Posts Tagged ‘National party’

Labour & Nats PPP perfidy

August 26, 2008

You have to love National’s Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson. Maurice just can’t help but tell the truth, in his enthusiasm for the latest right-wing plan.

This time its road tolls. You would think National would have learnt from the caning they got in the 1990s when trying to implement road tolls, but no. Anyway, Williamson blurted out the Nats plan to have Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) fund road projects, which means:

  1. Direct tolls – you pay at a toll booth or by a tracking device in your car that bills you each time you use a toll road   OR
  2. Indirect tolls – the state pays with your taxes for each time the tracking device in your car goes onto a toll road.

Either way, we taxpayers pay for it. Question is – who do we pay?

PPPs are the worst form of privatisation! Traditional privatisation involves the state selling off all or part of the ownership in a state asset or operation. PPPs take several forms, but usually involve the BOOT model – the state ‘Buys’ construction of an asset, ‘Owns’ the asset, but lets a private company ‘Operate’ the asset (normally for 30 years -the useful economic life of most infrastructure assets), before the private company transfers the run-down asset back to state ownership, so it can be expensively rebuilt ready to start the cycle of fleecing the public purse again.

Overseas experience shows these PPPs are a disgraceful ripoff of public money. Reality is, the public invest all the capital and take all the risk, while a Private ‘shell’ company takes all the profit off the public, and laughs all the way to the bank, leaving the public to rebuild knackered assets.

To understand in a NZ context, think of our national rail system. ‘Normally’ privatised by National in 1993, owners Tranz Rail asset stripped and bled dry the network, while investing nothing in developing the business – many services were stopped under their incompetent mismanagement. Late owners Toll did not improve things, before the state bought it back in 2004.

If NZ Rail had been PPPed, the state would have retained ownership, but given Tranz Rail a 30year contract to run the rail. As part of ‘running’ the rail system, Tranz Rail would still have stripped and sold tracks for scrap steel, sold and leased back the Cook Strait ferries, etc, and paid out these ‘savings’ as dividends to the operator (Tranz Rail), and the public would still have had to invest $200m (and climbing) in rebuilding the track after we got frustrated enough with Tranz Rail’s failed operations to buy it back.

But, Tranz Rail would not have needed to invest the $300m capital that they initially bought NZ Rail for. This allows them to invest that cash elesewhere and make bigger profits. And with 20 years left on their operation contract, Tranz Rail would have been able to charge the state for buying out this contract (which based on their initial asset-stripping fueled profits, would have cost hundreds of millions). Nice – for Tranz Rai’ls owners.

The worst part is – Labour are just as bad as National on all this. Dr Cullen has enthusiastically supported PPPs, and said they are inevitable! And will apply to existing roads, so thy cannot even claim it is just to help Labour build new roads – they want PPPs to let their capitalist cronies make a viable profit from toll roads.

At this point it should be mentioned the infrastructure investing companies have spent the last 15 years planning & holding conferences, to try crack their way into profiteering from infrastructure assets. Isn’t it nice that both Labour and National are helping them so much? No? Didn’t think so. After all, it is us who will pay for it, which is what the companies always wanted – a permanent source of profits from the peasants…

And none of this even considers the human rights considerations. Recall those tracking devices in your car? They are the best method the road tolling enthusiasts have come up with to prevent us having to physically stop and pay at toll booths, like we used to on Auckland’s harbour bridge.

But of course they also offer the state – or worse, a private company – with the ability to surreptitiously track and moitor where people are. And that should give people even more shivers than they get from Google Earth trying to make maps with high resolution satellite images that show people going about their business. Effectively, it makes all of us inmates on a global form of home detention with electronic bracelets tracking us. None of this happens with straight state-owned, tax funded roads. Says it all really.

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Political pundit poppycock

August 13, 2008

Gak! The paucity of useful political analysis in NZ has just been shown yet again, with Canterbury University politics fellow Dr Terese Arsenau blithering on at TVNZ about Labour’s chances of retaining government in this year’s election.

What distinguishes an otherwise bland statement of facts from the nonsense laid out, is that Arsenau is still wedded to the old First Past the Post (FPP) electoral mindset. She ponders “whether the Greens – or the Maori Party – would think it appropriate to prop up Labour” if Labour got substantially less MP’s than National (but both National and Labour were short of 50% of seats). According to Arsenau:

Would such an arrangement be judged as a legitimate outcome or the hijack of the election from the rightful winner? 

This shows Arsenau still thinks a government must have a ‘large party’ (i.e. National or Labour) as the major player in a government. MMP possibilities (assuming no overhang for simplicity)  like a government of 61 MPs from 61 separate parties is possible, though hugely unlikely. Equally, a government of 3 parties each with 21 MPs – giving a majority with 63 MPs – does not require any one party in the coalition government to be dominant.

