Sunday, November 25, 2007

Investigate interview with Rodney Hide

The December issue of Investigate magazine has an interview with Rodney Hide. Not too much new in there, but towards the end of the interview a couple of interesting points which I will analyse when I get back to NZ.

To Wishart's credit though, it's good to see an interview done in transcript-form rather than in the tiresome "I'm a reporter I have a big ego"-style of, say, Michele Hewitson from the Weekend Herald where a few comments are cherry-picked to fit around an intended chatty narrative.

If you would rather not give $8 or so to Ian Wishart, I suggest trying your local library...

Friday, November 23, 2007

NZPA on Roy; taking a break

NZPA has a report on Heather Roy standing in Wellington Central and gives some good background:
Wellington Central is going to be open territory for candidates next year because the Labour MP who holds it, Marian Hobbs, is standing down.

Ms Hobbs retained it in 2005 with 20,199 votes - a majority of 6180 over Mark Blumsky, the former Wellington mayor who stood for National.

A former Act MP, Stephen Franks, contested the seat in that election but gained only 1254 votes, fewer than the Green's Sue Kedgley who came third.

Richard Prebble, a former ACT leader, won the seat in 1996 but he had been endorsed by National which wanted a coalition partner.

Labour has chosen Grant Robertson, a former adviser to Prime Minister Helen Clark, as its Wellington Central candidate.

Mr Blumsky won't be trying for it again because he has called it quits and is leaving politics.

National is tipped to put up lawyer Chris Finlayson, a list MP.

N.B. Blogging will be limited over the next three weeks as I will be overseas. I encourage you to browse through the list of external resources at left during this time. If there is a link missing you think should be there, please let me know, either my e-mail (contact details at left) or via the comments function.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's a Right Roy-al con!

The candidate ACT will be standing in Wellington Central, mysteriously foreshadowed last week and reported at this blog, is none other than....Heather Roy! Readers who take only a passing interest in ACT may be forgiven for not knowing who Roy is, but she is currently ACT's sole list MP.

Douglas to Dancing will analyse the pros and cons of standing Roy in Wellington Central in greater detail later, but for now some raw data from this evening's events:

- Roy has launched a personal website, http://www.roy.org.nz. The 1990s-style website design must be a deliberate ploy to subtly remind visitors of the last time ACT held the Wellington Central (Richard Prebble 1996-1999).

- A speech by ACT party president Garry Mallett was posted on the party website

- Roy herself gave a speech but of course this is not on her website or ACT's. As a public service I will therefore reproduce it here:
Heather Roy To Stand For Wellington Central

Speech to ACT Wellington Candidate Launch; The Museum Hotel, Cable Street,
Wellington; 6:30pm, Tuesday [sic], November 22 2007

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming along this evening to be a
part of our Wellington Central candidate announcement. I'm delighted to
be contesting the Wellington Central seat for ACT in 2008 - without a
doubt, the most interesting seat in the country.

There's a whiff of change in the political air, and this is likely to be a
boisterous election campaign, both nationwide and in this electorate - who
else has meetings like the infamous Aro Valley election meeting? I'm
looking forward to that.

So it is that, fully prepared for a battle of dirty tricks, I put my name
forward to represent an electorate that is effectively a political
barometer for the rest of the country.

You might ask what it is that makes me the right person to take up ACT's
cause in a high profile seat in a rough and tumble election - I'm
sometimes described as 'too nice' for politics, and being nice doesn't
bring media coverage.

The fact is that the personality politics of the past decade have been an
inevitable consequence of the lack of debate over the real issues facing
New Zealand. Labour has become a status-quo Party, and National has
openly taken positions that are the same as, or similar to, Labour's.

Of late we've witnessed a vacuum around important issues like the lack of
economic growth and terrible domestic violence cases - instead, attacks on
individual performances have taken priority. In times of genuine crisis
such trivia as Trevor Mallard's romantic interests should take up much
less attention. The lack of any real debate on New Zealand's future
direction allows ideological parties like ACT to prosper as the electorate
inevitably looks for fresh new ideas and vision.

I have a heavy personal stake in future policy for New Zealand: I have
five children, and want them to be able to pursue their chosen careers
without having to leave New Zealand. I want them to travel the world as I
did - but I want New Zealand, their home, to be a viable option for them;
one that competes favourably with the other opportunities that will come
their way.

As I prepare to contest this election it distresses me to think that many
parents I talk to seemed resigned to the fact that, if successful, their
children will probably leave the country. It is this resigned acceptance
of polite decline that I want to tackle. When Mrs Thatcher became British
Prime Minister she was determined to arrest Britain's decline and she did.
Some might say she grasped the nettle too firmly, but she successfully
reversed Britain's relative economic decline. Here in New Zealand the
Labour Government of 1984 used the balance of payments crisis to tackle
our fundamental problem of excessive State intervention in the economy.

New Zealanders must re-capture a sense of urgency for change - the only
alternative is slow relative decline and loss of skills as people leave
the country because, in a global economy, people can vote with their feet
as well as at the ballot box.

While it's often said that Wellington Central has the most educated
population in New Zealand, these 'well educated' are precisely the people
whose children are likely to end up in Sydney, London or Los Angeles. I
spoke recently to a woman who had four adult children, the closest was in
Sydney - so at 60, she was an orphan!

