Monday, October 31, 2005

Transmission Gully- The Real Story - Part 1


There has been an enormous amount of noise about this proposed project. This is primarily of interest to Wellingtonians and most of the noise is ill informed. I have been following this project for some years, and have been closely involved in this issue in the past. Unlike most commentators on this, I have read the mountains of paper done on this, and talked to those involved. It is important to have some background and history to see how we got to where we are. Before I do that, I should make it clear I have no vested interest in any outcome on this – I don’t own property anywhere in the Wellington region, or have any stake in any businesses that would gain or lose from the building of any road along this route.

The first installment is some basic history of the highway north of Wellington, how the Transmission Gully option came about and where things got to in the mid 1990s - then a description of the changes to land transport funding that occurred as part of the reforms of the 1980s/1990s, which Labour and National implemented. For those wanting to read the lot, you will find the rest if you search my blog for the other 5 parts.

Background

The concept for a motorway along the route called Transmission Gully had been mooted for decades before serious discussion on the option started in the late 1980s. State Highway 1 out of Wellington had, up till that point, been developed along the corridor known as the Centennial Highway (as it was opened in the 1930s), from the bottom of Ngauranga Gorge through to Paekakariki. The earthworks for both sections were considerable, until that time, the main highway out of Wellington comprised largely what is now Paekakariki Hill Road. It shouldn’t be forgotten that long before this, a track which developed into a highway, now known as State Highway 2 – Rimutaka Hill Road – had also been developed.

It had been developed over that time including the first motorway in New Zealand, from Johnsonville to Tawa, in the 1950s. By that time, Wellington’s rail electrification project had been extended to Paekakariki, with the main trunk line having been shifted from what is now the Johnsonville line, to the twin tunnels between Wellington and Tawa that now exist. The motorway was extended in the late 1950s to bypass Johnsonville and Tawa, and the highway in Ngauranga Gorge widened to 6-lanes in that time.

In the 1950s/1960s, there were grand projects developed by the then National Roads Board (part of the Ministry of Works) for motorway projects across the country. The Wellington-Foxton motorway was designated, essentially including an extension from Porirua towards Mana, a bypass to the east of Mana (behind what is now Camborne), converting the highway from Plimmerton to Pukerua Bay into a motorway, a motorway bypass of Pukerua Bay, widening centennial highway to 4-lanes, a motorway to the east of Paekakariki following the railway line. This would extend to a motorway bypass of Paraparaumu, Waikanae and eventually Otaki and Levin! The proposed Kapiti Western Link Road will largely follow the route set aside for that motorway.

This plan was the basis for developing SH1 out of Wellington from the 1950s until the mid 1990s. In that time, the main improvements to the route were:

- 4-laning (to motorway standard) between Porirua and Paremata in the 1970s;
- Linking Ngauranga Gorge to the Wellington Urban Motorway with the Ngauranga Interchange (1984);
- Installation of a roundabout at Paremata to significantly ease access to and from the highway at that point (1986);
- Replacing the traffic light controlled intersection at Mungavin Avenue Porirua with an interchange (1987);
- Replacing the old ramp bridge at Porirua and the traffic light controlled intersection with a flyover (1994).

With progress on the highway south of Paremata largely in hand, emphasis started to shift to the increasingly congested corridor from Paremata to Kapiti. Growth in Kapiti, encouraged partly by the extension of the rail electrification to Paraparaumu in 1983, had seen a significant increase in car commuters to Wellington from that district.
Neither safety, nor route closures were a significant issue at that time, but the National Roads Board was aware of congestion at Mackays Crossing and Paremata (essentially where 4-lane sections of highway ended) which needed addressing. The old plans for the Wellington-Foxton motorway were dusted off and reviewed, and significant parts were abandoned, particularly north of Waikanae. However, some of the priorities in the 1980s for the next ten years included what had become the Camborne Bypass and the Pukerua Bay bypass. These were seen as the next logical steps and the National Roads Board starting talking publicly about upgrading the existing State Highway 1. It was then that an old idea, that had not been talked about much for decades was revived.
The appearance of Transmission Gully

In the late 1980s, residents of Mana/Plimmerton and to a lesser extent Pukerua Bay started to get perturbed about the plans for large bypasses of their villages, and wanted a solution that had long been forgotten about – a motorway through Transmission Gully - a quiet rural gully that was named after the national grid electricity lines draped along much of its length. Partly due to the uproar about the proposed bypasses, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) undertook a brief study of the options for more road capacity between Paremata and Kapiti, although PCE has no specific role in making decisions, and came to two conclusions:

1. Before any major investment in roading is undertaken, public transport should be upgraded to reduce growth in commuter traffic and to provide a more environmentally friendly alternative; and
2. Only after those improvements are complete, should a new road be built – and it should be through Transmission Gully.

