Ministers merrily dispense more millions while Crown accounts show big above-budget lifts in Covid costs

Monitoring the Ministers

While Finance Minister Grant Robertson was noting an above-forecast increase in government spending in the first few months of the year, his colleagues were delighting in announcing even more spending.

The biggie was the announcement of a support package intended to help revive economic, social and cultural activities in  Auckland over summer and provide relief for people in hardship .

The sum involved – as often happens in Beehive statements – was buried in verbiage:  the $37.5 million package was put together jointly with Auckland Council and Auckland Unlimited.

The Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark, and Minister for Economic and Regional Development, Stuart Nash, popped up to announce world-class mobile and broadband services had been switched on for the 663 residents of the Chatham Islands.

The network has been enabled by the Rural Connectivity Group (RCG), Government’s Rural Broadband programme and an $11.5 million investment from the Government including $8.6m from the Provincial Growth Fund. Continue reading “Ministers merrily dispense more millions while Crown accounts show big above-budget lifts in Covid costs”

Biden and the Democrats are struck damaging blows in two key states

Joe Biden’s presidency has taken a near-mortal blow after significant  defeats in two key state elections for governor with Republicans pulling off unexpected victories.

Glenn Youngkin won a stunning victory in Virginia on Tuesday, snatching the governor’s mansion away from the Democrats in a state that President Biden won by 10 points just a year ago.

In New Jersey, Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy was locked in an unexpected dogfight with Republican state assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli that stretched into the early hours with the latter inching ahead.

Youngkin, a businessman in his first campaign for public office, defeated Terry McAuliffe, a past governor and close ally of the Clinton family who has been a fixture of Democratic politics for decades. It was the first Republican victory in the commonwealth since 2009. Continue reading “Biden and the Democrats are struck damaging blows in two key states”

What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)

Latest from the Beehive

What had become a surge of ministerial announcements this time yesterday had turned into a tsunami at time of writing (around noon today).  Frankly, we can’t keep up.

We ended yesterday’s roundup of Beehive announcements with a statement on the PM’s virtual attendance at the East Asia Summit.  Since then, ministers have posted 16 new statements.  Several were Covid-related.

This was a good time for a smart press secretary to unload news of dubious government spending, hoping it will be buried by the other stuff, including Grant Robertson’s latest boast about how well the government’s finances are being managed.

Sure, core Crown expenses at $31 billion were $3.2 billion above forecast in the three months to the end of September – but, hey, that was all to do with Covid and the payment of wage subsidies and COVID-19 resurgence support payments.

But how well is spending being keep under control?

We wonder about this after Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti got to announce the news we were all bursting to hear – that Fifty Kiwi Kidsongs have been launched through the Ministry of Education’s Arts Online website. The project is a collaboration with Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa (MENZA). Continue reading “What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)”

Stay-at-home ministers are missing out on giving the personal touch to NZ’s foreign relationships

The reluctance of senior ministers from the PM downwards to travel too far – with the noteworthy exception of trade minister Damien O’Connor – is impacting NZ’s standing overseas.

True, James Shaw and his sizeable entourage are attending this week’s COP26 climate change-fest in Glasgow.  PM Jacinda Ardern wanted to attend COP26, we understand, but APEC is in the way and she will address the leaders’ meeting on November 11.

Why the reluctance to travel when every other country’s ministers are aloft and away?

Good question.  Even Joe Biden, who is loathe to travel offshore because of Covid-19 considerations for the 78-year-old US President, will be pitching his stall at Glasgow.

Some put the reluctance down to the strong domestic focus by the PM’s office under chief of staff Raj Nahna, who is widely seen as a Labour apparatchik from Auckland.  The communications team is headed by Andrew Campbell, who joined from the Greens.

They guard the gate closely and Grant Robertson is about the only minister with easy access. Continue reading “Stay-at-home ministers are missing out on giving the personal touch to NZ’s foreign relationships”

Petition (that disappeared) was signed by Pakeha mums who fear race now comes first in Plunket’s baby-care priorities

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Mothers are aggrieved by what some say is a racist policy instituted by New Zealand’s most cherished parenting organisation. Graham Adams argues it is just one example of growing dissatisfaction over preference granted on grounds of ethnicity.

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In terms of the nation’s traditional iconography, it’s hard to decide whether Sir Edmund Hillary or Plunket nurses rate more highly in the popular imagination.

