Tuesday, November 20, 2012

W(h)ither the Maori Party?

Wither the Maori party.

Sorry, that's probably a little harsh.

Whither the Maori party?

At their party conference held last month, the Maori party explored ways to rejuvenate and diversify the party’s image, support base and electoral prospects. These ranged from the fairly predictable, in the form of a remit to begin a leadership transition process for MP Te Ururoa Flavell and a renewed emphasis on running a party vote campaign; through to more surprising suggestions including a desire to substantially increase the party’s support among non-Maori.

These two goals – diversifying (some might say diluting) the party’s constituency and improving its flagging electoral prospects - are closely interlinked, and have come about as a strategic response to changes in the political terrain and the party.

The Maori party's electoral model has previously been conditioned by two elements: its mechanism for returning MPs to the House through the strong likelihood of its holding several of the Maori Seats, and the party's self-perceived function within the House as representation for Maori. This has contributed toward its initial incarnation as a fiercely partisan protest party and its more recent desire to be a (Treaty) partner in government.

It was fortunate enough to be able to fight its first two General Elections in favourable political terrain. In 2005, the recent salience of the Foreshore and Seabed issue provided a potent mobilizing force for the Maori party's target constituency. This played a strong role in establishing some of the initial populist and identity-politic appeal of the party as an independent/organic voice for Maori in a potentially unrepresentative democratic and policy process.

More importantly, as a unified opposition to Labour in the Maori seats (and representing the most successful challenger to Labour for the Maori seats since New Zealand First) the Maori party was able to capitalize upon being the only other real option for voters in these seats. It also may have gained substantially from a probable tactical elector intent of vote-splitting by giving their party vote to Labour and their electorate vote to the local Maori candidate in the belief that if the Maori party candidate were successful, the Labour candidate would also ideally make it back into Parliament on the party list. (between 2005 and 2008 this happened by my estimation five times)

The Maori party successfully parlayed these favourable conditions into 2.12% and 4 electorate seats in 2005, and a more robust 2.39% and 5 seats in 2008. These majority shares of the 7 Maori seats (with only 2 non-Maori party MPs in the seats after the 2008 election) certainly did not harm the party's effective reputation as the only game in town for being both a successful 'organic' indigenous political movement, and challenging Labour's dominance on Maori issues and perceived monopolization of Maori representation.

In 2011 however, it was different. The battle for the Maori Seats had become a three-way competition with the credible entry of the MANA party onto the scene in the Te Tai Tokerau by-election in June of that year. Further, the Labour party's effort in the seats was bolstered by having been in Opposition for the previous three years. No longer being in government meant Labour could spend less time defending its historic controversies and more time attacking the Maori party's role in government. This reversed the tables on the previous two elections, which had seen an 'outsider', independent and aggressively partisan Maori party seeking to call Labour's government to account. The Maori party's entry into governance back in 2008, by contrast, had eroded their credibility as either a protest party or an independent voice. This situation was only exacerbated by the emergence of an electoral alternative in the form of the MANA party more strongly focused on the protest element of Maori representation and which had staked out its partisan principles by defecting from both government and the Maori party.

In electoral terms then, it should hardly be surprising that the party's result declined proportionately. They had previously lost an MP and a safe seat when Hone Harawira defected prior to the Te Tai Tokerau by-election meaning they went into the 2011 general election with a Caucus of 4. On election night, they lost both Te Tai Tonga (to Labour's Rino Tirikatene) and 0.96% of their vote. Interestingly, MANA polled 1.08% of the popular vote; and, in Te Tai Tonga, just under the margin by which incumbent Maori MP Rahui Katene lost by. This leads to the obvious if somewhat unverifiable conclusion that the MANA party were directly responsible for the loss of two seats and perhaps up to a percent of popular vote for the Maori party.

It also handily demonstrates the point that competing within the Maori Seats can be something of a zero sum game. There are only 7 seats to be won, and although the Maori Party had managed to credibly organize and deliver results while these contests were substantively two party races, the addition of a third competitor has increased the investment necessary for any party to generate a return from putting effort into increasing their share of these seats.

Additionally, the strong correlation between the percentage of party votes lost by the Maori party with that gained by the MANA party may indicate that campaigning for the party vote associated with Maori representation is a situation of similar limitations and diminishing marginal returns. Although the extent of the nominal Maori electorate in terms of the return it can deliver through party vote is far more nebulous than the fixed seven seats available from the Maori electoral roll, the strong overlap between the MANA and Maori parties in rhetoric, identity politik focus and previous preferred constituencies means that they are inevitably going to be competing for many of the same party votes.

The defection of Hone Harawira before the 2011 election from the 'insider' Maori party to form his own 'outsider' protest movement represented in part a growing dissatisfaction within the Maori party's existing voter base at the conciliatory approach the party had taken toward National and the perceived erosion of the party's values which had thus ensued. The impact of MANA upon the Maori party's 2014 vote prospects then needs to be understood not just in terms of encouraging a large chunk of the party's supporters, candidates and activists and nearly half their party vote to up and leave with Harawira; but rather by the way the existence of a new, independent and fiercely partisan protest movement with an emphasis on Maori representation and Maori nationalism/identity politics directly competes for and may have delegitimated much of the Maori party's perceived strength in these areas. In effect, Harawira's defection conditioned and solidified emerging negative narratives about the Maori party (a succinct, if extreme summation of which would be Harawira's own recent "house niggers" comment, perhaps more politely phrased as "sellouts and hood-ornaments"), while also creating an alternative dedicated to those functions of protest, independence and social justice that may have been perceived to be neglected by the Maori party. This has had the strategic effect of increasing the effort and difficulty of appealing to these voters and parts of the electorate, while also forcing the Maori party to redefine its image and narrative in response.

Facing 2014 then, the Maori party has found itself faced with some stark strategic choices to make regarding its electoral future.

At its conference, it decided to
defer the motion to initiate a leadership transition for Te Ururoa Flavell. This keeps its two experienced co-Leaders occupying both their positions and their winnable electorate seats for the foreseeable future, and capitalizes upon strong pre-existing electoral and representational records for both these MPs and seats. It also keeps the leadership option open for future use if a successful challenge of Sharples by Shane Jones in Tamaki Makaurau looks likely (as was nearly the case in 2011, with Jones only behind by 936 votes); or alternatively if Flavell needs a profile boost in the event of a close race for Waiariki (which, despite his appreciable margin of 1,883 votes over MANA President Annette Sykes in 2011, is possible).