This started the large scale lobbying to shift planning from the coastal route to Transmission Gully - although most Transmission Gully advocates ignore the public transport recommendation. Some early investigations by Transit NZ in the early 1990s concluded that Transmission Gully was probably cheaper than upgrading the current highway. However, upgrading the current highway had the significant advantage that it could proceed in stages to address the most serious sections progressively. For example, much of Transmission Gully effectively duplicates the highway from Paremata to Tawa, and congestion is worst at Paremata. The big safety issue then were fatalities between Plimmerton and Pukerua Bay, where the death rate was several times the national average (Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki did not have a similar rate of accidents).

During the early-mid 1990s Transit NZ was stuck – as local authorities and local residents kept pushing for Transmission Gully –then estimated at around $250 million (very much a once over estimate as no big motorway projects had been built in New Zealand for many years). Porirua City Council withdrew the land designations for the Pukerua Bay and Mana Bypasses.

As Transmission Gully at that cost only had a benefit/cost ratio of 2.3:1 (compared to the funding threshold of 5:1), it would not proceed for many years. Transit regarded the congestion at Paremata to be unacceptable, and started consulting on options to alleviate it. There were three:

1. A 4-lane bypass following the railway line behind Mana with intersections at either end;
2. A 2-lane bypass similarly;
3. Widening Mana Esplanade to operate with an extra lane in one direction at peak times only, with traffic lights to improve local access.

All options were expected to be fundable, all would ease congestion, although the best option would have been a 4-lane bypass. That would remove traffic from Mana and relieve congestion. Local consultation saw loud opposition to doing anything that was affordable. People didn’t want any of the options – they wanted Transmission Gully – ignorant of where the money would come from, as it wasn’t available. They were told Transmission Gully would be 15-20 years away and that Transit was legally bound to not sit back and do nothing about Paremata/Mana in that time. Residents ignorantly asked for money that would be spent on the proposals be spent on Transmission Gully- with the proposals costing around $15-$25 million, and Transmission Gully (then) looking like it would cost over 10x that much, that would have been wasted money as well. Little point in part building a road – it would be a road to nowhere.
Transit was stuck - it either breaches its statutory requirement to maintain and build a safe and efficient highway network, or builds an option the local residents don't want. The Minister of Transport at the time said that the decisions were not for politicians but for (what was then) Transfund and Transit to sort out, with the available funding.

Change in funding framework

Given a lot of the discussion is around decisions on funding, it is worthwhile understanding what the funding framework is for roading.

Around the late 80s, some major changes to how roads were managed and funded were about to be implemented. Up until 1989, road funding in New Zealand was decided by the National Roads Board, chaired by the Minister of Works (who may or may not have also been the Minister of Transport). Lists of projects were developed by district roads councils, which included local politicians, and decisions as to what would proceed, while informed by some analysis, were often politically driven. For example, Taranaki gained many new projects in the late 70s, early 80s, to complement the Think Big projects. The use of roading to shore up votes in marginal electorates was not unknown.

The Transit New Zealand Act 1989 changed this – as part of the reforms of the fourth Labour government – responsibility for funding, planning and building roads was radically altered. This went through several further stages under the Bolger National government, but in general it saw:

- Funding decisions shift from a Ministerially chaired Board to a statutorily independent board (Transfund, now Land Transport New Zealand);
- Decisions on how to prioritise funding move from political whim to statutory criteria (efficiency and safety under National, now more complicated under Labour);
- Funding determined by annual budget shifted to a dedicated fund from road users (the National Land Transport Fund comprising all road user charges, all motor vehicle registration fee, all LPG and CNG tax and now around 22.5c/l of petrol tax – 18.7c goes to the Crown account);
- Planning and development of state highways determined by Transit New Zealand, local authorities bid for funding from Land Transport New Zealand for local roads and public transport;
- Actual construction and maintenance of roads carried out by contractors, as all work is contracted out by competitive tender (Ministry of Works was privatised).

In that framework, politics was more removed from road building than ever before. Road maintenance and emergency work to fix natural disasters was the priority, the all new road projects were ranked according to a formula of benefit/cost analysis to ensure the projects with the biggest bang for their buck (in terms of reducing delay, fuel/maintenance savings, accidents prevented) got funding priority. At the time, when funding was tight (Labour and then National were both trying to eliminate budget deficits and unwilling to let more petrol tax be dedicated to roading), projects only got funded if they had a benefit/cost ratio of 5:1. This effectively meant, very few big projects got funded. In Wellington, there was, on average, only one major project going on at any one time.

Over time, the funding was loosened. National in 1997 increased petrol tax and matched that with an increase in funds from petrol tax dedicated to the National Land Transport Fund. This meant projects with a benefit/cost ratio of 4:1 could proceed. Labour has since increased petrol tax for land transport twice and started dedicating funding directly from the Crown Account into land transport in particular regions. Auckland has been promised $900 million, Wellington $225 million (plus up to $660 for the Western Corridor), Bay of Plenty $150 million (all over 10 years, the Auckland money started in 2004/05). This is funding that could be said to come from general taxation or from the $660 million p.a. gathered from petrol tax for the Crown Account.

Labour also changed the funding framework with the Land Transport Management Act, but largely kept many of the fundamentals intact. Benefit/cost ratios are no longer the decider of funding, although projects should, at least, be efficient, so have a benefit/cost ratio clearly over 1:1. Most projects have benefit/cost ratios over 2.5:1, so are good projects.

