Prime Minister shines again on South-east Asian tour: her deputy not  so much at home

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been snaring the headlines again on her mission in South-east Asia, celebrating the signing of an upgraded free trade agreement with ASEAN, condemning  the regime in Myanmar, and having a 10-minute conversation with US president Joe Biden.

Then there were the formal  meetings of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. Now  she is seeking to lift trade with Vietnam. Still to come is the APEC forum meeting  in Cambodia, where possibly she will have  a  head-to-head with China’s President Xi Jinping.

She  does this so well that  some  of  her  countrymen  back  home  think she  should do it permanently.

But would those same countrymen accept deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson in the  role of Prime Minister?

Not judging by the criticis  he has been attracting while  she has been away.As Sports Minister Robertson  could  share the glow of the Black Ferns’ triumph. As Finance Minister,the report card was less favourable.

In his Saturday column in the NZ Herald Steven Joyce was particularly severe, contending that the failure to let the central bank focus on stability risks its independence.  

The headline neatly encapsulated the Joyce criticism: “Robertson sticking an Orr in on RBNZ’s role”.

Joyce argues the reappointmentof Adrian Orr as governor of the Reserve Bank by Robertson for a second term of 5 years is “troubling”.

“Because of the bank’s importance and independence, the appointment of the governor is supposed to be a non-partisan decision that both sides of politics can live with. For whatever reason, it is clear that for the opposition parties and many independent commentators that is not currently the case.

“A sensible finance minister concerned for the independence of the institution would have either appointed a new governor or reappointed the current one for a shorter term.

“I should stress the criticism is directed at Robertson. It is Robertson who appointed Orr  and the buck stops with him on  Orr’s reappointment”.

Business journalist Bernard Hickey told Radio NZ’s Morning Report that as an independent, inflation-targeting central bank, RBNZ had missed its target and the public were right to want some accountability.

He said while it had responded to the pandemic in a similar way to other central banks around the world, the various things it had implemented in addition to its remit of setting the official cash rate (OCR) had caused a “perfect storm”.

Hickey points out:

“The Opposition is now saying Adrian Orr is not just a purely independent apolitical person, he did so many things in concert with Grant Robertson, so many joint memorandums of understanding, joint letters, that he crossed the line.”

Claire Trevett, political editor of the NZ Herald,noted in her Saturday column that the cost of living is rated the top  issue for voters,with the economy ranking second.

She says polling  shows on the  issue of which party is  considered best at managing the economy, almost twice as many people believe National is best  at 47% to Labour’s 24%.

Hardly a  feather in Robertson’s cap.  

Trevett reckons the bluntest lesson—or solution—for Labour came in the Reid Research poll,in which an overwhelming 85% of people supported a  tax-free income threshold

“Labour has not ruled out some tax cuts in its 2023 policy, and Ardern’s observation that a tax-free threshold did at least deliver the same to  those on low incomes the same as high may or may not be a hint about what it is looking at.

“It may be Labour’s only  hope”, says Trevett.

So, with an election budget still to come, Robertson back at his desk may be telling himself “Don’t count me out yet”

Bryce Edwards: The Increasing speculation about Jacinda Ardern quitting

Bryce Edwards writes:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flies to Antarctica today, and her media spin doctors will be hoping for some good photo opportunities to lift the leader’s popularity. But they will be asking a lot.

Tomorrow it will be five years since Ardern was sworn in as Prime Minister. At that time she was incredibly popular, and her support kept rising, hitting its heights in 2020.

That tide has certainly turned in recent months, and there are signs that Ardern is headed for a very difficult time as Prime Minister in the near future. Economic and social factors may get much worse. And the prospect of Labour’s popularity declining further is possible, especially as difficult reforms throw up problems. Re-election in 2023 has never seemed more in doubt.

Unsurprisingly, there has been an upswing in speculation about how long Ardern will stay on as leader and prime minister. The idea of her stepping down before the next election is gaining traction, despite there being no obvious candidate in the Labour Party who could do a better job than her. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards: The Increasing speculation about Jacinda Ardern quitting”

Genetic strength, insults against Māori MPs (on one side of the House) and an analysis of the critical doctrinal divide

The Māori Party, without any apparent blush, makes a provocative claim about the genetic superiority of Māori on its website.

The claim is to be found in a section which sets out the party’s sports policy:

 “It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others.”