Interestingly, the Maori party also expressed a
desire to appeal to more non-Maori voters and supporters or even stand non-Maori candidates; which, while perhaps somewhat at odds with the party's earlier emphasis upon being a party of Maori speaking for Maori, is nevertheless a logical reaction to the increased difficulty the party is clearly faced with in pursuing its existing strategy of focusing more exclusively on attracting Maori supporters or the Maori vote. In essence, the Maori party has seen the comfortable political nieche it had previously occupied become altogether less hospitable with the addition of a direct competitor who has seized and demarcated out a swathe of it for his own. This has led to a corresponding increase in the effort which the Maori party must invest in competing with its close rivals for votes and supporters in its traditional constituencies, which has no doubt encouraged the Maori party to consider how it can appeal to electors outside these hotly contested battlegrounds as a source of members and electoral support.

One obvious way it could do this is by seeking to capitalize upon the well-developed perception that National will struggle to find "stable" coalition partners with whom they are both reasonably ideologically compatible and whose likely future Caucus composition will need more than a phonebox (or coffin) sized space to meet in.

The Maori party's strong record in governance of policy delivery and good faith partnership and negotiation - and, indeed, their strong emphasis upon being a "partner" in government - allows them to market themselves as an effective centrist party and a coalition partner for National with long-term viability. While it may be some time before we see tactical voting for the Maori party by National supporters, this role as both a prominent centrist voice and a dependable coalition partner may yet provide additional electoral appeal as they seek an increased party vote. The ideological (or at least rhetorical) heritage of the party's Caucus may also potentially allow it to work with Labour in a post-election situation, giving a party vote for the Maori party an added dimension of utility for non-Maori voters seeking an alternative centrist electoral option.

The ability and willingness of the party to brand itself as a centrist electoral option was shown by Turia's recent choice to characterize the focus of the party as being upon "housing, employment, education and whanau ora". This list of three broad-appeal goals and one prominent legacy item may serve to convey a centrist appeal with a Maori flavour rather than a Maori appeal with a centrist flavour. This de-emphasis of Maori isssues allows an avoidance of conflict with MANA in areas of shared appeal, while the focus on both the legacy item and gains in deliverable policy areas allow the Maori party to compete with rival parties from the Opposition in ways that emphasise their point of difference as a governmental 'insider' party.

The shift from goals more obviously identifiable as Maori in appeal (for example, securing recognition for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag) to those which, while they might have more importance for Maori are nevertheless of general appeal (such as improvements in "housing, employment [and] education") also plays strongly into its drive to diversify its support base and electoral prospects by recasting its role as delivering outcomes applicable to if not all New Zealanders, then at least more of them. And, if the Maori party is serious about pursuing a broader appeal and attracting voters and activists from outside of its traditional constituency, promulgating goals they can also identify with and have a stake in is important.

The Maori party's putting such a prospective focus on marketing itself in these areas can also be seen as a response to the challenges the party is facing in fostering and retaining voters and
members (the number of which has reportedly slumped to 600), activists and candidates through its existing focus on the Maori electorate and electors. While this declining trend may well already have been in evidence prior to 2011, the emergence of the MANA party has exacerbated it; and, due to MANA's strong competition for these same core electors and activists, made it much harder to reverse.

The existence of MANA has also tightened the contests for both the Maori Seats and broader Maori electorate and thus worsened the situation of diminishing marginal returns which any party (particularly the presently dominant incumbent) faces in terms of having to put in ever-increasing effort for uncertain and limited electoral (indeed, somewhat 'all-or-nothing') returns. I would be honestly surprised if the Maori Party increased their share of the Maori Seats from 3 to 4 or more at the next election. Instead, they could conceivably lose one or more seats to either MANA or the Labour Party. Their ability to rely on a strong return in the Maori Seats to ensure the party's parliamentary presence remains viable and grows is thus curtailed, which leads to their understandable renewed emphasis on campaigning for the party vote in both the broader and Maori electorates.

The interesting thing about the Maori party's party vote strategy is that it generates a greater relative return the worse they do in the Maori Seats. This is because to take advantage of any gains in party vote, the Maori party's share of the vote must entitle them to more MPs than they would otherwise have gained through electorate wins. To date, this has never occurred due to the Maori party's strong returns in the Maori Seats and their comparatively weaker returns on party vote.

However, as they will have only three electoral seats going into the 2014 General Election and face the very real possibility of losing one of those, they would only have to improve their share of the party vote to about 3.3% if they hold all 3 of their existing Maori Seats to gain 1 List MP for a restored Caucus of 4. Alternatively, if they lose an electorate seat then they would only require about 2.5% of the party vote to benefit from an additional List MP to maintain in size if not exact composition their Caucus of 3. As a point of reference, the latest Roy Morgan poll had them on 3.5%, making the benefits of pursuing a party vote strategy quite obvious - whether as electoral insurance or as a means for growth.

Given the strong challenges the party now faces in appealing to its traditional constituency which looks set to contribute to a relatively stagnant or declining electoral return from the party's Maori constituency, and the consequent expanding utility of both a party vote campaign and appealing outside that constituency, the rhetoric emerging from this year's Maori party conference over these issues is entirely unsurprising.

The Maori party does not necessarily face immediate extinction; and, with its decision to continue on with its existing leadership team, it can probably be assured at least a presence in Parliament after the next election.
However, its attempts to be the 'elder statesman' of Maori politics are finding themselves undercut by the youthful vigour of the MANA party and reasonable challenges from experienced Labour campaigners.
It may well have sat down, engaged in a rational decision-making process and come to the conclusion that its prospects for attracting support or a future from a vision and focus directed more exclusively toward Maori are becoming somewhat stagnant, and that the best thing to do going forward is to parlay the party's existing prominence as a strong and stable centrist coalition partner whose Caucus have reasonable profile and respect into a broader electoral appeal.

If it is serious about this effort, it will face an additional issue in the form of heightened questions about the nature of its character, values, identity and legitimacy; particularly given the previous adverse consequences of its earlier transition of identity from 'outsider' protest party to 'insider' member of the governing establishment. 