Politicians don’t decide what roads proceed and what ones don’t proceed. Local politicians certainly decide what local road projects get punted up to Land Transport New Zealand for funding, and express priorities for Land Transport New Zealand to consider, but ultimately that Board makes the decisions and the Land Transport Management Act explicitly stops the Minister of Transport directing the Board of Land Transport New Zealand on what to fund or not fund. He can advise on priorities and determine how much money goes on groups of activities (i.e. state highway construction), although that has yet to happen, but he wont decide.
Peter Dunne should know this, he voted for the first legislation that made this law in 1988/1989.
National MPs should know this, National strengthened this in the mid 1990s. This is a good thing – politicians are not best placed to decide how to spend road users money on roads. Some of the least politically sexy projects are quite critical and save lives – for example, ten of millions are spent annually on small projects, like widening intersections, realignments, widening bridges, improved lighting, friction surfacing slippery sections of road – projects that in themselves would never be interesting to politicians, but which are critical to eliminating blackspots and improving safety of the network.

In addition, the Land Transport Management Act allowed toll roads to be built, and private investment in new roads – but the toll road has to stack up on its own merits. So far Cabinet has approved tolling of two new roads – the ALPURT B2 motorway extension north of Orewa and the Tauranga HarbourLink project.
Tomorrow: How did Transit respond to the call for Transmission Gully in the '90s? How did the local residents of Plimmerton/Mana stall upgrades to the current highway that would save lives?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Winston, Helen Clark and the long slow demise

Helen Clark had two options after the election, she has two parties to negotiate confidence and supply with, but neither party in itself could deliver the numbers. She had 51 seats including Anderton's, and had to choose between 6 seats and the Greens, or 7 seats and NZ First. Let's consider those choices. The Maori Party and United Future individually or together, do not deliver enough. She needed either NZ First or the Greens, with one of the others (or both). She chose Winston soooo what does this really mean?

1) The Greens will be fuming, Labour knows the Greens would never bring down a Labour Government if it meant National had a chance. The Greens have got some crumbs, but any deal with the Greens would have to have included the Maori Party, as it would have been nearly impossible for Winston to work with them. The Greens have been pushed to the sidelines - which means there is little hope for those on the left that a radical social agenda would be implemented - in fact it has been ruled out. The Greens would have wanted a coalition supported by the Maori party - that would have certainly fired up the left of Labour, but would almost certainly have led Labour to certain defeat in 2008. In addition, the bad blood between Labour and the Maori Party is still too fresh. Clark has moved to the centre.

2) The Maori Party is pleased enough that it did well out of the election, and can now perform as a parliamentary entity voting on a case by case basis. This will please its supporters who would have been incensed had it backed National, but also did not want to be Labour's walkovers. It has done ok - and can wait till 2008 to build a greater presence. Certainly Pita Sharples is an enormous asset compared to Tariana.

3) United Future must be relieved that it matters, a little bit, to Labour. However, it can hardly claim that it is a party of the centre now that it is keeping Labour in power for two terms in a row. Peter Dunne can only claim credit for stopping Labour doing a range of things he doesn't like, and then there is Transmission Gully - which is his own pet Wellington Think Big project which has a negative value to the nation, and worth very few votes.

4) NZ First has to be rather happy about its position. Winston has had Helen Clark surrender a big portfolio to him, albeit outside Cabinet, and some policy success. He will lose support from those who vote for him and hate Helen Clark, much like he would've had he backed Brash. His Treaty of Waitangi policy is nearly in tatters from supporting Labour, and he may well have ensured his political retirement in 2008 - not enough in Tauranga will support him for stopping tolls on the second Tauranga Harbour Bridge.

5) Labour must be relieved to be in government, but concerned about what it has got itself in for. Two parties that voted en masse against civil unions and prostitution law reform now keep Labour in power -foreign affairs is not an important enough portfolio to be in Cabinet, and Labour now looks to have been a bit too desperate to govern. Shades of 1996-1998 - except it was National then. Many Labour supporters, hopeful for a Green/Maori coalition will be disappointed and disgusted - very few people are ambivalent about Winston, and Labour will pay just like National did. The one card Labour has that is most useful is that it has four parties that it can seek support on legislation - which means it is NOT dependent entirely on NZ First and United Future, just rather hamstrung by them. However, it will be interesting to see how long that can be sustained.

6) National must be smiling, this government looks a bit of a joke and could prove to be the death knell for NZ First and strip more votes away from United Future, both of which will probably benefit National. Now National with a revitalised caucus can sit back and look like a government in waiting, and watch three or less years of Clark using Winston, Dunne and when she wants to - the Greens and Maori Party. National has been burnt by Winston's games before, and will now use every chance to show that he and Dunne are parties that support the status quo.

7) ACT? Well while still thrilled to still be around, ACT can laugh at the Winston games, while it goes through its own internal rumblings about where it is heading. It is still a party of conservatives and liberals, who differ on many issues - but once again, for the fourth MMP parliamentary term, it is not in government.

