Joe Hendren

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Field should resign now, if he ever wants to be a Minister again

While the wolves may seem to be surrounding Taito Phillip Field at the moment, I can't help thinking he is fortunate these allegations have emerged just after an election.

For Field's sake, the timing could not be better. Parliament is not sitting, and the Labour Party are yet to (publically) elect a cabinet.

If Field aims to have a long ministerial career, he should not wait around for the report of Queen's Counsel Noel Ingram. Instead, he should announce he will not put his name forward to Clark for election to the cabinet. Technically speaking this would not be a resignation, and this would allow Field to frame his departure from the cabinet on his own terms, instead of the terms of his opponents. Field could use the opportunity to strenuously deny the claims, while at the same time appear to be taking the gravity of the allegations seriously. A positive spin could be put on not being in cabinet by complaining that these allegations were preventing him from concentrating on the needs of his Mangere constituents. Clark would be saved the unwelcome task of sacking him, and this may be a favour Field can 'call in' at a later date, especially if Field is later found to be 'mostly innocent'.

Field is only a Minister outside cabinet anyway - this position should not be regarded as a huge loss for any politician who aims to enter the cabinet room proper. Unless of course Field already knows his chances of promotion were always slim in any case - and by attempting to hang on for dear life, this is exactly what he will demonstrate.

Even if Field is cleared of most of the substantive allegations, eventually, an extended performance of damaging political theatre would severely damage his prospects for promotion.

With the scope of the inquiry widened to take into account additional allegations, the inquiry is not expected to meet its Tuesday deadline, meaning that Field will have to sit through more mudslinging before the issue reaches any sort of conclusion.

In announcing he will not seek a cabinet nomination at this time, he would be following the lead of John Tamihere, who took a similar stance following the fallout after the infamous Wishart interview.

Taito Phillip Field should also be very thankful that Parliament is not sitting right now. Especially when the NZ Herald discovers Mrs Field did receive money from a staff member for helping out in the office, despite an earlier denial by Mr Field. If such contradictions had been uncovered through parliamentary questions, Field could have been accused of misleading Parliament, making matters far more serious, as 'misleading the house' is one of the few things an MP can be thrown out of Parliament for. By not returning to cabinet immediately, Field will avoid most direct Parliamentary scrutiny (although I do expect there will be a few questions directed at the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services).

While Taito Phillip Field may feel his primary motivation was to help others, there remains an 'appearance' he may have made a personal gain from buying the Cole's house below market value, kicking out the Cole's and selling the house for a tidy profit. There is also an 'appearance' he may have used his position as a member of cabinet to gain the ear of Immigration minister Damien O'Connor, at the same time the wannabe immigrants were tiling or painting houses owned by Mr Field.

Unfortunately for Mr Field, the Cabinet Manual is very clear on this point - appearances matter.
2.49 Ministers must ensure that no conflict exists or appears to exist between their public duty and their private interests. Conflicts of interest can arise because of the influence and power they wield - both in the individual performance of their portfolio responsibilities and as members of Cabinet. Ministers must conduct themselves at all times in the knowledge that their role is a public one; appearances and propriety can be as important as actual conflict of interest in establishing what is acceptable behaviour.
2.50 A conflict of interest may be pecuniary (that is, arising from the Minister's direct financial interests) or non-pecuniary (concerning, for example, a member of the Minister's family). It may be direct or indirect.

Taito Philip Field should 'step aside' now. This could well be the only way he can save his ministerial career in the longer term.

Update: NZ Herald coverage - linked here for future reference due to "Scrooge McHerald" attempting to charge for the use of its search engine.
Field facing new claim of aiding Thai overstayer
MPs wife says she accepted cash
The curse that haunts a charmed MP

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Today does not exist

A little experiment. Will Blogger allow me to post on September 31st? Can I make a post on a day that does not exist?

Update: Bah, no it doesn't - that extra day would be useful - it would raise the number of posts per month ever so slightly :)


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The forgotten second front of the War on Terror: The Philippines

Last night heard a report back from a couple of kiwis who took part in a 82 strong international solidarity mission to the Philippines in August this year. They spent a week visiting the front lines of the five worst areas for human rights violations and convened an International People's Tribunal in Manilla to report on their findings and call on their home governments, and the international community at large, to condemn the Philippine government for waging a War on Terror on its own people.