As ACT's Wellington Central candidate you might like to know a little more
about Heather Roy the person. Know what has shaped me into the politician
standing before you.

I'm 43 and am joined this evening by my husband Duncan, a doctor at Hutt
Hospital, and a selection of my children - those who didn't have a better
offer tonight!
Looking back, I had a typical Kiwi upbringing: the eldest of six children,
born in the small rural town of Palmerston in Otago. I know ACT is
castigated as the Party of the rich, but my parents certainly weren't
that: my father left school in the Fourth Form and had a number of jobs
while I was growing up; my mother was a Plunket nurse before becoming a
full-time mother; I shared a bedroom with my two sisters - who perpetually
complained that I read too late and that they couldn't get to sleep with
the light on. My own daughters often feel that they are cruelly put upon
because they share a room.

My parents worked hard to provide us with extras like music lessons. I
attended the local primary and secondary schools - no choice available
but, like most of us, I had some teachers to whom I owe a lot to and
others I struggle to remember at all. My most inspiring teacher later
went on to become president of the PPTA. Fortunately politics wasn't
present in the classroom or, goodness knows, I wouldn't be standing here
now. Instead, she has instilled in me a life-long love of literature.

My sporting passion was netball and, although not the best player in my
senior team, I was proud to have been picked as captain. I confess to
having struggled more with the Silver Ferns recent loss to Australia than
with the All Blacks World Cup performance. At school I also became an
enthusiastic tramper and climber, and remained so until I met my husband.

My career path has been a little unusual in its course. I left school to
study Physiotherapy in Dunedin and, as I left, my mother cautioned me
against marrying a doctor on account of the long hours they work - I gave
Mum's advice the weight accorded by most 18-year-olds. Duncan and I spent
three years in the UK where he completed his post-graduate study and I got
the very best experience at Stoke-Mandeville Hospital, an international
centre of excellence in the treatment of Spinal Injuries. Even there, New
Zealand physios were well-regarded for our high-quality training and work
ethic - in fact, all Kiwis benefit from this reputation.

We moved back to New Zealand - Timaru - just as the stock market was
crashing in 1987. I juggled bringing up small children with a bit of
physio work, medical research work and managing my kids' private
kindergarten. Then, in 1996 when ACT contested that first MMP election,
Duncan and I became politically active - inspired by those values ACT has
always promoted: freedom, choice and greater prosperity for all Kiwis. I
contested the 1999 election and almost got into Parliament - but that had
to wait until 2002.

We became Wellingtonians in 2000, moving from the South Island for my
husband's career. This is a move that has worked out well for me. I took
to Wellington like a duck to water, working for a time as publicity
officer for the New Zealand Portrait Gallery.

The first thing that struck me about Wellington is that people drive
politely, frequently giving way when not legally required to do so - that
doesn't often happen elsewhere. More importantly, I found that
Wellingtonians judge you for you - who your parents were doesn't cut much
ice, and what school you went to is of peripheral interest.

Wellingtonians were also very tolerant when I stood for the Western Ward
of the Wellington City Council in 2001 - a slightly cheeky bid when I'd
only lived here for a short time. But, as I campaigned, people were more
interested in the fact that I had a good grasp of local issues and that
I'd voice their concerns around the Council table; I missed out by just 34
votes.

I'd decided when I had children that I would always do one unpaid
community activity at any given time - something that has frequently
stretched to several voluntary jobs at once. With children attending
three different Wellington Central schools - as well as cricket, soccer
and running clubs - there's plenty of choice, and any number of
fundraising activities to assist with. My major effort over the past
seven years has been my role of Gala Convenor for the Karori Normal School
Gala. Leading the team of enthusiastic parents to help raise our local
school over $40,000 on a Saturday every October is extremely rewarding and
great fun. Wellington Central communities of interest are strong and
combine to make our city a great place to live.

In keeping with this, last year I fulfilled a long-time dream of joining
the New Zealand Army as a territorial soldier. While Territorial's do
receive payment, I donate all of mine to the RSA. I belong to 5 Wellington
West Coast Taranaki Battalion Group and am a Field Engineer. I enjoy my
training weekends enormously - it is very different from my day job and
keeps me in touch with 'real kiwis'. I'm frequently asked what it is I
learnt from my Basic Training experience. The answer is simple: teamwork,
discipline, leadership and pride. Not bad principles to apply to life, and
principles I know are valued by the hard-working people of Wellington
Central.

I immediately felt at home in Wellington with its concentration on
education, focus on the arts - as well as sport - culture of promotion on
merit, and absence of a thug culture. ACT values are Wellington Central
values. People believe in the importance of choice, diversity, a level
playing field, taking responsibility, and looking after those less
fortunate.

Wellington Central is the electorate in which I live, and the one I want
to represent. It is the best educated electorate in New Zealand. While
it is the wealthiest, it is income rich, not asset rich.