Helen Clark is a political prostitute willing to sell out to Winston Peters to remain in power, but I am sure the Nats would do the same, again - but now it is time to watch the games, and see how much NZ First brings down this government.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Violence against children isn't that serious

is it? Compared to sex crimes, the offences get less attention, far lower sentences and nobody wants a list of where people who beat up and torture children live. Avoid the next section if you are sensitive, none of this is pleasant.

The status quo, exemplified by the case I am about to explain, implies it is far more acceptable to beat a two year old child with an iron rod, kick him, burn him with a cigarette, put his hand on the stove element, hold down in the bath or anything of the sort - than to suck his penis or have him suck yours. However, you might get five years for any of the former, but 14 for the latter. In fact, just kick him you might get two years - maximum sentence - you might rupture his spleen, but hey, at least you're not sexually perverted!

Stuff has reported on the following case - it is still at court, so the guilt of those named has yet to be established - but this case is an example of something that happens all too often.

When you next notice the tax you pay, think about how you are paying for the likes of Harley Mac Wharewera, 19, and Kane Jeremy Tawa, 23, both unemployed, who have been charged with willfully ill treating a child and assaulting a child.

They are alleged to have tortured a boy aged 2 in a bedroom dubbed “the cell”:

- “Along with regular punching and kicking, they would pick the toddler up, throw him over their shoulders, and "body slam" him on to a mattress”
- “On one occasion, Wharewera allegedly jumped off a window sill and landed with the full force of his weight on the boy while Tawa held him down.
- Is alleged that Wharewera forced the boy to eat dog faeces after locking him in a small cupboard and threatening him with assault.

There is more, and the mother is alleged to have permitted it to happen.

The boy was admitted to the intensive care unit at Whakatane Hospital on September 21 suffering serious head injuries but has since been discharged.

Anyone who treats a child like that is beyond description, Dr Josef Mengele treated children with similar respect – and I doubt if most parents or people would think that any entities performing such acts upon a child deserve to live.

I don’t care if perpetrators were beaten up as children – that’s very sad – it excuses nothing. Most rape victims don’t pursue it themselves.

What is equally vile is when the mother sits back and lets it happen – but under the NZ criminal justice system that is barely punished. James Whakaruru’s mother, who handed her boyfriend the vacuum cleaner pipe which ultimately killed the boy, got a suspended sentence and I last read she had been studying in Auckland. If a parent who can be arsed fucking to create the child, and claim cash from everyone else to pay for it fails to defend their child from assault – they are little better than the assaulter.

However, I hear the whimpering simpering leftie liberal types saying – they are victims of unemployment or women not feeling empowered. Fuck off! Let them do that in front of you to a child – tell me then who the victim is.

The criminal justice system has two significant perversities. A parent can completely abrogate their responsibilities to protect their children, and get off lightly- when it should be their top priority. Secondly, violent assaults on children are treated lightly compared to sexual assault. If the men were being charged for sexual acts upon the child, they would face sentences of up to 14 years – assault of a child is 2 years and willfully mistreating is 5 years.

This is not to minimize sexual abuse which can be highly destructive and harmful and not to be condoned – but why is violent abuse worthy of such short sentences, when it can be as damaging or more damaging. Would paralyzing a child or permanently brain damaging him be not as serious as sexual assault? I suspect almost all kinds of sexual abuse are less serious than causing such permanent physical harm. While there are calls to have a register of sexual criminals so parents know when someone dodgy moves close to their house – there are creatures who perform equally and sometimes worse crimes on children, which are not sexual, who nobody bothers thinking about.

Violence against children doesn’t upset politicians as much as sexual abuse. Who knows why? Sex makes people more upset because the offender is getting perverse gratification, but the sadist also does – although I guess culturally violence is a more acceptable pleasure than sexual arousal.

This is a part of the other world out there that I am sure almost all readers are not a part of – it is a world where lazy useless lumps of scum, not content with utterly pointless existences where they live off of the earnings of others, torture children. This is utterly nothing more despicable than any adult deliberately engaging in and savouring the infliction of pain, humiliation and harm on a child – who at once is unable to respond and is dependent on the trust, thought and compassion of an adult to nurture him.

All those who have tortured or stood by and let torture of a child be undertaken are worthy of nothing less than getting knocked down by a truck and having their entrails washed away by the rain. If the people charged are found guilty may that happen to them – may they never be allowed to be near children again, or to breed – and maybe, just maybe, this government or the next bans those found guilty of such crimes from living on welfare.

I don’t see why any of us should be forced to fund entities who have as much value as flies.

Note also that if you failed to pay your taxes, you would be guilty till proven innocent - and be treated with far less respect than those alleged to have tortured children -see where the state's priorities are?

Moore on Australia and political correctness

Mike Moore seems to have made some valid points in his DomPost article . I’ve tended to think of Moore as being, on the one hand a bit of a lightweight, but also someone who found his feet outside politics – a valuable Chairman who had a single minded focus, and a man who – when he was convinced of arguments- was prepared to back them up. His career hit its apex being head of the WTO, not leading Labour to two election defeats and getting stabbed in the back by the leftwing fascist Labour feminocracy shortly thereafter.