While its supporters will no doubt be reassured that the party has decided to rebuff speculation that it might drop the word "Maori" from the name, will the Maori Party one day be Maori in name only?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

From NZ First's Manifesto: Greater Use of Public Referenda

New Zealand First wants to form a practical partnership with the New Zealand people by the judicious use of direct public referenda where:there is neutrality and impartiality in the question;
-there is fair dissemination of all of the facts on both sides of the argument;
-there is certainty in the poll (i.e. the question can be clearly understood);-there is appropriate time for debate to be conducted;
-and,the referendum's objective is capable of being met within the country's fiscal constraints.

Consultation on major constitutional changes, on the ownership of assets, on important social policy, on significant economic strategies, and on New Zealand's relations with the world is fundamental to a healthy democracy.

'People power' by means of referenda should, where possible and practicable, replace MPs' conscience votes.

Binding referenda will be triggered by petitions achieving support of 10% of the electorate.

Both government and members' bills that have the support of parliament can, where stipulated, also trigger a binding referendum.

Referenda will be conducted either on the first Saturday of November each year or inconjunction with a general election.

Referenda qualifying before March 1 will be conducted in the following November to provide sufficient lead-in time.A revamped Electoral Commission provided with greater resources will conduct up to fourcitizens initiated referenda, as well as any government or parliament designated referenda each year, and will also be responsible for ensuring that balanced dissemination of all of the facts on both sides of the argument occurs in timely fashion.

A successful referendum result will be achieved by simple majority and may only be vetoed by the vote of 75% of all Members of Parliament within one calendar month of the result being declared.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Auckland's Storm Water Menace

In February 2012, following a week of severe thunderstorms in Auckland and associated reports of flash flooding, damaged properties and storm water systems not being able to cope with the deluges, I decided to pen an article for this blog. I penned it in the hope that someone would have the bravery to stand up on behalf of the Auckland Council and say, "we stuffed up and we will take responsibility for the repairs. We will take all appropriate steps to mitigate the hazard".

Perhaps my faith was misplaced. Now the Auckland Council has been found severely wanting for lack of planning to replace hundreds of kilometres of old storm water pipes, a good portion of which is corrugated iron. This problem, which has been brewing for decades, is not a new one. New or not, over the next few years - millions of dollars will have to be spent upgrading the key pipes in the network. Auckland has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to fix its transport system and getting the Britomart working properly. If it can invest that much so readily on railway and roads, then it can certainly spend more on the functionality of the storm water system.

In Christchurch when the then Mayor, Garry Moore suggested increasing the size of the city to 500,000 people, one of the many criticisms of his idea included sewerage and storm water pipe networks needing a thorough over haul. It was said that some of the piping was over 100 years old and struggled already to carry the volumes that were forced through it. Seismic activity on 04 September 2010, 22 February 2011, 13 June 2011 and 23 December 2012 all meant that these two vitally important networks are now getting their due overhaul.

But should it have needed an earthquake to make the Christchurch City Council wake up to its priorities? Of course not, though that is what it took.

This is an issue that should seriously bug Auckland. As a keen observer of meteorology and in particular meso-cyclonic systems such as thunderstorms, it bugs me that the city does not seem to have understood that every summer there is a high risk of at least one severe thunderstorm event passing through. These events typically bring very heavy rain at rates that might be anywhere between 25-50mm/hr. If they are slow moving systems that have popped up because of convection, one might stick around for an hour or more, which is plenty of time to cause some serious flooding. It will happen again. It might not be a severe thunderstorm either. It might be a low pressure system from the Tasman that stalls over the Auckland area and spends a day dumping its load on the city. However the next heavy rainfall event comes, the results will be similar if nothing is done.

Imagine coming home after a day at work, to find your home carpeted in mud. You go to your neighbours and find them sifting through their belongings, turfing most of them into a skip because they are no longer usable. Later that day you get a knock on the door. It's an engineer from the Council storm water unit. He has come to see how badly damaged your property is. He tells you that an elderly pipe ruptured under an influx of water it was never designed for. He further says that dozens of properties have been affected like yours.

If I were an Aucklander, who I vote for in 2013 might depend entirely on how they approach this issue - especially if a severe thunderstorm or other high intensity rainfall event floods my property so badly that it is uninhabitable.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An 8 Point Plan for Tertiary Education

This is the Tertiary policy NZF ran on in the 2011 Election.

"The key to our nation's economic and social future lies in education.  While tertiary education
cannot be allowed to be solely focused on skills for employment, such a focus must be a
significant element of any system.  The tertiary system must be designed  to maximise both
economic and social objectives, enhancing needed vocational skills and academic acumen.


1. Student Allowances provide financial assistance for full-time students.  At present, the
Student Allowance is means-tested on personal income and, for students under 25,
parental income. This means that only 57 per cent of students (2008 figure) receive the
Student Allowance.  New Zealand First will abolish income tests and introduce a universal
living allowance for all full-time students (including those aged 16 and 17) in tertiary
education from 2012.  A paper prepared by the Ministry of Education in 2008 calculated
the cost of a universal student allowance at approximately $728 million per annum.  We
estimate this would benefit almost 47,000 students and lead to a substantial reduction in
borrowing.  Students are the only group in New Zealand society forced to borrow to live.
New Zealand First will campaign vigorously to give all students a fair go.

2. Since tertiary education fees were introduced by Labour in 1989, student debt in
New Zealand has spiraled out of control.  As of 2010, the national student loan debt was
over $11 billion and growing at a rate of almost a billion per annum.  This is unsustainable
and it‟s forcing thousands of our best and brightest overseas.  It's time for a change of
direction.  New Zealand First recognises that our nation has significant skills and 36
workforce shortages in areas such as teaching, nursing, medicine, social work,
information technology and the physical sciences.  We will introduce a debt-write off
scheme so that graduates in these areas may trade a year's worth of debt for each year of
paid fulltime work in New Zealand.

NZ First will introduce a dollar for dollar student debt write-off scheme for graduates who
remain and work in New Zealand.  With student loan debt approaching $12 billion (2011)
and much of that debt never to be repaid, this scheme faces the reality that much student
debt is not an asset but simply bad debt.  In that respect given that those who take up the
scheme will be working and paying taxes in New Zealand there is not a cost factor.