Following 9/11 President Bush, with the eager cooperation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared the Philippines to be America's "second front" in the "War on Terror". Occasionally there has been some coverage of this in the NZ media, usually involving the long running war between the Philippine Military and Muslim separatists in the far south of the country. Muslims in the Philippines are called the Moro, a name dating back to the Spanish occupation of the country - Moro derives from 'moor'.

Four New Zealanders took part in the international mission - Tim Howard (Whangarei), Rod Prosser (Wellington), Mary Ellen O’Connor (Nelson) and Josephine O’Connor (Wellington). Tim and Mary Ellen addressed the Christchurch meeting, hosted by the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa

While the Philippines has never had a good human rights record - the situation under President Macapagal-Arroyo has become steadily worse and worse.

Recently many Moro people have been forced of their land in the south and forced to live at the other end of the country as refugees. They have also faced sustained harassment from the police. It is suspected NZ Aid money may have been used to translocation people (this is being looked into further by NZ activists). In Samar whole villages have been forced to evacuate. Some of these evacuations are purely political, others are to allow the Government to step up the mining and forestry in the area - the local people are denied any benefits of these developments. Samar is now a highly militarised area - with the mines come the military. Land reform never occurred in the Philippines, so villagers can be tossed about on a whim.

In order to maintain its hold on power the Government is using the military and the police to kill the opposition - including 58 members and supporters of the leftist Bayan Muna political party in the Samar region. The military accuse their opponents of being communists and members of the New People's Army, claims that are not particularly convincing. The military have confirmed the existence of a hit list. Bayan Muna, community groups and others are routinely targeted by military intelligence - one man found out through a relative in the military that his name was on a list of 36 people the powers that be wanted dead.

A key perpetrator of these politically motivated killings is Brig General Jovito Palparan, dubbed the Butcher of Mindoro by human rights groups, following the murder and harassment of political activists under his command on that island. He is reported to have threatened that 'if one of his soldiers dies, 10 civilians will be killed'. President Arroyo has recently promoted Palparan twice, so the President is also responsible for the appalling record of killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Arroyo also attempted to use the rhetoric of the war on terror to threaten trade unions: "Those who terrorise factories that provide jobs"

Following the talks by Tim and Mary-Ellen we watched a short video - this included footage of a huge (I mean huge) rally of Filipinos marching with members of the international mission calling on President Arroyo to resign. The video also followed the story of a 15 year old boy, witness to the murder of his father by Palparan's armed thugs, and now clearly traumatised by the experience (it looked like a form of post-traumatic stress). The whole village participated in a re-enactment of the crime - more witnesses came forward as a result.

Despite the shocking realisation of the terrible oppression of the Filipino people by the Government, the really uplifting factor is that the Filipino activists remain so staunch. One activist told the military 'Go on kill me - we have the right to organise!'

In a country where ordinary people can not seek justice through official channels, re-enactments and "People's Courts" are the only way these issues get heard. They also provide some acknowledgement for victims - but true justice will only be served once Arroyo and her cronies are forced to step down.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Brash, Crash and Burn

Saturday night saw a lucky escape for New Zealand and the Sky Tower. As a troubled man flew a plane within a few hundred metres of the Tower, Don Brash came within a few thousand votes of successfully bribing New Zealand into placing him in a position where he would impose far more far right economic reforms than he was elected to do.

I got particularly irked by the way Brash used "education" as a meaningless emotional buzzword during the campaign debates - he was never called up to defend the detail of National's education policy - yet National's more market approach was likely to lead to more school closures, if not outright privatisation.

That said, it wasn't a complete disaster for the new right. Act and United Future got back and bought in list MPs, and more to the point - Labour got too many votes :)

On hearding Don's speech on Saturday night, I pronounced to those around me that I thought Brash had just made a big mistake.

While the result was extremely close, Brash would have been better to acknowledge the obvious - Helen Clark is in a better position to negotiate a new Government. He could have qualified this by saying that he too would be talking to the minor parties in case National gained a majority on the specials or Clark failed to secure the required confidence and supply arrangements.

Instead, Brash said: "We can't yet claim a victory, but I'm certainly not conceding defeat". But Brash's claim that he would be working to secure a majority for a National led government was a victory speech in all but name.

It reminded me of none other than Mike Moore's bizarre 'victory' speech on election night 1993. Moore's made his ill judged remarks under similar circumstances - in 1993 it was National who were narrowly leading on the night. Moore did not stay Labour party leader for very long afterward.

Today Brash just looks desperate - following a campaign where he drummed up resentment towards Maori, Brash now needs the Maori party to form a government. He also suggested Labour should donate him a speaker - perhaps some journalist needs to ask him if he is prepared to donate a speaker to Helen? Not likely.