Moore talked about the divergence in relationship between Australia and NZ. Australia has little interest in the relationship with New Zealand. While it is useful to have access to another market- effectively no bigger than Melbourne – it is hardly critical and the Aussies have it already. The US and Asia are far more important, and the New Zealand relationship with the US, while being friends is no more than that. The tradeoff for some is to say Aussie is at risk of a terror attack far more than NZ – which may be true – and that pleases the Green anti-nuclear mob, for whom the US can never do any good.

The old story of the tradeoff between the nuclear ban and trade is true – it is a truth the Greens don’t care about, because they are against trade growth (see transporting things hurts the environment!) although they are never against using the money from it to pay for state of the art healthcare or trains or whatever their fetish is this week. Labour wont dare admit to the trade off because the nuclear ban is something the student peaceniks in them are not prepared to give up. They have some fatuous belief that banning nuclear weapons, particularly those held by countries that share our values, will result in more peace. National wont confront the largely brainless mass of New Zealanders raised on Greenpeace propaganda, fed through our schools that anything nuclear is bad and hurts whales – the same mass who happily use nuclear power on holidays to Europe and the US.

Moore more importantly lamblasts the political correctness of today - something he said Latham has "as a good bullshit detector" - while noting in New Zealand there are publicly funded books calling modern health methods of stopping smoking, eating healthier and exercise as “white man’s racist answers to Maori problems”. He quotes vaccinations being considered a form of "colonialism", and cervical screenings "contradict cultural norms". We still have the despicable anti-science bullshit that originally came out with Anna Penn and the late Irihapeti Ramsden and nursing cultural safety – something Ken Mair defended at the time. Something the National Party was silent about at the time, but what do you expect from Jim Bolger?

Why didn’t National find this before the election? This sort of vile nonsense is beyond words and I would love to have seen Helen Clark and Annette King defending state funding of this mumbo-jumbo. Nazi Germany produced the same level of science in its propaganda, and does the Maori Party defend it? Given Ken Mair is one of the Maori Party’s chief negotiators with Labour – I wouldn’t be surprised.

It is also interesting that Mark Latham understands something the Greens don't - why protectionism hurt the people Labour is supposed to care about is telling – the Greens are xenophobically opposed to foreign made goods unless they are really special! The Greens would rather protect local manufacturers than ensure the poor get cheaper shoes for their kids – but they see it as protecting jobs, keeping jobs from those poor Chinese people who without the (relatively) low wage job would otherwise (without a welfare state) have to live cultivating a subsistence existence on a farm, rather than earn money and be able to better themselves. It is such economic nonsense that it is barely worth arguing against - it is the economics of adolescents.

Friday, October 07, 2005

UK Conservative Party leadership


David Farrar has been actually AT the conference and watched it all – and it is an exciting race to see who becomes the new leader – out of David Davis, David Cameron, Ken Clarke, Liam Fox and Malcolm Rifkind – all striving to rescue the party from its three in a row defeat, which in British terms (with 4-5 year electoral terms) is enormous. Michael Howard has stepped down with dignity, and can, at least, claim to have started moving the party from the old fashioned grey haired “born to rule” reputation it has had, and won some seats at the last election. However the party needs more, and this is why…

Labour has not only stolen the middle ground, it has moved over to the right on much economic and some social policy. Allowing private hospitals to provide NHS services, introducing tertiary education fees, bravely entering the war against Iraq, maintaining an agenda of more open markets and some reform of the EU – those are centre-right policies. The policies that half of the Tories would endorse, and their voters certainly have. All the Conservative Party has been playing with is scaremongering over immigration (pandering somewhat to latent racism), Euroskepticism, being tougher on crime and more choice in public services – in other words a bit more to the right than Labour. In an environment where the British economy is ticking over ok, particularly compared to sick western Europe, most Brits are reasonably content. There is no great mood for change – and Blair has won as a result.

The Conservative Party looks geriatric. It has been trying to move from that, but it is still largely seen as a party for high income, old, heterosexual white men and their wives – and I use those terms deliberately. Even the name – Conservative Party – implies that radical change are coming and they don’t want them, they want to keep things the way they have always been. It is difficult to see how the Party relates to young people other than those who are posh and driven to lead others. Equally, as much as it tries, ethnic minorities and gay people always seem like they are wanted for image – but not really wanted in the Party. Note this is public impressions – it is a party for well off powerful people who want to govern, not for all businesspeople, or people who want less government or people who are diverse.

It is like Don Brash’s ill calculated use of the term “mainstream New Zealand” – which was meant to appeal to the Christian right of which he is not a part, and meant to appeal to the bigotry of many – the problem is Brash doesn’t really believe in it, and it shows. He would hardly say that ethnic minorities (e.g. his wife!), gay and lesbian, Maori or others are not mainstream. Unfortunately the Tories have not got a good record on looking liberal on personal liberty matters – which is one reason the Liberal Party, forerunner of part of the Liberal Democrats, existed.