3. It doesn't help that the Government continues to under invest in the tertiary sector.  The
present National-ACT-United Future-Maori Party government has cut funding at a rate of
$250 per student (or 3.2 percent between 2008 and 2009). It's no wonder, then, that
student-staff ratios have decreased and the number of tutorials been slashed.  This is
affecting the quality  of teaching and putting many students at a disadvantage.
New Zealand First will restore CPI Adjustments for Tertiary Education so that funding
increases match the rate of inflation.  We will also increase support and funding to
regional Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics. It's unacceptable that in a time of high
unemployment polytechs are facing $70 million in cuts.  The Minister of Education has
even said some may be forced to close their doors. New Zealand First will enhance
access to higher education for all New Zealanders and ensure that regional institutions are
adequately funded.

4. The trades must also receive greater recognition so as to ensure that our nation has the
skill base needed to support economic development.  New Zealand First will invest more
in the Industry Training Fund and  substantially  increase the number of apprentices per

5. New Zealand's tertiary fees are amongst the highest in the world.  New Zealand First is
committed to lowering tuition fees. We want to move towards a zero-fees model. One
way we might achieve this is by placing a cap on tuition fees and lowering them at a
progressive rate.

6. Under the National-ACT-United Future-Maori Party government, youth unemployment has
reached a phenomenal rate in New Zealand.  While welfare is not a long-term solution to
the problem, it is important that we provide people with a safety net.  With this in mind,
New Zealand First will ensure that all able-bodied persons under the age of 25 who are
unemployed are either enrolled in industry training or participating in community work
schemes through the NZ Conservation Corps and Youth Services Corp, the New Zealand
Defence Force or organisations in the community/voluntary sector. We must foster a
culture of social responsibility and sense of purpose.

7. At present, New Zealand lags behind the rest of the world in terms of research and
development.  New Zealand First will actively encourage strategic alliances between
industry, the Crown Research Institutes and tertiary institutions.  We  will increase the
number of government-funded research grants and scholarships available to graduates,
universities and employers.

8. NZ First is deeply concerned about the decline of our student associations and their ability
to represent student views.  Since the passage of Voluntary Student membership 37
legislation the ability for students to have a voice has been seriously eroded.  We do not
believe it is possible to have a viable university or student culture without an independent
student voice.  NZ First would therefore ensure that tertiary institutions fund proper
student representation and will enter discussions with the former on a financial model to
ensure it happens."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Winston: "The Force Is With Us"

Tribute from our good friends over at Punch Drunk Polity. 

Say what you will about these guys; they smashed the Separatists!

(and yes, "The Force Is With Us; For We Are The Force" is an actual Winston quote)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interview with Critic Magazine

Recently Beau and I did an interview for Otago Uni's student mag Critic.

There's some golden quotes in there so check it out!

I also see they've identified me as "Leader and Troll-in-Chief".

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On National's Defence Cuts

Kipling's Tommy

"I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!"

Monday, March 5, 2012

National's Nick Knacks

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” - Terry Pratchet.

What we have in New Zealand at the moment is a government that doesn’t see you as a human being, a person, a soul. We have a government that sees you as a consumer, a tax payer, a beneficiary, an immigrant, a net gain or a net cost. The problem with this is that instead of a government that is looking out for your needs and issues is you get a government that looks after the books and (depending on the year) treats you as a vote and a burden.

This has become apparent with recent moves by the government, namely welfare reform, benefit bashing with a John Key style “Smile and Wave” mask.

What we are seeing with the latest bout of welfare reform is the same ol’ same ol’ blame the parents: punish the children. As society has seen time and time again in the past this simply does not work. If a solo mother has more children on the DPB she is penalised, if she agrees to courses and further education she is rewarded. So instead of helping this poor woman, who surely has her individual problems, we treat her like an ingrate, a burden of society and we make sure to let the rest of society see her for the demon she is. Never mind that this policy takes more from the children this poor woman is trying to raise. It purposefully and unashamedly makes it harder for her to feed her children and labels it just punishment.

This is where, as Winston Peters put it in his last campaign, the welfare state has lost its dignity. Instead of using our resources to up skill and support people who desperately need state intervention. They treat New Zealanders as demons and ingrates, and if you treat people like trash for long enough you can’t be upset when thats what they become. How will the children of mothers who are constantly told they are worthless grow up?

The National government will have you believe that these people enjoy being on the DPB, that they are laughing at the hard working kiwis who go out of their way to starve their children in order to earn their below average income. The truth is these people have fallen through the cracks, and yes of course there are those that use these safety nets to their advantage, but punishing those who generally need your help is no way to stop the more opportunistic among us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Leader of the Opposition

This morning's Herald Editorial Cartoon...

John Armstrong also notes that we've done more to be an effective Opposition in the last 3 weeks than Labour managed in the last three years!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting the basics right

On Monday, the Minister of Social Welfare, Paula Bennett announced that the Ministry for Social Development which she is responsible for, is introducing widespread changes to the way social welfare is administered in New Zealand. Whilst I agree that there are changes necessary, I am concerned that the proposals will miss the mark and affect the wrong people. I am further concerned that she grossly underestimates the true state of the job market. But perhaps the most concerning part is much of the problem with social welfare in this country would not exist if the people handling the cases had undergone proper training and knew what they were talking about. Most do, but as we will see, not all do.

Last year I had a run in with one of the agencies working under the M.S.D. umbrella. In this particular case it was Work and Income New Zealand (W.I.N.Z.), and was the cause of two official complaints. The outcome was that the South Island Manager for W.I.N.Z. agreed to review communication procedures because very basic things such as the Case Manager forgot to hit "send" to electronically transmit my changed details so that I could be notified; they cut my benefit with no prior warning - amazing isn't it the number of problems that would not have occurred if communication had been good. If W.I.N.Z. had told me that they were going to stop my benefit, I would have acted to get the Study Allowance sorted out instead of thinking it would not be a problem. If I had known to contact Studylink and set up a Student Allowance, they would not have gotten the first of two official complaints.

Two weeks and about five meetings later, I had to suddenly apply for an emergency food grant of $200 of which $80 would be loaded on to the card immediately. I went down to ask for emergency assistance and was told despite needing it then to book an appointment and come back in 48 hours. That was the first mistake; the second was to appear quite casual and carefree about a pressing situation and to swap jokes with a passing colleague. He further ignored information from my bank about my EFTPOS account being in overdraft. This led to official complaint number two. It also led to a letter being sent to the Minister of Social Development pointing out bad practises and mentioning I was aware of a number of other cases like it, without going into details. She offloaded this to the South Island Manager.