Under a Labour MP Wellington Central is taken for granted by this
Labour-led Government. The result has been an obvious lack of investment
in infrastructure. This is also true of the wider Wellington region -
with all Labour MPs - barring Labour's supporter Peter Dunne, making up a
sea of red - which routinely misses out on important central government
investment. As such, Wellington's poor economic performance compared to
the nationwide average is no surprise. There was a lot of controversy
over the motorway bypass, but it was never intended to stop in the middle
of the city - the money ran out just before the 1975 election, when then
Works Minister Hugh Watt diverted his remaining budget to Auckland's
spaghetti junction (co-incidentally smack bang in the middle of his own
marginal electorate). Some things, you might conclude, don't change.

Wellington Central will continue to be overlooked as long as it is taken
for granted as a safe Labour seat. If you really want to be noticed, then
it is necessary to be a marginal seat. Wellington Central was best served
when former ACT Leader Richard Prebble was its local MP - Richard won the
seat because he took the people seriously and battled on their behalf.

I intend to do the same - telling people what to do is insulting and
patronising; it is listening to them, and campaigning for them, that is
important. It is through living in Wellington Central, and listening to
people, that has given me a true insight into what Wellingtonians need and
want; about what issues are affecting them and what THEY - not the
Government - feel is important. Issues like roading - notably inner-city
congestion and the ongoing saga of Transmission Gully; infrastructure; the
environment; public transport; rates; spending and leadership; crime ...
the list goes on.

As part of my Wellington Central campaign, I am also launching a new
website, www.roy.org.nz. At this site you will be able to see what I have
been doing both in Parliament and around Wellington Central - as well as
what I plan to do, and ways in which you can take part. The website also
has a brief rundown on my campaign team, giveaways and allows you to let
me know what issues you feel are important to the electorate and the
region as a whole.

This electorate deserves an MP that is one of the people. Above all,
Wellington Central deserves to choose its MP from a fair and broad field.
I intend to promote that race by giving Wellington Central voters an
enthusiastic and able choice. We in ACT like nothing better than
competition.
Ladies and gentlemen: let the competition begin.

ENDS

Gerry Effed-off

The Otago Daily Times reported today that former ACT MP and now Otago Regional Councillor Gerry Eckhoff was annoyed about being excluded from a workshop on air quality, because he had made a submission to council on the matter in a private capacity prior to being elected:
As a former Act New Zealand MP, and having sat on a select committee, he had more than illustrated he could not be accused of predetermination or bias, he said.

It was ‘‘insulting’’ to suggest otherwise.

‘‘Councillors say it’s not personal. It’s just a matter of process. I do not see it that way. It’s pedantic in the extreme.

‘‘I will reassess my position on council as a result of this judgement. I’m no quitter. But if I’m excluded on a regular basis, what is the point?’’
These are strong words indeed from Eckhoff - particularly the last paragraph. I suspect it is his immediate frustration coming through rather than a serious threat to resign from council, however. I have no doubt that Eckhoff genuinely cares about the environmental and rural issues that he promoted as an ACT MP and afterwards and it is good to see him becoming (or at least attempting to become) so vigorously involved in the ORC.

Seeing he is excluded from the air-quality debates, perhaps Eckhoff would like to concentrate on bringing some ACT-like fiscal responsibility to the ORC's proposal to build an extravagant glass palace headquarters for itself on the Dunedin waterfront?!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

ACT vs. New Zealand First

The latest Roy Morgan poll finds that New Zealand First has increased its support from 3.5% to 5.5%. ACT, however, continues to be down in the cellar at 1%, where it has been pretty much for the last two years. Now, I'm no fan of the Duncan Garner-style breathless commentary ("will come as a massive blow to the...") on individual polls, but I think it might be useful to look at the differences in ACT and NZ First behaviour in recent weeks.

First and foremost, New Zealand First found itself a winning issue for its potential constituents. The support of the police (led by Ron Mark) and criticism of the protests in support of the arrested persons from the Ureweras enjoyed prominence in the media at a time which just happened to co-incide with NZ First's national conference. Put simply, NZ First made it to the front page lead story on the Monday following its conference in my local paper, the ODT. I can't remember when ACT last made it to the front page. Despite Hide's insistence that the media do not matter, visibility certainly does. In fact, after ACT's annual conference in March 2007, the only report I could dredge up was a Radio New Zealand news item which slotted into the weekend news bulletins (probably between the usual weekend filler of updates on car crashes and university cancer studies).

New Zealand First has also been vigorous on the economic nationalism front. Witness its opposition to the proposed Fonterra float and prior to that, the proposed takeover of Auckland Airport. Winston Peters has been very successful in attracting media coverage to these issues as well. They tie in well with the party's 2008 strategy of promoting New Zealand nationalism, as noted by the Otago Daily Times in an October 5 editorial (not online):
Winston Peters’ party is now projecting a colloquial Kiwi image for itself by
progressively releasing a series of five brochures with a strong Kiwi pitch.
Cleverly targeted at specific sectors of the community, they are variously
entitled: Uniquely Kiwi, protecting Kiwi families, building a Kiwi future, super
Kiwis, and Kiwi harmony; each of which lists the party’s achievements to date
and future policy objectives.
Now, I'm no fan of the chest-beating for "nashnul identitee" which has been heavily promoted by Labour as one of its "three core themes" for government since 2005 (and unofficially before this). But it works for Winston Peters. And the militant nationalism approach that he advocates is convenient for Labour. If Peters takes the "hard edge", Labour can take the soft fuzzy Kiwi-this Kiwi-that mainstream "identity" approach. This is when Chris Carter claims campsites are "part of our national identity" (a ridiculous remark IMHO) and Helen Clark sees how many times she can fit "Kiwis" into a speech on ANZAC day. In fact, Labour's appeal to national identity has driven it closer to New Zealand First, which one could now even say is its preferred coalition partner.