So can the Tories find a leader from the existing stable of contenders to modernise the party, through off this stuffy image AND establish a clear place on the political spectrum to appeal to British voters sufficiently to win the next election.

The problem is, I don’t think it can.

Liam Fox and Malcolm Rifkind are too far from the past and wont get very far

Ken Clarke can put on a performance, but is far too cozy with Europe to succeed. He is clearly the leftwing contender, and sees the main reason the Tories are losing are because they are not occupying the middle. I suspect Ken Clarke would be seen as a tired old has-been who could hold a Cabinet posting with some dignity, but that is that. Clarke did talk about individual choice and lower tax – though we are really only talking increments here.

The most publicity has been about the two Davids, with much been about comparing their ages and backgrounds. Davis is older, and has not gone to private school, and has shown himself to be slightly more socially conservative. Cameron has much more youth and vitality, and a survey of undecided voters undertaken by the BBC indicated that he had the edge, by looking vibrant, “not like a politician” and intelligent. His wealthy background did not influence most of them negatively.

I think David Cameron would be the most popular leader, with the electorate, of any of the contenders. His talk of a modern Conservative Party (compared with New Labour) which is younger looking and appears to be more socially liberal – would help win some people over - although it will look curiously like a new version of New Labour.

However, he will be hamstrung by not being able to offer British voters a compelling reason to vote Conservative. He wont offer serious tax cuts – so they wont be voting for their own money back. He wont offer substantially greater choice in health and education, he actually campaigns against allowing people to opt out of the NHS with their money to go private. He doesn’t want to attack Labour’s nanny state approach to everything from school lunches to health and safety, to its willingness to let local government do anything nutty it wants. In other words, he is going to campaign to win largely on the basis that Gordon Brown is tired old Labour with a new brand on it – and he can offer someone if not something fresh.

If it wins the election for the Conservative Party that is all they will care about – which is sad. This is a proud party which has done much for Britain, most recently the reforms of Thatcher that Blair implicitly endorses. If all it stands for it getting into government and not doing as much as Labour is doing - it will be repeating the events of every Tory government from the 1950s through to 1979- conserving! Doing very little. A party that believes in being in power and nothing much else.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats both believe in philosophies, although the Lib Dems are split on theirs! The Conservative Party should believe in individual freedom, and government getting out of the way of businesses and people’s private lives, unless it is necessary to defend their rights.

I’d join it if it did!

Nobel Peace Prize


Mohamed Elbaradei has won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency which he heads – that isn’t a bad result at all, far better than the nomination of Bob Geldof and Bono. Greenpeace expressed reservations, because the IAEA is committed to the continual peaceful use of nuclear power – good!

Greenpeace more than any other international organisation has been responsible for scaremongering a generation about nuclear power – when it is safely used in many countries around the world (outside the former Soviet bloc where it was used with little regard for safety).

Elbaradei has focused efforts on Iran and previously Iraq (and before it withdrew from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, North Korea) not acquiring nuclear weapons – and has performed his job with some dignity. There is little doubt that preventing other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons contributes to peace between countries. There are reports the IAEA wants to pursue Israel – which it can’t as it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty – nor should it be! He also deserves it far more than past winners Jimmy Carter and Kofi Annan – it is hard to forgive Carter for taking the eye off the ball in the Cold War, and Kofi Annan has not been extraordinary as Security General of the UN.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Labour-Greens-Maori

So the Otago Daily Times is claiming that a coalition- confidence/supply agreement looks imminent that basically involves at least a Labour-Anderton coalition (no surprise) with the Greens and the Maori Party. Nobody else is needed. Pita Sharples claims that the Maori Party will support Labour on confidence and supply, and repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act will not be a condition of that support. More specifically, the Maori Party would not bring the government down on that point.

Coalition with the Greens is more likely now, simply because United Future is irrelevant unless the numbers add up some way to make UF relevant for a particular Bill (only likely if the Greens and Maori Party oppose a Bill that UF and NZF support). The resignation of Hobbs, Hawkins and Swain for various reasons (I am guessing competence for the first two, and Swain's new child and his young wife for the third -which is a perfectly respectable reason) leaves some room, although the Clark Cabinet always seemed too big. See if Tizard retains any portfolios outside Cabinet as well - and counts down to retirement from central government.

Of course, NZ First will be key for passing any legislation that the Maori Party opposes, but it was instrumental in passing the Foreshore and Seabed Bill last term.

So if the ODT is right, NZ has a leftwing government, not centre-left as it is more leftwing than 2002-2005, the Maori Party after all is Marxist as I have pointed out, and the Greens are authoritarian in most instincts as I listed here and which PC has also identified here.

Any notion of taxcuts and repeal of race based laws? I'm afraid they are gone by kaitime.

My verdict on Election 2005

As many others have done so, I thought I would publish my verdict on the election. There are basically three conclusions:

1. This was about a challenge from Don Brash to Labour on two issues - tax cuts and race based laws, with a subtext about trusting Labour given a whole host of issues, like the speeding motorcade;

2. Voters either voted for a change in government (National), with those on the Maori roll going for the Maori party to send a different message. Or they voted AGAINST that change (Labour).