The primary problems I identified in W.I.N.Z. are:
  1. Bad communication and handling of a case from one manager to the next, leading to unnecessary confusion, frustration and poor outcomes.
  2. Bad communication between W.I.N.Z.and Studylink - possibly non-existential given Studylink's apparent lack of knowledge one day about my situation when I rang them, despite W.I.N.Z. saying that they would talk to Studylink. 
  3. Bad design of the governing legislation in not permitting a grace period between saying a benefit is going to be cutting and actually severing it.
  4. Poor knowledge of services W.I.N.Z. can actually provide - at least one person I know of has said that W.I.N.Z. staff sometimes know less about the services they can provide than their clients.
These are very basic things going wrong. If they are going wrong, can/should we, the people of New Zealand whose taxes fund this, be able to trust the M.S.D. to carry out the proposed reforms?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Other Rob Muldoon

Just as badarse.

One Rob Muldoon deals with with dinosaurs ... the other deals with Roger Douglas.

Can only wonder what happens when you combine the two approaches.


So Shearer decided to do dinner with Winston. I suppose the old adage "If you can't beat him, learn from him" most definitely applies.

Maybe next time we should bring our respective caucuses; leading to an introduction I imagine going something like this...

Shearer: "Ah, Winston; I'm sorry you're not able to match our commitment to Opposition with numbers..."

Winston: "Don't we... You, there [points at Fenton] ... what is your profession?"

Fenton: "I'm a Union-advocate"

Winston: [points at Horomia] "And you?"

Horomia: "Maori-advocate ... and fast-food connoisseur"

Winston: [points at Robertson] "And you?"

Robertson: "Campaign Manager"

[Winston turns to address his own Caucus]



[Turns back to Shearer]: "You see, Shearer? I brought more Opposition than you did."

"Bill English? Mate, I'll Bill Anyone!"

In a recent speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, Bill English laid down the gauntlet.

"Our political opponents need to honestly explain ... why it would be better to borrow this five to seven billion from overseas lenders at a time when the world is awash with debt and consequent risks. [rather than sell assets]."

I'm no Finance Minister (yet), but I think I'll have a crack at it.

What English is stating is that he'd prefer to sell $5-7 billion of assets rather than borrow $5-7 billion.

Leave aside the ever-changing numbers and estimates for a moment (and $2billion is a not inconsiderable variance), or the question as to what the money is actually going to go into (Key says hospitals and schools; we say it's paying in part for tax cuts), or the desirability of having core elements of important national infrastructure retained by New Zealand ... at its core, he's effectively saying it makes more financial sense to sell assets than to borrow.

So, let's do some number-crunching, shall we?

Treasury reportedly states that our assets on the chopping block have returned an average dividend of 14.5% over the last five years. 

Or, in plain terms, after a bit more than five years, we make more than we put into them.

So far, the only advantage of selling them now rather than waiting for them to deliver a steady and lucrative dividend is that we get a quick injection of cash now (or rather, over the next three years as we gradually privatize 'em) rather than having to wait half a decade for roughly the same value to accrue.

Leave aside for a moment that if we don't sell these assets we'll keep earning the dividend every year and thus stand to gain far more than the $5-7billion English is promising.

Instead, let's look at a direct comparison of how much it costs us to get this $5-7billion.

I've not been able to find direct information on the cost of crown borrowing (obviously my google-fu is weak), so I can't place the 14.5% p.a profit of retaining our assets next to a very low interest rate and say with mathematical certainty that "we're offsetting this borrowing cost completely and making a tidy profit"; but what I can do is point to another Bill English figure of a $100million p.a gap between the dividend we're going to make on these assets and the cost of borrowing the $5-7billion.

Let me rephrase that. By keeping these assets and by borrowing the $5-7billion, we're better off by $100million a year than we would be by selling the assets for a quick buck. And that's not even taking into account the longer term returns above and beyond the $5-7billion which we'd continue to reap if we kept 'em Kiwi.

Given his penchant for making up numbers favourable to whatever policy he's trying to push at the time, the actual amount could well be higher.

English had requested that his political opponents (of which I am a proud example) "honestly explain" why we should borrow rather than sell assets. Who'd have thought he'd be able to do it all by himself.


Oh, p.s/addendum ... with what has to be a seriously unique talent for political doublethink, English also happened to say the following while trying to defend the $100million we'd be worse off by. 
"Would you be willing to increase the mortgage on your house to go and borrow the money to buy shares on mighty river power?" I'm assuming, given the context he raised it in, that the answer he expected was "No". 
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this EXACTLY what Key expected all those "Mum & Dad" investors to do rather than putting money into proven revenue returners like property..?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"It's Just A Jump To The Left..."

"It's Astounding, how many Kiwis are fleeing
As Rogernomics takes its toll. 
But listen closely. Not for much longer! 
We're going to take back control!"

Here's the plan.

"It's just a jump to the left
and then a kick to the Right
You've got to put your foot down
As Rogergnomes bring the belt in tiiight
But it's the privatization that really drove us insayayaiiin
Let's do the Time-Warp Again!"

Friday, February 24, 2012

Charter Consulates...

I see our government has just announced another round of cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this time targeting 305 staff and a projected fiscal saving of $20-25 million. We're also closing a number of European embassies (y'know, those in one of our major trading areas), and replacing consular assistance for overseas Kiwis with a call-center.
The next logical step is to follow in the footsteps of Empire by privatizing and outsourcing our foreign representation in a manner akin to the British East India Company. ACT's already proposed "Charter Schools" ... why not Charter Consulates.

These cuts are intended to save something like $20 million per annum. The question I'm asking myself is how much it's actually going to cost us fiscally or otherwise over the next few decades for these small-scale savings.
MFAT exists in part to do things like negotiating the trade contracts that help us add value to the Kiwi economy. That's why there's an "and Trade" in its name. Surely reducing the ministry's staff by about 22% is not going to make it more efficient at "bringing home the bacon".

Right-wing propagandist David Farrar is calling these cuts "arguably the most significant restructuring of a major public sector agency since the revolutionary reforms of the 1980s". With such vehement praise flowing from the hard right, I'm thus instinctively inclined to question why anyone would think them to be such a good idea.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Casual Approach To Employment "Reform"

Q: What do actors, stevedores and longshoremen at the Ports of Auckland, and a whole host of other Kiwi workers have in common?