So let's look now at what ACT has been doing in the last few weeks.

- Rodney Hide grandstanded (or is that "grandstood"?) on the Mallard assault. Not a core ACT issue.

- Was eerily quiet on the police operation in early October. A possible reason for this is that Hide was torn between supporting the police (i.e. supporting law and order, the NZ First position) or defending civil liberties, the natural position for a truly liberal party (see below).

- Opposed the amendments to the Terrorism Suppression Act on the basis that it was fascist. In line with the party's new-found "liberal" orientation, no question, but out of touch with ACT's potential pool of voters. The Maori Party (or as Roy Morgan calls them, the "Mario Party", which I like better, maybe they could get funding from Nintendo?) will get votes from people who thought the "raids" were unjustified. ACT never will. And anyway, this was a parliamentary story and as such received scant coverage (as anything outside Question Time does).

- Announced that it would announce a candidate in Wellington Central

In summary, compare the action taken by NZ First and ACT over the last month and there's little wonder that the former polls more than five times the level of support for the latter. New Zealand First is connecting with voters. ACT is barely communicating with them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On Newztext

A major resource for anyone writing about a New Zealand political topic is the Newztext database. This is a online subscriber-only database but is commonly accessible through institutions. When I was writing my dissertation, I had access to the database through the University of Otago. If you don't belong to such an institution, however, don't despair. Newztext is also freely available through many public libraries and is quite likely accessible simply by going to your local library's website (click here for a list of every library in the country) and entering your library card number and PIN.

What's so great about Newztext? Well, the next time you click on a link on the Stuff website and you find that Fairfax has removed it from the site, just log on to Newztext and search for the article in question. Newztext has full-text coverage for Fairfax/INL newspapers going back to 1995. Newztext covers all editorial content published, unlike Fairfax's online properties:
"Stuff.co.nz focuses on breaking news and although it carries a comprehensive selection of stories from Fairfax New Zealand Ltd papers each day, every story published in every Fairfax New Zealand Ltd paper is not available on Stuff.co.nz."
Newztext also covers the New Zealand Herald also from the 1990s onwards, although the Herald has always been kinder in maintaining a free online archive of articles going back to the early 2000s at its website. Newztext also includes business newspapers like the National Business Review and Independent, which despite their minuscule circulations are easily the most intelligent papers in the country and contain many articles on politics every week.

The limitations? Newztext does include coverage from 1995, but its site design feels like 1995 as well. It can be slow and frustrating to use, with the chief annoyance being the erasure of one's search terms on pressing the "enter" key (a mouse click is required instead). Second, Newztext does not cover the independently-owned Otago Daily Times or other Allied Press titles, but for political research this is no great disaster, as the ODT garners most of its political coverage from other sources anyway (N.B. the ODT is covered from recent years by the Factiva database, although this is usually only available through academic libraries).

Finally, for my dissertation, the only real problem was that ACT began in 1993/4 and Newztext's coverage began in 1995 at the earliest. Fortunately, I had the loan of some excellent "offline" resources - several boxes and lever-arch files of photocopied articles on ACT collected over the years by lecturers at the University of Otago, which helped me out no end with the pre-Internet age.

Interested readers may like to look at another piece I wrote about Newztext for another site, earlier in 2007, which examined its use in Nicky Hager's book The Hollow Men.

Friday, November 16, 2007

ACT contesting Wellington Central

Party newsletter ACTion! reported today that ACT will be contesting the Wellington Central seat at the 2008 election, with the candidate to be "unveiled" next Thursday. By the sound of the announcement it must be a stellar candidate, who knows, perhaps a former MP or city councillor? Or someone from media or sport? Whoever it is, he or she will have to be well known to Wellingtonians to have any chance of winning the seat.

Richard Prebble held this seat from 1996-1999, but the electoral boundaries have since changed, making this a harder seat for ACT to win. Indeed, Marion Hobbs has since held this seat for Labour.

Contesting constituency seats is resource-intensive, but it was mooted by outgoing president Catherine Judd as a possible strategy after the 2005 debacle. According to Judd, voters were happy to "waste" their electorate vote on ACT, as long as they could vote for their party of choice (usually National), for their party vote.

Previously, ACT had made noises about standing a candidate in the Rakaia electorate, but this has now been split into two electorates with the latest electoral boundary redistribution. Given that no candidate has been unveiled (and March 2007 conference attendees were told that ACT was in the final stages of selection), I suspect this has fallen through.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Economist and school vouchers

In an earlier post I mused over whether ACT would bring back a voucher scheme as a key policy.