3. All other parties - that is other than Labour, National and the Maori Party - did poorly, because they either did not stand for supporting either Labour or National, risked not reaching the 5% threshold and because almost all voters wanted to choose a government - which doesn't mean a coalition partner or supporter on confidence and supply.

Unlike the last three MMP elections, this time voters stopped dabbling with minor parties. Most voters decided it was a choice between changing the government ala Don Brash and National or not, this is different from endorsing Labour - this was Labour's election to lose, and it nearly did.

Large numbers of people turned out to vote out Labour – they abandoned NZ First, United Future, ACT, Christian Heritage and others to vote National – and they sure did. Brash delivered a result that he should be proud of – because it beats anything Jim Bolger achieved after 1990. Bolger only got 35% and 33% respectively in 1993 and 1996, and the 1990 result was in no small part to him promising to abolish the then superannuation surtax and Phil Goff’s tertiary student fees, and then doing quite the opposite (which spawned NZ First).

Brash lost because he blundered in some debates, was not always speaking naturally as himself by correcting the message when his advisors saw it as being not so popular - e.g. privatisation, nuclear ships. He did not show sufficient passion and courage to defend on principle tax cuts and less bureaucracy. Next time he should sharpen the focus as a battle between nanny state Labour and "we trust you a bit more" National. However, it was hard to fight with the economy buoyant. Brash's key success was that he asked the public two questions:

1. Do you want Maori to continue to have laws and taxpayer funding that other New Zealanders cannot receive?
2. Do you want more of your money back when the government is running surpluses and expanding the bureaucracy?

39% said no, but 41% said yes.

The message resonated for many New Zealanders, as shown by the swathe cut through provincial New Zealand by National. Labour has lost much support in cities like Napier, New Plymouth and Hamilton, only the high party vote in the core support bases of south and west Auckland saved them. Labour remains dominant in the big cities – Labour won Auckland - just. It lost the North Shore, but lower income Auckland was scared they would lose benefits under National. Wellington and Christchurch were also won. Wellington wasn’t a surprise, as public servants vote for the incumbent government as a rule, and Christchurch is the people’s republic. National clearly has struck a couple of chords, and with its substantially refreshed caucus will hopefully continue running with that. The risk is that it has a bunch of MPs who will sell out for power once more, feeling they lost because they weren't centrist enough. This is nonsense - National lost because it didn't stick to the message throughout the campaign. It DID play well in one respect - it ignored Labour's pleas to change the terms of the debate, but it did falter at key moments, and these probably cost it the support it badly needed, particularly in the main centres.

Labour, as usual, mobilised those who were scared that tax cuts meant their beloved state health and education systems would fall apart – it perpetuates the myth, beloved by the vested interests who want more money and no competition or accountability, that constantly pumping money into publicly provided health and education makes a huge difference. The beneficiaries of Labour – anyone who chooses not to work, public servants and unionised quasi-monopoly industries (teachers and nurses) came out in force to continue to vote themselves other people’s money. The na├»ve were convinced that Helen Clark would better spend their money than they could, so they came out to vote. National played against that by listing many areas of poor spending - it could have done more of this, and been credible - but didn't have the team doing sufficient research to fight Cullen hard on this.

Others were frightened by Labour and the Maori Party, that abolishing race based law would upset too many radical Maori, and we could have civil war or something not far short of that. Then there are the legions of voters now indoctrinated by Nanny State's schools into loving the Treaty of Waitangi and the guilt industry built around it.

Labour undoubtedly lost some votes to National, and to the Maori Party (although more electorate than party votes), but it gained some from the Greens, the JAP party (Jim Anderton) and the remnants of the Alliance. While in a time of low unemployment and a reasonably buoyant economy Labour should have won, it shows how Brash’s policies of tax cuts and abolishing race based laws were resonant with much of the electorate for it to be so close.

Those who hate the Nanny State hypocrisy of the government and saw in Brash an honest man who would give people back their money, and end special government privileges for Maori, got out to vote. Labour got out its core vote, and used fear to generate votes for the status quo, and it worked. For that, Clark deserves credit for winning a third election – although that victory may not taste so good when she has to share it with so many. More New Zealanders wanted government that tells them what to do and spends their money, than not. She runs a tight ship, and is a model for future PMs in that regard. There is little tolerance of dissent or side agendas – Helen Clark has spent far too long working to get where she is to let the lesser minds of many of her caucus members derail this government. Heather Simpson and Helen Clark (H2 and H1 in common Parliamentary parlance) tolerated the 1980s Labour government, and the debacles of the 1993 and 1996 elections to go on and reshape government to be more closely involved in most aspects of the economy and society. Just think about how much untangling of funding, bureaucracy and regulation would be needed by a free market oriented National government to wind back what Labour has done. Telecommunications, energy, education, the arts, broadcasting, local government, the list goes on and on.