A: We're being subjected to something called "Casualisation".

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means we're not "employed" as such. We're no longer employees.
We're now contractors and we contract our services out to our former "employers".
"Big deal!" some on the Right are saying. "You're still working and still getting an hourly rate for doing so!"

Well, think about it like this. Using the film industry as an example, Frank Macskasy has characterised what happened thus: "Just imagine, you are an employee on Friday, with four weeks annual leave; sick pay; the right to join a Union if you so wish; and job security. Then you arrive at work on Monday and, by Government decree, you are now classed as an independent contractor. No more annual leave; no more sick pay; no more job security. And because you’re an independent contractor, the law forbids you the choice of belonging to a Union." Admittedly he's referring to National's passage of the "Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act" under Urgency back in 2010 in specia, and emphasizing the deleterious effects upon these particular workers of suddenly having a good chunk of  their workers' rights taken away at the stroke of a pen ... but the argument applies to all affected industries.

If you abruptly find yourself self-employed (despite doing exactly the same work as you were previously), you're suddenly saddled with a whole host of costs you didn't have beforehand. As I recently found out much to my shock and annoyance, being "self-employed" means I'm now responsible for paying my own ACC levies which had previously been met by my employers. I'm now ineligible for sick leave, annual leave, or even guaranteed hours in most of my sources of income (here I'm talking chiefly about the education rather than entertainment sector), and have had to suspend my membership of Kiwisaver in part because my employers are no longer obliged to make contributions alongside my own.

The counter-argument from the Right is that I should theoretically be able to parlay the lower costs of employing me (i.e. things my employers no longer have to do) into increased wages and increased employment.
I'm not quite sure why they assume I'm in a strong enough negotiating position (i.e. completely and utterly indispensable to my employers) to negotiate a bigger and better pay packet, given that 83% of Kiwi workers will see their wages fall this year; while our workforce participation rate and actual number of hours worked both take a nosedive. All this would appear to indicate I'm actually in a far weaker bargaining position, even before we take into account the fact that I have not actually had the ability to say to my employer "I'm prepared to sacrifice these benefits/entitlements for a small pay increase". The government has, I suppose, pre-empted this and done that for me; for little apparent gain in either real renumeration or employment opportunities.

Thanks John Key.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ACC. Angry at Casualisation Chicanery

This afternoon I received a letter from ACC invoicing me for nearly a grand worth of unpaid levies.

I was surprised and confused by this as I haven't suffered any personal injuries or made any claims for a good half-decade, and thought that my contributions were (as the scheme was supposed to work) being paid by my various employers (I work several jobs in the education and service industries, as well as the occasional acting and commercial gig).

Not so, apparently. When John Key changed our labour laws at the behest of Warner Bros and shifted the employment status of many people involved in our growing film and associated industries to that of "self-employed contractors", he did so to introduce more flexibility into that part of the labour market.

Or, in layman's terms, to make it easier to hire-and-fire workers, and to cut the rights (and therefore costs) we, as with all other Kiwi workers have historically been entitled to.

I'm genuinely annoyed by all of this, and not just because it's all coming out of my pocket.
It's just like the Kiwisaver "employer contributions" that now seem to be coming out of employees wages.
This is something which is supposed to be paid by the employer as it has been for several decades - not another excuse to reduce my pay packet and quite literally pass the buck so a foreign film-maker can increase their profit margins.

I can't wait till National tries to introduce "Competition" into ACC's Work Account. No doubt we'll see much more of this sort of thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

NZF Youth - What We Actually Do

I'd seen a few of these floating around the net; and, given our new 21st century inclinations, indulging in a little meme-warfare seemed only right. So, without further ado, I give you NZF Youth - What We Actually Do.

neat infographics

One of our ardent campaigners from Tauranga made a few infographics for the 2011 campaign.

We think you'll agree they're pretty neat! 






Whale Oil Beef Thugged

It's no secret I don't like FailOil.

And, given that he's tried to tar me with everything from fascism to misogyny, one strongly suspects the feeling is mutual.

I've had the ... dubious pleasure of having to engage with everyone's favourite beneficiary bludger on several occasions, during which he's done his darndest to prove the ancient maxim: "Never fight with a fool. He'll try and drag you down to his level and then win by virtue of experience." Or possibly boxing and-or a cycle-race when the verbal and intellectual gymnastics required for actual debate get beyond him.

Anyway, the point of this post isn't to bitch about him. I've got far larger targets to worry about (which is saying something); the Government for one.

Rather, I'm writing to draw your attention to what I hope will be The People's Liberation Front of Aotearoa's answer to the Mendicant Menace ... a new blog creatively entitled Whale Oil Beef Thugged.

Happy Harpooning ;)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Man Whose Economic Forecasting Makes Astrology Look Respectable

I see Bill English has just admitted he made up some of the figures on asset sales.

He's also said that the fiscal impact of the sales will be "roughly neutral" and will leave us with "less debt".

Well that sounds familiar. Where have we heard Bill English talking about "fiscally neutral" "debt-reducing" economic programs before.

Oh that's right, it was those "fiscally neutral tax cuts" that put a $1.1billion hole in the books.

Surely that's a one-off. Highly trained economics professionals and an experienced finance minister aren't in the business of putting out fallacious figures and then sheepishly revising them when they're caught out ... are they?

Unfortunately, yes they are.

Note what happened there. Before the election, our competent economic managers were talking about 3.4% growth for the next year. Post-election, it's 2.8%. That might not sound like much, but by my amateur calculations, that indicates Treasury was out by something like 17%. Hardly reassuring.

But don't despair! We may have screwed up and over-estimated how well the recovery'd be going by now by nearly a fifth ... but there is good news! We're actually going to grow by 3.8% the year after that! Not 3.3% like we previously claimed!

Again, these are figures out by an amount of less than twenty per cent, although this time in the government's favour. This might ordinarily sound plausible, but consider why Treasury revised its figures for growth till March '13 downward. It reckoned it had overestimated the economic benefits of the Christchurch rebuild and underestimated the severity of the ongoing Eurozone crisis.

This would be the already-much-vaunted Christchurch rebuild that's apparently going to account for 1.25% of GDP growth over the next five years, and the Eurozone crisis every man and his dog (although apparently not every minister and his lapdogs) has been witnessing deteriorate for months now.

But wait ... it gets worse. 