This genetic strength perhaps attenuates when Māori join the ACT or National Parties and express opinions that challenge the Government line on what must be done in partnership with Maori because of obligations supposedly demanded by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson earlier this year said ACT leader David Seymour, of Ngāpuhi descent, claimed to be Māori – but “he’s just a useless Māori, that’s all”.

“Absolutely [he’s] Māori but maybe just the most useless advocate for Māori we’ve ever seen.”

He subsequently told Morning Report he did not regret his comment because Seymour was a “dangerous politician” whose views must be challenged. Continue reading “Genetic strength, insults against Māori MPs (on one side of the House) and an analysis of the critical doctrinal divide”

Mahuta’s husband and the Public Service Commission inquiry: how Chris Hipkins ineptly played the race card

We intended alerting our readers (if they had not already noticed) to how Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins played the race card in the matter of the Public Service Commission deciding to look into the propriety of government contracts awarded to Nanaia Mahuta’s husband.

We have taken a short cut and will draw attention, instead, to this post on Kiwiblog by David Farrar under the heading Hipkins apologises for smearing English.

Farrar references a report posted by Stuff  (which until now has studiously steered clear of the contracts and the questions about  procedural issues they have raised).

Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins has apologised in the House to former finance minister Sir Bill English for dragging his family into an exchange over government contracts awarded to the husband of Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Continue reading “Mahuta’s husband and the Public Service Commission inquiry: how Chris Hipkins ineptly played the race card”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: It’s time for the Auditor-General to investigate Mahuta contracts

Back in May, Point of Order drew attention to the work by journalists outside of the mainstream media who had been delving into public posts filled by members of Nanaia Mahuta’s family and payments made to companies with which family members are associated.

The Platform – for example – reported (HERE) on the questions raised after two payments come to light from Ministry for the Environment to companies owned by Mahuta family members for their roles in an expert group.  In another article (HERE) The Platform drew attention to co-governance roles filled by family members and the influence the family was wielding on the restructuring of New Zealand’s governance.  

Much of the information that had come to light at that time and subsequently has been winkled out and posted in tweets by the pseudonymous “Thomas Cranmer”.  

Partly by tapping into Thomas Cranmer, the New Zealand Herald has drawn its readers’ attention to the matter of the Mahuta appointments.  Other media – notably Stuff and RNZ – have been  curiously lacking in curiosity. 

DR BRYCE EDWARDS,  director of the Democracy Project, in a column posted in July mentioned  the mainstream media’s bemusing avoidance of the Mahuta matter.   Today he is revisiting the issue and makes the case for an inquiry by  the Auditor- General or the Public Service Commission.

Public Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has been tasked with running a ruler across the entire public service to ensure everything is above board – a request that came from Public Services Minister Chris Hipkins. Hipkins was asked to examine the issue by Mahuta following several news stories outlining concerns about potential conflicts of interests.”

Dr Bryce Edwards writes… 

Pressure is increasing on the Auditor-General to undertake an inquiry into numerous contracts, appointments and grants awarded to members of Cabinet Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s family by various government departments she has had official responsibility for.

Allegations and revelations are mounting up, meaning this issue can no longer be ignored. As economist and political commentator Eric Crampton wrote yesterday, if the allegations – especially those documented by Herald journalist Kate McNamara – bear up, then

“New Zealand is a fundamentally corrupt country. If it doesn’t, the air needs clearing”.     Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: It’s time for the Auditor-General to investigate Mahuta contracts”

After the mourning, the problems are back

As new PM Liz Truss leads Britain in mourning the Queen, her problems are not diminishing.

But one decision which her new government managed to implement just before the Queen’s death was the sacking of Treasury Secretary Tom Scholar.

Critics of the move dubbed him the foremost civil servant of his generation.  Naturally enough.  

But they are probably right.

What makes it even more curious is that in addition to a steely grip and overflowing ability, Sir Tom is also preternaturally likeable.  He must be the first Treasury Secretary to get on with everyone – and give every appearance of liking it.

After an all-nighter at the height of the financial crisis, he took the time to pen a graceful, lengthy, name-checked and analytically impeccable thank you note to all staff.  Before dashing off to his next briefing.  That class gets noticed.

But perhaps he didn’t get on with everyone.  The Times reminds us that Truss spent two years as a senior Treasury minister.  

The official line is the need for a break with Treasury orthodoxy.  And there’s more support for this than you might think (or perhaps not).  