For many New Zealanders, Hillary represents the epitome of individualistic adventure while Plunket nurses looking after anxious mothers and vulnerable babies represent the best of community spirit.

Nevertheless, news came this week that Plunket is a “white supremacist” organisation, for which root-and-branch regeneration will be inadequate. (See Cate Broughton’s Plunket takes on its history, and future, to be ‘a better Treaty partner’, and a response to this by Linda Bryder: Plunket founder driven to reduce high infant mortality rate.)

This assault on Plunket’s reputation — let alone its very existence — will seem to many as outrageous as someone demanding Sir Ed’s image be taken off the $5 note because he was a white supremacist who denied Tenzing Norgay the chance of being the first person to stand on the summit of Mt Everest.

The case against Plunket — a charitable trust largely funded by taxpayers — rests mainly on views on race and eugenics held by its founder, Sir Truby King, who died 83 years ago in 1938. Continue reading “Petition (that disappeared) was signed by Pakeha mums who fear race now comes first in Plunket’s baby-care priorities”

Two inquiries aim to throw light on power blackout – but a switched-on govt should see it’s more than market failure

The  blame-game over  the  Monday  night   power  blackout   has  deepened.

Ministers initially  talked  of  “market  failure” – National accused the government of  being  asleep  at the  wheel

Then ACT said the  government’s energy  policy  was  “flawed”  because  it  puts  carbon emissions  ahead  of  affordable and  secure electricity,  through the ban  on  natural  gas  exploration.

The   Green Party,  for its  part,  contends the  “gentailers” are  more focused on chasing  profits than providing   more affordable,  more  renewable, and  more  secure  electricity  generation.   

Meanwhile  two small players in the electricity market have made a formal complaint to the Electricity Authority following Monday’s rolling blackouts. Continue reading “Two inquiries aim to throw light on power blackout – but a switched-on govt should see it’s more than market failure”

Chilly blast bares the harsh realities – and shortcomings – around Ardern govt’s renewable energy ambitions

The  headlines  said  it  all.

“High power demand  forces  blackouts  in  some  areas”:  Radio  NZ.

“Things  are  running  tight  this  morning: Transpower  boss’ warning to Kiwis”:  NZ  Herald.

“’So  Third World’ : Government  faces  pressure  after power  blackout” :  Stuff

But  doesn’t  NZ  have  plenty  of  energy?  After  all,  the  Ardern  government – in 2018 – could   rule  out  any  further  offshore  exploration for oil and gas.

And  Energy  Minister  Megan  Woods,  more recently,   has  been complaining  that wholesale  power  prices  are too  high.

It  all  hit home  with dismaying  force   this  week when  – for  the  first time in several  decades – NZ  experienced enforced  power  blackouts.

As  Stuff  reported: 

“The  government is facing serious pressure after rolling power blackouts on one of the coldest nights of the year, with National saying the situation is ‘third world’.” Continue reading “Chilly blast bares the harsh realities – and shortcomings – around Ardern govt’s renewable energy ambitions”

Three new heads of mission are appointed and there are more diplomatic posts to be filled

The   government  has  named   heads  of   mission to three   key  diplomatic  posts, in  Iran, Ethiopia  and Indonesia.

In  announcing them, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta  was  herself  at  her  most  diplomatic.

Mike  Walsh  is to  be Ambassador  to  Iran,  where,  she  says,   NZ  has a  “constructive  relationship, despite  a  number of  challenges”.

Michael  Upton  will  be  Ambassador  to  Ethiopia  where,  according  to  Mahuta, “NZ is taking a strong interest in developments, particularly the current challenges faced in Tigray.”

Kevin Burnett   will  become Ambassador  in Jakarta.   Mahuta  says  NZ “enjoys a strong relationship with Indonesia. As Pacific neighbours, with complementary economies, we are natural partners”.

Walsh,  a career  diplomat, who  has held   postings in Samoa,  Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and  Kiribati,  will  also be accredited to  Pakistan  and Afghanistan.

Mahuta  says the NZ Embassy in Tehran, which opened in 1975, is NZ’s oldest in the Middle East.