Pandering to National's base, pre-election English's ministry was claiming it'd be able to deliver a $1.45 billion surplus for 2014-15. Post-election it's claiming it will be able to deliver a $370 million surplus.

Wow. The Nats have somehow managed to lose more than a billion imaginary dollars out of their "Brighter Future." Presumably that's even after the well-above-valuation revenue they're expecting to reap from those well-mandated asset sales we keep hearing about.

Anyway, my point is simple. Governor Mario Cuomo pithily stated that "you campaign in poetry; you govern in prose". Or, put another way, from the perspective of a Minister of Finance wishing to maintain his ministerial salary, it's fiscally prudent to over-state how well he's doing before the election ... but the closer one's forecasts come to fruition, the more prudent it becomes to revise them downward toward reality.
Not that GDP growth forecasts from the boy who cried fiscal stimulus package actually have much worth anyway.

Of course, it's one thing to fudge one's economic forecasting; in that case Treasury's economic sooth-sayers can, as they have done, plead ignorance of changing circumstances in a "dynamic environment" as explanation (even though this looks these days more like a case of the Austrian economists burying their collective head in the sand).

It's quite another thing to simply make up numbers.

Or, being charitable to English, merely repeat made-up numbers from the year before in the hope nobody's noticed the continuing falsehood.

However, in fairness, these numbers tend to come from Treasury - a department which, as Harold Wilson observed "could not, with any marked success, run a fish and chip shop." We have thus come to expect a certain level of incompetence in the numbers department from the people we presumably pay to be reasonably accurate about the economy. With this in mind, the standard gNat line of defence when called on the frequently wild inaccuracy of a Treasury entrail reading is to pass the buck and point out that the Minister did not come up with the projection and that it's therefore someone else's fault.

Witness English's response above. When Guyon Espiner calls him on the credibility of the 170,000 jobs figure, English retreats and insists Treasury forecasting is "done independent of the government"; despite the fact he shares a "sense of confidence" in those forecasts.

With respect, the Minister should not be able to have it both ways. He can't put forward a made-up number as evidence the economic policy contained in his Budget is working (and, presumably, has been working for some years given the figure's repetition), then when called on the question as to whether it's predicting job growth for this or some other, more successful economy state that Treasury, not him, did the portent-reading. He especially can't do it when it turns out that his own government is patently unaware of any hard evidence for the number in question. Either he has confidence in his forecasting or he doesn't, and taking the above statements at face value, he patently does.

Thus, whichever way you look at it, this is a government whose economic forecasting makes astrology look respectable, which leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that a Maori economic axiom from the 1860s still holds true today. Namely, NEVER TRUST THE ENGLISH.

Don't fix what isn't broken. FFS.

In New Zealand politics the phrase "the more things change, the more some things stay the same" is perhaps nowhere more relevant than people wanting to try and 'fix' New Zealand's national treasure that isn't broken: ACC. You only really have to have a quick look at the last three years to see this in action, while those who've been alive longer and paying attention for longer have had to watch it since the 90's.

In the news today the government announced it is considering raising ACC levies just months after it lowered it them. And evidence gathered by a Hazel Armstrong indicates that this is being done by Nick Smith purely to 'level the playing field' with insurance companies who are getting some entry into the work account starting in October.
So basically ACC levies are low and cheap but apparently we need to make them more expensive so we can make room for some private insurance competition. Awesome for those insurance companies I guess but annoying for everyone else who seems pretty happy with ACC. PriceWaterhouseCooper, the nearest thing to an independent body we can get I suppose, was pretty happy to call it the best system of its kind in the world as recently as 2008.
A quick cycle back in time to 2009 makes this talk about levy cuts and levy rises to make room for competition seem rather strange. Two years ago according to the government ACC was in a horrible deficit and insolvent.
ACC, which has consistently performed among the world's best in health outcomes and ensuring comprehensive coverage for all New Zealanders since 1974, was apparently in such dire straits in 2009 that one young ACTer proclaiming to fight for less government and against monopolies had a solution to fix the whole thing!

"Liberty Scott" boldly proclaimed: "The monopoly has failed miserably, once again. The measures National are announcing are patching up a system that is breaking". The young libertard’s solution was pretty elegant and simple: bust up the whole thing, or as he put it "move fast ... to individualize the whole system". Free the markets! (and also some horrendously complex stuff in practice about grandfathering in existing claimants. Or even worse tendering them out because of course we need free market competition to take up a work burden that doesn't currently exist).

So yeah. What do we make of this? Well Liberty Scott does look like a muppet 3 years later doesn't he. But what 'Liberty Scott' represents isn't just some phenomenon that looks stupid recently, nor is it constrained to sub-par blogs. Neo-liberalism has a storied tradition of this type of stuff and it has broken more than a few things since the 80’s to get a quick fix for a few people.

Unfortunately the tradition of trying to break stuff so a few rich mates can get their fix seems to be continuing from Nick Smith to Judith Collins in 2011 - although admittedly not as drastic as Liberty Scott’s proposed 2009 solution.

But also since 2009 then there have been some fantastic changes. Those changes of course being that ACT got individualized down to one MP and NZFirst is back in action working hard to not fix things which aren't broken. I'm glad to say to Liberty Scott that NZFirst has a monopoly on really understanding the value behind our public healthcare system and his bullshit is laughable.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Return of the NZF Party Party

In case you missed NZF's election night party, TVNZ has recently put footage of it back up on their OnDemand service. Kicks in around the 9:20 minute mark immediately after the ACT Party finishes embarrassing itself (I say "finishes", but it's going to be a long three years waiting for that to happen, unfortunately).

Solid appearances from Ryan, Anya & Mattias; as well as the Curwen-Montage.

In my own words, "We'll change the slogan from 'Bring Back Winston' to 'Keeping The Bastards Honest!'"

The Sir Robert Muldoon Center For Time-Warp Research

Every so often here in NZF Youth, something momentously cool happens.

Last week, for instance, several of us were privileged to be sitting in The House watching our MPs giving their Maiden Speeches.

To commemorate the moment I whipped out my copy of Sir Robert Muldoon's "The New Zealand Economy, A Personal View", and got our entire caucus (with the unfortunate exception of Denis O'Rourke) to sign it.

I'd been reading it on the plane down, and had been struck once again by the book's qualities as a repository for what "Old New Zealand" and a National Party better described as "Nationalist" rather than "InterNational" meant.