Beyond the two big parties, the Maori Party was the other success story. It won because it had a brand, it had an MP who stood up against Labour on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and Pita Sharples – a man who at best, is a skilled and passionate educator and communicator. The Maori Party harnessed the vast taxpayer funded Maori broadcast media, and with very little policies, became a nationalist rallying cry. Much of the Maori Party’s policy and some of its candidates had been seen before – in the very nationalist Mana Maori Party. Now those voting in the separate Maori seats had a choice, like had happened with NZ First in 1996. This time the party simply said it would be a voice for Maori – as if Maori have one coherent view on the role of government. Nevertheless it worked, and with an overhang of one, the Maori Party has shown that many Maori voters figured out MMP – voting Labour for their party vote and Maori party for the electorate. The test will be the next three years – how critical will the Maori Party be in granting confidence and supply, or supporting key legislation. Will it press Labour towards taking more steps to please Maori voters specifically, and if so, will this backfire by returning those voters to Labour?

Losses for the other parties were rather catastrophic. As Frogblog has already noted, the Greens lost the lowest proportion of votes of all those remaining in Parliament – but clearly it did face some voters reverting to Labour, to bolster its chances of beating National for number 1 spot, but also because polling for the Greens made their 5% spot not always convincing. Wasted votes are avoided by many voters, and the Greens had little new to sell to voters besides “we’ll support Labour and want to spend more of your money on new energy sources, and petrol is running out ha ha ha”. The loss of Nandor Tanczos will also reduce the appeal of the Greens to voters keen on cannabis law reform.

NZ First suffered a loss of protest votes to National. Winston rightfully should feel humiliated having lost his base in Tauranga and is now playing a careful game of not supporting or opposing Labour being in government. His elderly support base are slowly dying off missing Rob Muldoon and the dark ages, his Maori supporters are drifting away, and virtually all of his MPs are invisible and unknown (who’s going to miss Bill Gudgeon and Edwin Perry!). Unless Winston exploits a high profile issue near the next election that National drops the ball on, he is fading away.

United Future understandably is back down to more usual levels, as much of its support from 2002 went back to National. Even absorbing the Outdoor Recreation party and the irrelevant WIN party, did nothing for United Future, which at best is now a place for those who don’t care about the election outcome – but like Peter Dunne – to vote. The soft Christian family vote has probably left for National as well. Once Dunne retires, United Future will be gone, and not a moment too soon!

ACT is glad it survived – it barely did. Rodney Hide made a great effort in Epsom and I trust he will be a vibrant local MP, and deservedly so. No doubt ACT would have picked up more National votes had Epsom been a sure thing, but then that would not have assisted National in forming a government while Dunne and Peters prefer negotiating with the larger of the two main parties. It now has two socially liberal MPs, and it is about time they thought more about that, and let ACT be free of its conservative instincts. It wont of course, which is why I didn’t vote for ACT in the 2005 election. I did in 1996 and it proceeded to disappoint.

Jim Anderton is back down to his personal cult party – how quaint and irrelevant, it’s Labour in drag with a Catholic conservative bent *yawn*.

Beyond that, those who believed God was on their side were wrong – Brian Tamaki has little support outside his tithing sheeple, following him in his quest to take New Zealand to the Dark Ages. The Christian Heritage Party was damned for having tried to convince the public to vote for Graham Capill too many times in the past – Libertarianz beat them in several electorates for the party vote. Methinks Destiny and Christian Heritage would get together, if Brian's ego wasn't so enormous (oh I forgot, he doesn't lead the party - it has nothing to do with him!).

The Alliance similarly must now be down to its last rites, as Libertarianz also beat it in several electorates on the party vote.

Which comes to Libertarianz – a very poor result, less than one thousand votes, despite a tremendous effort campaigning by a range of talented people, some of whom were cutting their teeth bravely on the campaign trail for the first time. At least the party stood this time, and generally did better in electorates it had candidates than those where it did not. Two of our key messages were central to the election – abolishing race based laws, including the Maori seats, and cutting taxes. Sure we wanted to abolish taxation ultimately, but the principle remained – Brash argued it is YOUR money, Clark argued that the world would end if she didn’t have access to it.

Where to from here for Libertarianz? The message remains the same - small government is beautiful and the state should get out of the way, but the way the message is communicated will diversify. It has to – nobody else on the political spectrum is consistently fighting for private property rights and the right of you to own your body, your life and interact voluntarily with other adults. That is what Libertarianz is about – it is not what Labour, National or any other party believes in.

For New Zealand? Clark will run a status quo government, and be hard pressed to do anything beyond tax and spend more of your money - and pass some legislation that isn't too controversial.

One thing to remember though is that although NZ First and United Future are painted as being centre-right, they are both parties of bigger government. NZ First is inherently conservative, likes the government running businesses and likes banning things it doesn't like (look at how it approached civil unions, prostitution and censorship). United Future is also conservative, and if creating a new pointless bureaucracy called the Families Commission isn't about big government, what is? They will both allow Labour to increase the size of the welfare state in the next three years - no pleading from either party about stable government will deny this fact. If either wanted to legitimately claim they support tax cuts and less bureaucracy they would withhold confidence and supply, and let Labour deal with the Maori Party - and implement its agenda.

I dare them!