think of Winston”

Russia and the airlines – not the conspiracy you think

Russia Today (sometimes referred to as Kremlin TV) does not have a widespread reputation as a fair and balanced news source. But occasionally if they say it’s raining, you might want to check outside to see if you need an umbrella.

So there is some interest in its reporting of ‘Black Swan’ author Nicholas Taleb’s suggestion that the UK government should let Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline go bust, rather than bail it out.

“Planes will fly w/new owners!” as he succinctly put it.

Alert readers will recall that Point of Order raised this very point last week, less directly and with more technical verbiage naturally.

RT also reported (with ill-concealed glee) some nastier bits – quoting Taleb on Branson as “a tax refugee” who “walks around virtue-faking with [the] TED [and] Davos crowd”.

And made the unevidenced allegation that the airline industry had been hugely influential in preventing governments from halting flights from China in the early stages of the epidemic.

But back to the meat of it – should governments ‘bail out’ businesses and, if so, how.  The same question which arises from the global financial crisis back to the demise of Mosgiel Woollen Mills in 1980 (and before then to be clear).

The orthodox view is simple and principled.

When a complex entity is short of cash because of a crisis, but viable, you can provide loans at a penalty interest rate, that will be paid back.  In general terms, this is what happened for quite a few of the big US banks (leave aside the murkier case of the dodgy mortgage lenders). It’s at the heart of central banking practice and done well, provides support at a price, rather than a moral-hazard inducing capital bailout.

Of course the owners get the upside on recovery, and, if the liquidity is cheaper than the market, a bonus.  And historically those with the best political connections or visibility tend to get the most generous consideration.

If the business is not currently viable, there is a procedure to resolve the competing claims and distribute the losses.  It’s called bankruptcy. If possible, a working business is plucked out of the wreckage by new owners.  

This is what Taleb refers to.  This normally means writing down the value of the shareholders to near-zero, concessions by workers and bankers, and restructuring the business to new patterns of demand.  Note that if Mr Branson keeps his airline, the last two are likely to happen anyway.

And it’s more or less what happened with General Motors during the global financial crisis, except that in that case the government ended up chipping in an extra $11 billion, which helped reduce the pain for the auto workers and the company’s creditors.

To extend the analogy, the capital bailout of an airline by a government without a formal restructuring procedure will probably mean an even bigger increase in government debt (for us all to pay back through later ‘austerity’) in order to reduce shareholders’ capital losses and minimise the concessions which workers and creditors need to make.

This is somewhat different from the rest of us chipping in to help workers whose income has just fallen off a cliff.

But at the time it’s rarely so simple or principled. The politicians who make these decisions and the people who benefit from them are often keen to obscure the difference between temporary support eventually repaid and capital transfers.  Even now when the numbers are added up, who would have thought that Morgan Stanley got the former and GM the latter?

So Mr Branson’s airline – and indeed airlines more generally – are starting to look like a good test cast for who might get favourable consideration at the expense of the rest.

The PM disapproves of politicking when it questions Covid-19 policies – but not (it seems) if it supports them

Kiwiblog drew our attention to Labour’s politicking to exploit its response to the Covid-19 virus.

National – on the other hand – has announced it supports the government’s decision to move the country towards Level 4 of the Covid-19 alert system over the next 48 hours and to extend the economic package for all businesses.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges said:

“This is an unprecedented situation and we support any measures that will protect the health and safety of New Zealanders.

“I understand that this will be a worrying and stressful time for New Zealanders. I encourage everyone to stay calm and follow the rules that are now in place.

“We will work in a supportive and constructive way with the Government in the interests of bringing New Zealand through this crisis together.

“I have offered the Government the services of our MPs and staff to assist where we can.”

More significantly, Bridges said in a separate statement he has asked all MPs and candidates to put campaigning on hold. Continue reading “The PM disapproves of politicking when it questions Covid-19 policies – but not (it seems) if it supports them”