Where else would you find a National leader proclaiming the strong enthusiasm of the Kiwi people for trade unions; or expressing his distaste for letting theoretical economists run rampant and wild with the direction of our economy.

So many lessons, so many reflections on what we used to be and what we could have been.

It called to mind a quotation of Reagan's; who, upon being asked why he'd left the Democrats and joined the Republicans (not many of you knew he began political life as a Democrat, did you :P ) stated, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; the party left me."

So too, New Zealand First and the Muldoonist party of old; with National leaving behind our ambition to Think Big and to Dream Even Bigger in order to trust in the abacus-tweaking, ivory-tower-endorsing, grand-economic-revolutionizing 'promises' of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia (with the end result, might I add, of "OurYouthInAsia"). 

With this in mind, this book and these signatures symbolize for me not so much a return for New Zealand to the values of the 1970s - how could we, and why should we. Rather, it symbolizes a return to Parliament of some of the Muldoonist values. A hard-headed pragmatism, a fiercely combative style that calls fools to account from across the political spectrum; a compassionate Nationalism; a recognition that "the whole concept of Government is based on Intervention"; and most important of all, a driving conviction that "economic management is not a matter of textbooks and algebraic equations. It is people".

I should thus like to end on that sage economic advice coded into Sir Rob's role in the Rocky Horror Picture Show; "It's just a jump to the left ... and then a step to the right",  and with the indelible hope that we can indeed do the time-warp again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tracey Martin MP on Chinese Migration

"I note another article this morning about many of our Asian citizens or visitors being particularly prone to abuse and racial discrimination. As I said in my Maiden Speech, the New Zealand Chinese community has been one of the major contributors since the 1800's to the building of this nation but because they were not signatories to the Treaty we hardly hear about it. 

I believe we need a concerted campaign to education our population on their contributions to our country and their absolute right to be here. Secondly, we need to start playing the ball not the man. New Zealand First has always had a policy of an Immigration Plan, but it is not acceptable to blame the individual who met the criteria laid down by the government to come and settle in this nation for being here. They have met the criteria, they have the right to be here and be treated with respect. 

New Zealand First's position is that as a nation we must have a long term plan around this issue. How many people are enough for New Zealand? What can our country sustain if we wish to keep a certain percentage of our rural environments pristine? I mean, is it really good for Auckland to bring in another 1 million people in the next 30 years? Why not incentivise settlement around the nation? I asked Jonathan Coleman that question last year and he replied that immigrants were more productive when clumped together. I personally find that answer shocking - production unit talk as opposted to people responsive solutions."

Is it any wonder she's my favourite MP? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

ACTresses & Air-Heads

It is alleged that Napoleon once advised never to ascribe to malice that which could adequately be explained by incompetence.

In the case of the ACT Party, the distinction appears to be meaningless.

Take, for example, John Banks announcing that he's "much more interested in the penguins at Antarctica than I am in some of the social problems that we have in New Zealand".

I'm honestly not sure whether that counts as incompetence or malice.

On one level, it's clearly rank stupidity. Successful politicians don't usually go out of their way to make themselves appear out of touch with the concerns of their constituents, even if they've been smart enough to be vague about which of those concerns they don't care about.

On another level, it's malice. If you're anti-gay rights or anti-abortion, then you're quite welcome to read into Banks' comments that he's just as apathetic about these issues as you are. And, as an added bonus, Banks cares about the welfare of endangered animals and a pristine Antarctic wilderness.

For a certain sort of (socially conservative) right-wing voter, this message ticks all the subconscious boxes.
It's also just vague enough for anything unsavoury to be plausibly deniable if he's confronted about it.
Full marks for figuring out how to pander to the base without alienating the swing voters *too* terribly much.

I'm not going to touch Banks' various and sundry comments about South Auckland as they've already been done to death elsewhere, except to note the vanishingly small line between incompetence and malice in ACT's parliamentary caucus that these evidence.

It's incompetent to galvanize a large swathe of the Auckland electorate against you by referring to their part of the city as a "social disaster"; and it's malicious to subsequently characterize the browner denizens of that area as subsisting on benefits in order to "sit in front of TV, smoke marijuana, watch pornography, and plan more drug offending, more burglaries" with the ultimate objective of "coming through our windows if we live in Epsom".

My inner cynic wonders why Banks wasn't so quick to condemn the white-collar (and mostly white) criminals who are disproportionately concentrated in his (and my) Epsom electorate.

Oh that's right, it's because it'd mean condemning guys like Banks' business partner, Peter Huljich.

Then again, Banks does occasionally say things that prove Napoleon's maxim.

His recent assertion that Onehunga College was a charter school was presumably just incompetence, rather than a devious soundbite designed to make it seem like ACT's new and unmandated shakeup of the education sector wasn't nearly as untried, unfamiliar, or foreign as it actually was.

Unfortunately, his incompetence here doesn't reflect very well on his ability comprehend, much less implement the wide-ranging "reforms" he's seeking for our kids.

With comments like these, I'd respectfully suggest that Deborah Coddington dubbed the wrong inept white male the Mr Magoo of Kiwi politics.

In any case, lest we think this curious combination of odiousness and incompetence is something new in ACT's leadership, let's cast our minds back to a man who was apparently unaware of that other political maxim ... "when you're already in the hole, stop mining the conservation estate".

It's odious to suggest that we must open an open-cast mine at Pike River in order to respect the men who died there; it's barely conceivable incompetence to suggest ruining our pristine conservation estate with strip-mining to create a tourist attraction.

It was, however, karmically appropriate for him to suggest there was a "silly old man leading [my] party" in light of Hide's eventual fate as leader of ACT.

Fortunately, there's a new generation of ACTress unburdened by the rank bigotry and frank incompetence of their predecessors ready to take the helm and steer the party back to being one of high-minded principle.

Oh wait...

It's one thing to call Labour out for alleged breaches of the Electoral Finance Act (weird, considering ACT was so dead set against said act that they were prepared to take then-Attorney General Michael Cullen to court over it) ... but it's quite another to try and compare Labour with the Nazi Party based around their shared use of the colour red and the fact they've both got youth wings.

ACT on Campus' persistent use of rape, whether to intimidate opponents or just to make really weird and unfounded comparisons also does nothing to endear them in my eyes.

Maybe Rick Giles wasn't so bad after all.