Here's a reason why not. This week's issue of The Economist (which recently unlocked the walled garden that was its website and made its content freely available) reports on the failure of school voucher systems in the United States:
Mr [Michael] Bloomberg [New York City mayor] has not been as brave with schools as Mr Giuliani was with crime. Oddly given his belief in competition, the former media mogul shunned the most radical option—vouchers that allow parents to shop around beyond the public-schools system for their children's education. On the other hand, even supporters of school choice, like this newspaper, have to admit it is proving hard to sell. (This week voters in Utah rejected a proposed voucher scheme, thought to be the 11th time in succession that voters have said no to something similar.)
This "pragmatism over principles" theme seems familiar...

Comment by Craig Foss MP on Rodney Hide

This comment from Craig Foss (first-term National MP) was posted at his blog. It's facetious but he makes his point:
Identity Fraud at Parliament

The Inland Revenue Department was reviewed by Parliaments Finance and Expenditure Committee this morning.

During the review, a guy came in and sat down in Rodney Hide's, from the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers Party, (ACT), designated seat. This person then took Mr Hides call to speak and proceeded to wax lyrical about what a great job IRD were doing!

He was also very generous, almost loving in his praise of the Labour party!

Who was this man?
Or one might equally ask - who is Craig Foss?!

Hat Tip: Kiwiblog

Response from Stephen Franks to dissertation

After submission, I sent copies of my dissertation to a number of figures connected in some way to ACT, including former MPs.

Stephen Franks, an ACT MP from 1999-2005, sent me this response after reading a couple of weeks ago. I have been holding off publishing it as I wanted to seek his permission to post it here. Today I have received permission to publish it in a slightly modified version supplied to me by Franks. I have also received comments from another person and will reproduce these in due course. Anyone who wishes to comment on my research in a similar fashion is welcome to e-mail me: geoffreymiller (at) g(DELETE THIS)mail (dot) com.

Although I would have much preferred to publish the original piece, I am satisfied that Franks's modified version does not significantly alter the original comments. I should like to thank Franks for both reading my work and for taking the time to respond to it. His comments are reproduced below, without editing or commenting by me (although I may discuss his views in a later post):
Very good, for an outsiders view.

It is completely reasonable for you to have taken at face value the
reported tension between policy positions, but there never was much
policy tension. The gap between me and Rodney, for example, on almost
all policy issues, would have been indetectable even to our caucus
colleagues.

Compulsory super, is the only one I can think of, and Richard made
sure that we never came to any clear decision on that, just to avoid a
caucus breakdown on a matter that was not core to politics at the time.
It had ceased to be prominent in public discussion.

The internal debate was over how to get our message across, and
whether the methods favoured by our most prominent members were
counter-productive.

As political observers so often do, they underestimate the weight that
should be given to conviction, and attribute too much calculation to
events. The party knew how unpopular we were, in image terms. We knew
it was a reflection of the most prominent personalities.

But our policy positions were what they were becuase they reflected
where we all believed NZ needed to go.

The tensions were all in personal relationships and trust. When Sir
Roger, or Patricia, or Board members tried to give effect to their
worries about the influence of personal attributes or flaws ( by
reducing the influence or someone they were worried about) they had
to express them in terms of high principle. There would have been no
point in coming out and attacking the character of another member of
your own team. Indeed I think most of them (us) were so driven by the
policy things we wanted to achieve that we tended to think we were
concerned about policy matters, when in fact we were just worrying
about much more old-fashioned and simple anxieties - "where would this
guy go - what is his bottom line, can I trust him to be decent, when
it really matters?".

This is not an excuse, because it is a politicians task to work from
where you are, but for me personally the major problem was dealing
with the consensus ignorance and unconscious bias of journalists. We
could only connnect with the voters through the media filter.

I got on well with most journos, liked them and they were respectful
of me. But they had placed us in a part of the spectrum and were
simply unable to hear messages that were discordant with thier
positioning, so of course the public never got to hear of them.

For example, characterising our health, crime, education, and welfare
policies as 'extreme right' is ludicrous to those who were working in
a spectrum defined internationally.

In most of those issues, Tony Blair was more extreme than us. I used
to look up his speeches for lines. On education , 'sacred Sweden' is
far more 'dry' than what we dared advocate, and significant parts of
Eurpoe are far more "right" as a matter of constitutional right
(expressed as a parents' right to choose the education system their
kids will attend).

On crime, much of my thinking was influenced by the stunning success
of Clinton's 1996 reforms. Contrary to the perception of NZ journos
who simply do not want to know about the only western country that has
dropped its crime rates back to 60s levels, they have not even
markedly increased sentence lengths. They have simply achieved much
greater certainty that the crime will be followed by the sentence.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We're Here to Help reviews and links

I keep meaning to write a fuller post on Craig Heatley, seeing he generated some discussion in the comments in a post a few days ago. Until I get around to that, here are some reviews and links of We're Here to Help. I still haven't seen the film yet, but hope to do so soon. The reviews I have found are universally positive and usually take the view that the film is non-partisan and is a classic example of the proverbial "little guy" taking on the big guns and winning.

For example, back in October, David Farrar of Kiwiblog fame wrote one of the first reviews:

It wasn’t really an anti IRD film. They showed some good guys from the IRD also. It was a film really about bullies, and abuse of power. At times a sad film as Henderson is bankrupted and his partner leaves him. And finally a film with a wicked ending as we see the IRD Head Office in Christchurch renamed Henderson House.