Even if one party in a coalition government is dominant, that does not mean they can – or should – expect to get support and laws passed in direct proportion to their proportion of the coalition governments seats (the much lamented ‘tail wagging the dog’). The balance depends on how closely aligned the colaitions party positions are.

Labour had no trouble supporting a Green Member’s Bill (S59 amendment), and taking most of the flack instead of Sue Bradford and the Greens – because most Labour MP’s also supported that law change. By contrast, Labour’s dominant position in the 2005-08 government has not meant an easy ride for their Emmissions Trading Scheme Bill, which may yet fail to get passed due to lack of Green party support. Why? Because the way Labour has framed the Bill has been so far from Green party views on how to tackle emmissions, that they are struggling to support Labour on it.

So, Arsenau’s contention that there is some ‘moral obligation’ for minor parties to support the single largest party to form a coalition government is blithering nonsense. Any group of parties that can get a majority of MPs to support them on confidence & supply votes can form a government.

The true ‘viability test’ for a coalition government is how they manage the legislative demands of the coalition’s respective parties to get a ‘fair’ balance that satisfies each party enough to stay in the coalition. That is something each party currently judges with an eye to how many successes they want and who they can blame for failures, at the next election. Perhaps this ad hoc system of legislative balance is something Arsenau could illuminate?

Nasty Nats bash beneficiaries!

August 11, 2008

John Key has announced National party ‘Social Services’ policy, and unsurprisingly, given it was announced to the most unthinking, bigotted bunch of cranks you can find – the RSA, it is a ‘bash the beneficiary’ policy. Blithering pensioners ranted on about ‘giving beneficiaries respect’ and ‘making them feel good about themselves’, despite it mostly being a policy that lets WINZ staff cut benefits if you don’t get enough work once your kids hit 6 years old.

National party activist David Farrar (on his blog and National Radio this afternoon) nicely summarised the policy, as:

  • Paid work is the best way to reduce child poverty
  • A part-time work obligation on DPB recipients whose youngest child is six or older
  • A part-time work obligation on those (5,600) sickness and invalids beneficiaries who have been assessed as capable of working part-time
  • No work for the dole
  • Any long-term unemployed (one year or more) will have to reapply for the benefit and undergo a comprehensive work assessment
  • Case Managers to be given more options rather than just stopping benefit payments, such as a graduated reduction as an interim sanction
  • Increase in the earnings threshold before abatement from $80 a week to $100 a week
  • Anyone on the sickness benefit for more than a year will be sent to a designated doctor for an assessment
  • CPI adjustments to benefits to be enshrined in law (as it is for Super) rather than merely being convention
  • Those who frequently need benefit advances to attend (at taxpayer expense) a budget advisory service to help them manage
  • In my view, there are two positive points – increasing the abatement threshold from $80 to $100, and inflation (CPI) adjusting benefits in law – with one neutral point – budget advice (depending on how it is handled) – and the rest are 6 negative points (I ignore the claimed ‘no work for dole’ as it is contradicted by the following point, where unemployed have to reapply and get assessed – these are the first steps to work for dole). So an overall fail mark.

    Naturally, the Greens are baffled, Labour must be gleeful at their main opponents blundering like this and swiftly pointed out the old Nats ‘dob in a bludger’ campaign, and the other minor parties will struggle to find time to even comment (please media – don’t ask Peter Dunne what he thinks; if he had any policy he would have told you already).

    In my view, yes, there are people who are content to live on benefits when they could get ‘some’ paid work, but that is a very badly paid life that would not be very pleasant to live. The real focus should be on helping people into well-paid work (not just minimum wage) that fits in with their family commitments. And forcing invalids to work 15 hours a week or get their benefit cut is just obscene.

    The truly interesting question has been ignored by all parties of course – given beneficiary numbers have dropped substantially over the economic boom in Labour’s 9 years as government, why haven’t WINZ staff been better able to give individual attention to the smaller numbers on the benefit?

    I know of at least one person on the dole who used to work until an accident, but when his health returned, the WINZ staff stupidly tried getting him into computing courses. Given his very evident low academic potential, they should have been helping him into a supervised labouring job, but….? Over ten years later, no change in circumstances. The beneficiary should not be blamed if the government (both Nat and Labour for this guy) have not helped him into work.  But better for him to be on a benefit than have the Nats cut his benefit because he hadn’t fixed things, when he is clearly not capable of doing so.

    Better policy needed National – by far!!!

    One good option would be for the state to offer guaranteed full-time work (at the $12 an hour minimum wage or higher) for anyone who wants it – beneficiaries or others. This allows beneficiaries to choose to step up if they want and are capable, while still providing benefits for those unable to work in these tasks (say DoC tree planting, etc). The obvious danger though, is that people will view those still on the (lower paid) benefits as ‘undeserving’, and demand the benefits get eliminated, in which case the guaranteed work opportunity becomes ‘work for the dole’ (though at least at minimum wage – a big boost from current benefit levels).