Walsh’s  previous  experience includes  working in MFAT’s Development, United Nations and Commonwealth, Environment, Economic, Trade Negotiations, Pacific and most recently Māori Policy division. His iwi affiliations are to Taranaki, Whanganui River, Otaki, and Te Whanganui a Tara.

The  minister – while noting Upton has a professional background in International Development, with extensive experience working across the Pacific region – points  out  NZ and Ethiopia have a traditionally warm relationship underpinned by development co-operation, and long-standing shared multilateral interests.

“Ethiopia is also home to the headquarters of the African Union, and is an important political and economic hub for Africa. Given our values based foreign policy, NZ is taking a strong interest in developments in Ethiopia, particularly the current challenges faced in Tigray.”

Upton joined MFAT in 2008. He has managed the Pacific Economic Development Programme and held several postings to Samoa and Kiribati where he was most recently High Commissioner.

He will also be accredited to, Djibouti, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles and Uganda.

Mahuta  says  NZ  and Indonesia in 2018 have celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations.

The visit by President Joko Widodo to NZ in March 2018 was the first by an Indonesian President to NZ since 2005. During the visit, leaders announced the elevation of the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership, reflecting the increasing value of the relationship.

Burnett is a career public servant and has previously held roles at Defence and the Ministry of Justice.

He was the Chief of Staff at MFAT and principal adviser to the Chief Executive in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Most recently Burnett was the Consul-General to Honolulu and Ambassador to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Point   of  Order  understands    Mahuta   has  several  more diplomatic   postings   under  review.  But  onetime  Labour   politicians    who  may  think  they  are  in  line   for   some   of  the  more  prestigious    postings   may  have   to    wait some  time   before   she  discloses  what’s  in  her  mind.

There  has   been  a whisper of Phil  Goff letting it  be  known in  the  upper  echelons of  the Ardern  ministry   that  he  might be  available   for   London  or   Washington,  but   not  till  after  the  local  elections   next  year.

And   Dame  Annette  King,   who  took  up  the  role  of  High  Commissioner   in  Canberra  in  2018   after  30  years  in politics,  may  be  looking  forward  to  her  retirement.  She  celebrates  her 74th  birthday  in September.

It’s just the thing for reducing our leftovers and slops – a trough which has provided almost $1.6m for food waste and composting

The Government has announced funding aimed at reducing food waste, which – according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index – is well on the way to becoming a billion-tonne problem around the globe.

In this country, we have a Love Food Hate Waste campaign run by Councils nationwide.  Its activities are  based on research that included surveying 1,365 New Zealanders, examining the contents of 1,402 household rubbish bins and giving 100 families diaries to record food disposal for a week.

Among the findings:

  • Kiwis spend an estimated $872 million a year on food that is thrown away uneaten.
  • We dump over 122,547 tonnes of food a year – enough to feed around 262,917 people.
  • The average household sends around 79 kilograms of edible food to landfills every year.

The UN environment agency’s 2021 Food Waste Index  found an estimated 931 million tonnes of food around the globe ends up in the trash every year.

Most of that figure, 569 million tonnes, falls under the category of household waste.  The food service and retail sectors account for a further 244 and 118 million tonnes, respectively. Continue reading “It’s just the thing for reducing our leftovers and slops – a trough which has provided almost $1.6m for food waste and composting”

Eroad is on the right track – but NZ needs many more such companies to make up for the regulatory drag on dairying

According  to   Fonterra  executive  Marc  Rivers, NZ  has  reached  “peak milk”  and  is entering the  era  of “flat milk”.

It’s  a  warning  particularly  apposite  as  farmers  throughout  the  country  mount  a  protest against a  government  that  has  saddled them with unnecessary regulation  and other burdens as  they work  at producing  the exports  which  are NZ’s  mainstay.

The  broader  question  is   where NZ can turn to  lift or  even maintain  current living standards.

Some  would see   a  salvation  in  the  hi-tech  sector.  Companies  like  Xero, founded  in 2006   by Rod  Drury,  have shown  the  way. It  surpassed  more  than  1m global  customers  in 2017, employs  more than  3000  people,  and  is  a  leading  company  on the  Australian  stock exchange.

Remarkable  tech  companies listed on  the NZX include  Pushpay,  Serko, Gentrack, Enprise, Vista, Smartpay. Continue reading “Eroad is on the right track – but NZ needs many more such companies to make up for the regulatory drag on dairying”