Definitely worth going to.

Also a few weeks ago, Deborah Coddington managed to turn her Herald on Sunday column on Henderson into a diatribe against Al Gore:
In England the liberals decided An Inconvenient Truth should be screened in every school to teach pupils about global warming, until a rational judge ordered accompanying riders to point out the film's big green lies. In New Zealand, the film of Henderson's fight should be freely screened as an inspiration to youngsters to challenge authority, especially when it comes in the name of government and is here to help.

The big difference between these two films is that Henderson's, scarily, is true, whereas Al Gore's should have received the Nobel Prize for fiction. But all is not lost, I hear the Nobel committee is about to receive a growling from Dr Muriel Newman, who's written telling them to withdraw the award. They should, in Henderson's words, be very afraid.

I like this bit from Coddington, not because of what she says about Henderson, but because of her disparaging use of the term "liberal". In my dissertation, I looked at the confusion caused by ACT's use of the term liberal in its tagline "The Liberal Party". ACT intended this to indicate the classical liberal sense, but many people (and from the above quotation, Coddington herself) would interpret it in the American fashion and equate it with "left-wing".

One of the first real reviews was published in today's Sunday Star-Times (read it now, before good old Fairfax shifts it to its walled and locked garden), which is a little less enthusiastic about the film, giving it 3 stars:

Doubtless it's pretty much as it happened (Henderson began taping meetings), but I wondered if it was less Kafkaesque than Keystone Komptrollers: Henderson sent in a sexy woman for a refund; IRD guy tried to flirt but messed it up; Henderson made a threat; IRD bods thought he's a developer, how many aren't dodgy?; IRD started fishing. Petty revenge, then incompetence, delay and cover-up. Sounds like a tragedy in the making.

THE PITCH: We're here to hinder.

WATCH OUT FOR: Hurst's fat suit.

Michael Hurst, of course, plays Rodney Hide.

And in Saturday's Otago Daily Times (10/11/07, p. 56, not online), reviewer Christine Powley gives the film 5 stars:
In an American movie, there would be the courtroom scene where Julia Roberts stands up and says you can not do this to this good man, remember truth, puppy dogs and the American way. Everyone would have a good weep and the crusty old judge would dismiss the charges. Here, Dave is a stubborn battler who refuses to do the sensible thing and give in. He knows he has done nothing wrong and he will not let up until the tax department admits it. Watching him fight The Man is good fun.
For a backgrounder on the film, check out the New Zealand Herald story: Man's battle with Inland Revenue becomes taxpayer-funded movie.

Friday, November 9, 2007

ACT 2008 Annual Conference

Early notice of the 2008 ACT Annual Conference has been in the member-only e-mail newsletter ACTion! for a couple of weeks now. It will be on March 14/15, at the Waipuna Hotel & Conference Centre in Auckland. Funnily enough, I happen to be coming to Auckland that weekend, so I hope to be able to go along at least on the Saturday to cover it for Douglas to Dancing.

I'm expecting something bold and new at the conference. I think it will be the first of the election year party conferences, so ACT has a good opportunity to get itself set-up early. The novelty will have to come in the form of a new (appealing!) policy, logo or perhaps a stellar new list candidate. Here's a thought: imagine if Don Brash was announced at number 3?! With the direction ACT is now taking, I seriously doubt that would happen, but it's the kind of publicity-generating event that the party needs if it is to get above the dismal 1.5 per cent support it recorded in 2005.

Another talking point for the conference will be membership levels. Earlier this year, Hide launched a membership drive with the aim of 5,000 new "supporters" for ACT by the time of the conference. Although ACT has always had two distinct joining options (i.e. become a member or "supporter"), I wonder whether he will fudge the 5,000 target if it is not achieved by the time of the conference, as it almost certainly won't be. In My Year of Living Dangerously, Hide was very careful to say supporters, not members, and this has the potential to turn into something as vague as website visitors. Several years back, ACT was cagey about its membership levels and preferred to point out the number of subscribers to its e-mailing list for The Letter, a weekly newsletter cum gossip-sheet. Expect John Armstrong and other journalists to pounce on the membership levels at the 2008 conference, if they remain low.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hide vs. Mallard - part II

I'm pleased to see Margaret Wilson threw out Hide's complaint about Trevor Mallard. Hide did not do himself any credit with this - a real "sideshow" to promoting policies if ever there was one:
[Wilson] said the ACT Party leader did not raise the matter in time and had not done it the right way.

"If a member wishes to have the Speaker refer the matter to the Privileges Committee, the member must act immediately....

Mr Hide said he was disappointed by Ms Wilson's response.

"It is difficult to imagine what constitutes a breach of privilege if punching an MP in the head does not," he said.

"The Speaker's decision not to refer my complaint to the privileges committee sends a very poor message throughout New Zealand."

Mr Hide previously said he would lay a complaint with the police if Ms Wilson did not call in the privileges committee.

Today he said he was considering his options for taking the matter further.
Hide has a golden opportunity to talk about tax this week with the launch of We're Here to Help. Will he take it?