Somewhat to my surprise I see even Act agree with me - in the latest edition of The Letter they call on Brash to "tell Murray McCully to stop plotting and concede..".

A few politicians like to appear like 'statesmen'/'stateswomen' - election night represents one of the few domestic opportunities. Humble pie goes down well, campaign style cracks do not.

I am afraid I felt very much underwhelmed by the speeches on election night 2005. Clark was good - I would imagine most New Zealanders welcomed her acknowledgement of the divisive nature of the campaign and the need to 'bring people together'. This was a clever message - it also implied that it was Clark who was able to 'bring people together' in the context of coalition talks. However, the calls by some enthusiastic Labour supporters for "three more years" led me to recall another campaign I would prefer not to think about (think of the words "four" and "Bush").

Pita Shaples deserves credit for the best quip of the night - "We may have been the last cab on the rank, but the fare's just gone up!"

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Letterbox awards for Campaign '05

Driving home in the car today I planned to make a post about letterboxes, only to find Span already musing on the same subject.

Election time for most politicos usually involves strolling around the local streets delivering leaflets of information in the hope of better informing voters.

Today I strolled down memory lane, delivering Alliance tabloids to the very first street I lived, Haslet Place in Riccarton. I snuck a peek down the driveway to see the old house, the red-brick box I had not lived in since 1983 or thereabouts. As I folded each tabloid and placed it in each letterbox in Haslet Place, I came across a lovely childhood memory I had long forgotten.

The Lighthouse Letterbox. As a tot I remember enjoying walking past the letterbox shaped like a model lighthouse, with little windows and a tiny railing around the top. I liked the novelty of the letters going in vertically through a narrow slot and the decorative rocks attached to the base of the lighthouse. Sadly, like many real lighthouses, the passing of twenty years has left the lighthouse letterbox in a rather tatty state of repair. Once it looked so proud and novel.

But my vote for the best letterbox I saw this election campaign goes to some ingenious folks in Hokitika. What was perched out at the gate, where a letterbox should be?

An Old Microwave, with a the number of the house painted in white on the dark microwave door. Delivering a leaflet involved opening the door, which as I thought later was a great way to protect the mail from the elements - no more soggy envelopes!

Any other nominations for best letterbox of Election '05?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Phone Phoney's: The last desperate Act

Five minutes ago our phone rang.

I picked up the receiver

"Hello, this is Rodney Hide, we are going to win Epsom so please give your party vote to Act on Saturday..."


And to make matters worse Rodney was not 'calling' at all, it was a recorded message - this is really disappointing - I got to shout at Rodney Hide and he wasn't even listening to me.

Well Act are not going to win Epsom - so Rodney's rudeness will only increase the so called 'wasted vote' for the right on Saturday. Or perhaps Rodney knows he is dog tucker, and the phone phoney's is Act's last desperate attempt to gain 5% by directly misleading voters.

It might be fun to look at the telecom website - perhaps Rodney is guilty of misuse of a telephone....:)


Monday, September 12, 2005

A friendly warning to the Greens from a former Alliance parliamentary researcher

With the prospect of the Greens going into formal coalition with Labour after the election, Frogblog has been reassuring David Farrar the pressures of government will not lead to the Greens splitting like NZ First or the Alliance.

"“The point is: yes, there are differences in positions on particular policy areas, but there are processes available, which have been built up over the past three years, that allow our two parties to come to a compromise position and, if that's not possible, to respectfully agree to disagree and allow Labour to look elsewhere in the House for support."

The real issue here is not that such a mechanism exists in the cabinet manual, but how often it should be used.

On going into Government in 1999 most Alliance activists thought the agree to disagree clause meant that the Alliance would vote with the Labour party on any measure that moved towards Alliance policy, and vote against things that went against our policy.

While this might have been a touch idealistic, it is how most Alliance activists understood the 'agree to disagree' clause. When I look back, this issue was actually at the heart of most of the disagreements between the activists and the party leadership.

While the inclusion of the 'agree to disagree' clause in 1999 may have made it look like Labour appreciated the need for each party to maintain its own identity, in reality Labour comes from a first past the post culture where 'cabinet collective responsibility'’ is to be strictly maintained. In retrospect, this should not have been a surprise, as it was entirely in Labour'’s political interests to do so.

This can be seen from the wording of the 1999 Coalition Agreement.