    Sprung! Nats caught plotting privatisations

    August 3, 2008

    This will probably be the biggest gaffe truth of the annual National Party conference – Nats finance spokesperson Bill English caught by TV3 on tape saying National will sell-off state-owned Kiwibank ‘eventually’ (i.e. straight after they feel they are safely ensconced in power permanently).

    So much for ‘honest’ John Key & his merry band of corporate thieves men. For the National party trolls out there, forming and keeping Kiwibank state owned is good because:

    1. It gives Kiwis competition – a real choice between Oz owned banks that treat us with lousy customer service, and far better locals-focussed service from Kiwibank (and the credit unions). Weren’t National in favour of competition? Or was that not meant to include competition for your rich mates’ banking operations?
    2. It stops vast sums being siphoned offshore by the Oz-owned banks. This lowers NZ’s terrible balance of payments deficit, making our economy stronger.
    3. It strengthens our economy by retaining high-level banking planners/economists in the NZ economy. Oz banks can totally shift this offshore at any time; a domestic bank has no ability to use offshore head office staff to run the local bank.

    The follow up questions for National has to be – what other state assets do you plan to sell ‘eventually’? The just-nationalised railways (Ontrack and Kiwirail) that ‘honest John’ was so disparaging about? Surely you wouldn’t sell our roads like you wanted to in the 1990s?

    Of even more concern than National’s now exposed policies of privatising state assetts, or even borrowing to give tax cuts to the wealthy, is that of more public-private partnerships.

    PPPs are the most dishonest form of privatisation – the state (us taxpayers) get to put up all the capital (and hence take all the risk), so some private company can ‘manage’ the assets’ operations for (typically) 30 years, while making a nice profit on the ‘management’. The company then ‘relinquishes’ the asset back to the state when its good and knackered from their lack of maintenance (increases the profits, dont’cha know?), leaving the taxpayer to fork out for extensively – and expensively – rebuilding the stuffed asset. PPPs have been such a winner overseas.

    All premised on the ‘fact’ that the private management company is somehow ‘more efficient’ than state-run management, despite never having supplied proof of this assertion. No wonder National want to sell off Kiwibank – the last thing they want is this awkward reminder of a state bank out-performing their ‘superior’ free market chums…

    And the Nats wonder why the Labour-types keep tagging wicked Prince John “slippery”.

    Petty Politics – drop an anvil on Dunne!

    April 28, 2008

    I know it’s nasty, but won’t someone do NZ a favour and drop an anvil on the head of United Future leader Peter Dunne? ACME should be able to nick an anvil off Wile Coyote…

    Dunne hibernates for 3 years between elections, then wakes up for a few months ‘common sense’ statements, before lurching off to lala land for another term of Parliament.

    His latest offeringis ‘common sense’ support for National’s broadband $1.5bn public-private partnership plan. Regardless of merits (or not) of the idea, it is tiresome to have Dunne – whose only statements outside of the election period seem to be cheap personal attacks on the Greens – to call for party politics to be dropped for the glorious goal of faster broadband.

    ‘Common sense’ Dunne is not – his statements verge on the banal. Stating that faster broadband is a good thing (duh!) is followed by his killer remark that:

    “It’d be excellent if politicians spent more time working out the answer to that question [how do we get…widespread, superfast broadband?]”

    Now if only witless politicians like Dunne could do their job and actually think of some solutions, I would hang onto the anvil and not drop it on Dunne. It is the job of politicians like Dunne to ask Kiwis for solutions or to think them up himself – if he hasn’t done either then he is a total failure and should be sacked (ahhh, an election this year!).

    Certainly commentators like Bill Ralston should not be heaping praise on ‘dead-loss Dunne’ for failing to do more than state the bleeding obvious. Surely?

    Crystal night?

    February 8, 2008

    Minor political events are taking a concerning turn. There have been calls from the National Party to have the requirement that political party ads list their financial agents home address changed to a business address or party HQ address.

    Pro-National blogger David Farrar reiterates the party call for this, citing safety concerns.

    Almost simultaneously, the Green Party Auckland office has it’s window smashed by a brick thrown by the group ‘People Power’. Given Farrar decried the previous ‘People Power’ attack on Helen Clark’s electorate office window, and is apparently in India at the time, it seems exceptionally unlikely he has anything to do with this 😉 Nor is it likely that anyone ‘officially’ in the National party would be so foolish.

    However, there is a danger these attacks will allow a chipping away of the Electoral Finance Act provisions. Already Green co-leader Russel Norman has empathised with what seem to be weak concerns of home attacks on those listed on party propoganda. He should resist moves to change things for political parties. Why?

    1. There should be one law for all – wasn’t that National party policy?
    2. The risk of party agents being targetted is very low – real activists know they are not normally involved in the politics of the party.
    3. There is a danger that it will allow the return of mythical addresses being used by parties, as the Exclusive Brethren did in their pro-National campaign.

    Let’s hope this isn’t a start of worse behaviour in election year.