We're Here to Help premiere

I'd have to agree with Dave Henderson, on whose "battle" with the IRD the new film (on general release from tomorrow) We're Here to Help is based. This is what was reported in the Press this morning:
Henderson said all the Labour MPs were invited to the premiere of We're Here to Help in Riccarton last night, but none arrived.

"It is time they got over it," said Henderson, 52.

"I'm just a Kiwi boy and they screwed up and it is about time they acknowledged it and fixed it."

Henderson said the Inland Revenue Department was "cowardly" for not attending."If they had any spirit at all they would acknowledge they screwed up and earn people's respect, but they are so stupid. The fact they can't do that is disappointing and sad," he said.
While Henderson is strongly linked to ACT and Rodney Hide, his ordeal could have happened to anyone. It would have been a nice touch, I think, if the head of the IRD or even Michael Cullen (who personally attacked Henderson in the House years back with some particularly nasty and moreover false allegations) had turned up with a bottle of champagne, an apology and cleared the air. But I guess the rifts run deep.

For anyone who's not familiar with the We're Here to Help story, I'll cover it in a later post - and I also hope to review the film here once I've gone along to it. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Comments in ODT on Geoff Robinson vs. Rodney Hide

For the benefit of readers living north of the Waitaki River, I reproduce comments by Clarke Isaacs, radio reviewer for the Otago Daily Times (7/11/07, p. 28):
The normally mild-mannered, even-handed Geoff Robinson, co-presenter of Radio New Zealand National's Morning Report, was uncharacteristically aggressive the Tuesday before last when interviewing Act New Zealand leader Rodney Hide about his intended complaint to the much-publicised right-cross Cabinet Minister Trevor Mallard landed on National's Tau Henare.

Robinson's interviewing partner, the feisty, no-holds-barred Sean Plunket, might have to look to his laurels should Robinson find that he quite likes a fiery questioning style when politicians front up to him.
I hope not - the complete insolence shown by Sean Plunket is a major reason why I have all but given up on National Radio in recent times. Until Radio NZ gets a desperately needed overhaul to drag it out of the 1970s, I'll keep listening to the BBC World Service.

Ron Smith - update

Following my previous post, I sought comment from Dr. Ron Smith. His response:
Dear Geoffrey,

I am overseas at the moment. I will hope to have a look at your dissertation late November, when I get back.

I am no longer involved with ACT, though I have some contact with ACT and former ACT persons.

Regards

Ron Smith
This is pretty much what I expected to hear. As I understand it there are a lot of people around who were enthusiastic about ACT in its incipient and more wealthy phase around the mid-1990s, but who dropped off as the party became more institutionalized and more socially conservative.

Another example might be Craig Heatley, founder of Sky Television, who was one of ACT's early big financial backers, but as far as I can make out has had little involvement in recent years. Unlike Smith, Heatley was never on the list (indeed, his role in ACT was always rather secretive). I'll see if I can turn up some information on what happened to Heatley and report back in a later post, although I suspect I will not be able to find out much.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ron Smith and nuclear power

In the latest issue of the New Zealand International Review (November/December 2007, pp. 2-5), there is an article by Dr. Ron Smith, who is head of international relations at the Political Science department at the University of Waikato. Smith is a regular contributor to the Review and his latest article advocates the introduction of nuclear power to New Zealand.

Here is the ACT connection: in the party's formative phase, Smith was foreign affairs spokesman and was quoted in some media reports around 1996. Although I don't have exact figures on hand at the moment, I believe he was ranked at around 15 on the ACT list in 1996. I'm not sure of his involvement today, but I think he must have dropped his level of involvement, as he was not on the list at all in 2005 (or 2002 or 1999, as far as I can make out). One reason Smith may have lost interest in ACT is that Derek Quigley took over the foreign affairs role in fairly short order and Smith therefore lost his niche.

However, his ideas are clearly still closely aligned with ACT policy. In the Review article, he first criticises the nuclear-free policy and quotes the Somers Report of 1992, which concluded that there was a minimal risk from nuclear ships. Says Smith:
In the light of this it seems simply perverse to maintain a ban on something which is evidently harmless. This would be the case whatever the political consequences of doing so might be. If it turned out that the effect of maintaining such a ban was adversely to effect [sic] relations with the world's remaining super-power and a major trading partner, this would provide an additional and cogent reason for seriously addressing the matter. The fact that we are evidently unable to do so speaks volumes for the extent to which adherence to anti-nuclear dogma seems to cripple the thought processes of otherwise rational persons.
Similar arguments have been put forward in numerous ACT publications over the years. An essay by Ken Shirley in Liberal Thinking (2003) comes to mind in particular. Like Shirley, Smith points out that hospitals and universities use nuclear technology, so the nuclear-free claim is inaccurate. I would agree that the nuclear-free brigade does get over shrill and self-righteous at times, all for the sake of "national identity", and the great lather that campaigners work themselves up into over semantics is something that I have never particularly cared for.