For example, Eurointelligence’s Wolfgang Munchau:

“There is a modern version of the Treasury view, as exemplified by Scholar and other civil servants in his department, the view that got Rishi Sunak to raise national insurance and corporation tax. We see those tax rises as right up in the annals of bad economic policy decisions on par with the early Thatcher government’s excessive monetary and fiscal tightening as the country went into recession”

Oh. And then:

“We keep an open mind on the Truss experiment, the biggest fiscal policy expansion in modern UK history.”

But you might also think that a top-line official like Scholar, after you had rejected all his orthodox arguments, would be the indispensable man for implementing your bold and courageous (i.e., high risk) policy.

The underlying issue (which Munchau also probes) is getting to grips with the relationship between government and its advisers – poor before Brexit and now dysfunctional.

“The reason why Brexit requires civil service reform is that Brexit requires a re-write of the most important regulations the UK inherited from the EU … two years is long enough to provide the underpinnings of a workable Brexit: a re-organisation of the civil service, or at least a change in the top tiers, followed by regulatory reforms.”

Most astute.  And it will require a great deal more than sacking one of the few top civil servants who probably understands the argument.

Because much of the unhealthiness of the relationship is in the failure of civil servants to give sound advice on policy cause and effect in markets, and for ministers to demand and use it.

The UK energy crisis is a reliable example.  Governments of all stripes wanted everything: high prices to drive innovation and saving; low prices to keep energy hogs happy; wasteful and undemanding energy efficiency programmes; while skimping on energy security.

They were abetted by their advisers and rent-seeking lobbies.  Policies were generated in sequential isolation and bent to wishful thinking, without an overarching understanding that transitional energy markets would be unpredictable, and a long-term market-driven transition needed a predictable government posture on supply security and the carbon price.

If you accept this, the Truss administration’s response is not exactly covering itself with glory.

They plan to fix the current power price below market level to encourage overconsumption this winter. Then presumably try to recover the enormous subsidies with energy taxes in later years.

I suppose you could argue that this is the logical culmination of the expensive energy policy for Western countries enshrined in the Paris Accords.  

And that it sends an unambiguous signal to average Brits that power will cost at least twice as much as before, and you need to go back to heating one room and turning off the lights (that’s assuming you can’t knock down your Victorian terrace house and build an eco-apartment).

But the problem with the government’s taking full responsibility for tinkering with market adjustment is precisely its ambiguity.  Because how do you know policy stability will survive the next crisis?

Truss and her ebullient new finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng (and presumably also her next Treasury Secretary) will be hoping that avoidance of fiscal orthodoxy and deregulation of productive sectors will pay for the continued regulation of the politically sensitive.  

As Munchau says: keep an open mind.

Polls and Peters’ political sensors prompt him to pounce on co-governance – and depleted pay packets – in pitch for support

So  is  Winston  Peters   ready  to  step  back on  to the  hustings?.

He  showed  every  sign  of  it  when he fronted  on  the Robert  Bolt show on Australia’s  Sky TV channel  this  week. As  the  interview  ended the  egregious  Bolt  wished  him  well in  his  campaign.

Bolt  had  invited Peters to  appear  on his prime-time  talk-show, clearly agitated by the Ardern government’s  moves towards implementing co-governance.

It was a  theme Peters  relished, and, belying  his 77 years, he  gave a  fair  thrashing  to  what  he called   “manifestations of Labour’s race-based co-governance agenda”. He  said the policy  will lead New Zealand to “become a separatist state”. Continue reading “Polls and Peters’ political sensors prompt him to pounce on co-governance – and depleted pay packets – in pitch for support”

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”

As Mallard moves on with our good wishes (to become an ambassador), we wonder if Chris Bishop can spell “riddance”

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has formally resigned from the role and is being succeeded by  the  current deputy  Speaker, Adrian Ruawhe,  much  to the relief  of  Opposition  parties.

Mallard will be taking up a diplomatic post as New Zealand’s Ambassador in Ireland from January next year.

The Opposition hasn’t been a fan of Mallard’s refereeing of Parliament’s political theatre over recent years.

National MP and  Shadow  Leader of the  House Chris Bishop put out a  statement which recorded his response to the resignation in just one  word:  “Good”.

Suffice it to say that Bishop has  been  the  victim of  Mallard’s  style of refereeing.

Bishop had  more  to  say  on  Radio NZ, criticising Mallard  for playing  favourites and criticising him for  rendering  question time sterile.

But he wasn’t  as bitter  about  Mallard  as  ACT leader David  Seymour. Continue reading “As Mallard moves on with our good wishes (to become an ambassador), we wonder if Chris Bishop can spell “riddance””