But the remainder of Smith's article is a little odd. He attempts to argue that nuclear power would be cheaper and misleadingly uses the 2.3 c/kWh figure. This might be true for running costs, but anyone who has looked into the subject will know that the big costs with nuclear power come in the decommissioning phases. As I recall, the new nuclear power plant being built in Finland is costing some staggering figure (around the $5b mark and that is US$). Further, Smith inflates the costs of renewable power by building in a "backup" charge because of its supposed unreliability. Given the diversification over hydroelectric power stations in different parts of the country, not to mention wind turbines, as well as the supplementary generation of thermal and coal stations such as Huntly, this seems a bit unfair. And anyway, since when is nuclear power suddenly 100% reliable? Surely it could be taken out in a terrorist attack (which given Smith's hawkish defence stance is probably the sort of thing that he would think likely!)?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Radio NZ "bias" - the Coddington connection

An opinion piece by Finlay Macdonald in today's Sunday Star-Times discusses a survey of New Zealand journalists which apparently found they lean more to the left than right.
Are journalists biased? It's a bit like asking how long a piece of string is you need more information. Nevertheless, the authors of a recent survey of New Zealand newsrooms bravely posed the question of political "orientation" to a self-selected sample of hacks who were asked to rate themselves on a scale from hard left to hard right. The fact that most considered themselves very mildly left or just "neutral" possibly also explains why the headline Kiwi Media Hot Bed of Right Wing Extremism Shock! never made it to print.
I can't find where the raw survey comes from (if anyone knows, please tell me), but the Mediawatch programme was also to discuss the survey today (I haven't listened to the programme, but is available here). How does this all relate to ACT? Macdonald goes on:
The perennial bugbear of National MPs, National Radio (sorry, Radio New Zealand National), got a sound thrashing, too. It had become a "cosy little haven of sad lefties and politically correct Treaty separatists," according to McCully.
In 2003, Deborah Coddington, then an ACT MP, published a report called "Saving Public Radio : A report on bias at National Radio". To give some flavour, here is an extract from page 43:
National Radio lacks organisational diversity

Radio New Zealand is a politically narrow, non-diverse organisation which is
unrepresentative and skewed clearly toward pro-interventionism. National Radio lacks a single presenter with clear, pro-market views. There is a lack of diversity among regular guests selected by the company. It is in breach of several Charter requirements, including the overarching obligation to provide “comprehensive” services of a high quality, and requirements to meet the needs of “varied interests” in the community.
Regardless of one's point of view, the report is an interesting read and Coddington does some good empirical work which is so often lacking (such as in Macdonald's above-quoted piece). But as anyone who has ever looked into "media bias" knows, the subject is a minefield. My criticism of National Radio is more on the level and style of its news coverage than its political-leanings. News coverage at Radio NZ at weekends is virtually non-existent, with no dedicated news programme all weekend, regardless of what events happen at home and abroad. A case in point today was the state of emergency declared in Pakistan - a big international story. At the very least, it should be rebroadcasting some programmes from the BBC World Service. Another frustration I have is that Radio NZ never reinstated its "Today in Parliament" and "This Week in Parliament" programmes after a spat with presenter Tom Frewen some years back.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hide vs. Mallard

This week, Rodney Hide took a complaint to the Speaker about the scuffle between Labour minister Trevor Mallard and National MP Tau Henare, in which the former admitted assaulting the latter, as NZPA reported:

ACT leader Rodney Hide says he will go to the police if his privileges complaint over the stoush between Trevor Mallard and Tau Henare goes unheard.

Mr Hide said last week he would lay a breach of privilege complaint with Speaker Margaret Wilson over the altercation which saw Mr Mallard punch Mr Henare.

Hide has posted his full letter to Wilson at his blog. In keeping with Hide's new image of being nice to everyone, he bends over to compliment Mallard to begin with:
I feel sorry for Trevor. I have known him for over a decade. He is a boisterous, aggressive and, at times, nasty Member of Parliament. As the Prime Minister would say, “That’s Trevor!” But he has never to my knowledge been physically violent. His punch is definitely out of character and I can’t imagine what he was thinking at the time.
Ah well, so why take a complaint then? Hide goes on:
We can’t ignore the incident and by implication say punching someone in Parliament is okay as long as you apologise or whatever other excuse can be proffered. As the TV ads implore us – it’s never okay. It’s what you do now Madam Speaker that counts. It’s not just the signal it sends the country; it is also the signal it sends MPs. What happens now if an MP threatens to punch another MP? We would have to act against that – but we would look hypocritical if we did nothing when actual punches were thrown.
Hide continues in a similar vein, justifying why he was late in filing the complaint and urging the Speaker to take action. Frankly, I think Hide's move is foolish. It's one thing to change one's image and be a "nice guy", but quite another to become all sanctimonious about others' conduct. Personally, I think Mallard should have been charged with assault, but I think the public mood is more divided. Mallard took the first opportunity to do a mea culpa and apologise for his actions, an attitude which New Zealanders will usually respect from someone who has made a mistake. Compare the arrogance shown by David Benson-Pope who continually refused to admit he was in the wrong, before finally being brought down.

In any case, jurisdiction over such matters does not rest with Hide. He was not the one assaulted, nor is he an MP in the Labour or National parties. Neither is he a Conduct Czar for all of Parliament. Perhaps it would help if I put it this way: will gunning for Mallard get ACT any more support? The answer is clearly no. Suggestion: the We're Here to Help film on the ill-conduct of the IRD comes out this Thursday. Use this as a hook to talk about tax, tax, tax. An ACT issue - not a non-issue.