"The coalition government will operate within the convention of collective cabinet responsibility, subject to the provisions of this agreement, and the expectation is that cabinet decisions will be taken by consensus."

"“There may be public differentiation between the parties in speech and vote which will not be regarded as being in breach of the convention. Such issues are expected to be infrequent and the parties recognise that dealing with them openly and responsibly is critical to the credibility of the coalition. Differentiation on such issues will not detract from the overall acceptance that the two parties are taking joint responsibility for the actions of the government."

Unfortunately, it appears the Green Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has also swallowed the line that party differentiation is to be "infrequent", a line I strongly suspect comes directly from a pre-election chit chat with Aunty Helen herself.

"Well the Cabinet Manual now has a clause that allows partners to agree to disagree and even to vote separately. I think that's got to be used with great caution and very sparingly, but I think it is a good safeguard for those rare cases where it's too important just to compromise."

Given my experience working in Parliament while the Alliance unravelled, Jeanette'’s words filled me with both alarm and sadness. Green activists need to ask their leadership how often they expect the 'agree to disagree provisions' to be used. I can't stress this enough. That said, Frogblog does provide some examples of how these provisions might apply to some obvious policy difference between Labour and the Greens.

Rod has made clear that Green MPs would argue against a free-trade deal in Cabinet and if they lost that argument, they would say so in public using the agree to disagree provision in the Cabinet manual. This would be neither anything new or particularly surprising. The Alliance did this over the Singapore free-trade deal, and Labour would easily be able to get support from across the other side of the House.

I think most observers of the 1999-2002 Government were surprised the Alliance did not officially differentiate more often than it did. Jim was the key problem here, but that is a post in itself. What I do think the Alliance proved was that differentiation could occur between coalition partners and this was not a threat to government stability or cohesion. In fact, when the Alliance did vote a different way to Labour it wasn't much of a big deal.

And that my friends, is the second part of the problem. Writing press releases for Alliance MPs in Government was an eternal balancing act. Generally what would happen is that I would draft something a bit too critical of Labour, and it would get toned down by the MPs! But when the differences between parties are put in a way that is too "“respectful"” (to use FrogBlog'’s word) often the media simply do not want to know.

While the need of the media for apparent "conflict" is most at fault here, I do think the Greens do deserve a "respectful" bollocking for a media strategy that I believe aimed to minimise the prominence of Labour's junior coalition partner. There seemed to be a consistent pattern - every time the Greens approved of something they would "congratulate the Labour-led Government" or simply the "Government" (though they do recognise Laila on PPL), whereas if it was something to be criticised often their press release would refer to the "Labour/Alliance Government". While I appreciate the Greens are entitled to act as a separate party, with their own interests, it would have been nice to see some greater understanding of the position of the Alliance in Government, even if it was soley inspired by 'there for the grace of God go I'. I'm sorry, but the press releases and speeches from the Greens continually stating that the Labour/Alliance government had signed up to the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, without any qualifications regarding the Alliance position, pissed me off. (some examples)

Now I am not blaming the Greens for what happened to the Alliance - only pointing out some of the difficulties we had attempting to preserve an independent message. Perhaps when some group claims the Labour/Green government is a sellout on GE they will understand...

I agree with Jeanette that it was not always clear to supporters of the Alliance when Alliance MPs had put up a fight on an issue in cabinet and lost. But Aunty Helen's ideas about collective responsibility put our MPs in a real bind. Jeanette goes on to say that she believes there is "“nothing in Cabinet solidarity or the Cabinet Manual that prevents you from going to the public when an issue's being debated and saying, look this is our view, we argued it all the way through in Cabinet, we didn't have the numbers, we lost."

But according to my reading of the cabinet manual, ministers in a coalition government are required to show "“careful judgment when referring to party policy that differs from government policy". It states that "“a Minister'’s support and responsibility for the collective government position must always be clear". There is only one single exception to this - the "“agree to disagree" clause in the cabinet manual.

3.23 Coalition governments may decide to establish "agree to disagree" processes, which may allow Ministers to maintain, in public, different party positions on particular issues or policies. Once the final outcome of any "agree to disagree" issue or policy has been determined (either at the Cabinet level or through some other agreed process), Ministers must implement the resulting decision or legislation, regardless of their position throughout the decision making process.
3.24 "Agree to disagree" processes may only be used in relation to different party positions. Any public dissociation from Cabinet decisions by individual Ministers outside the agreed processes is unacceptable.

Interestingly, the cabinet manual contains no assumption the "“agree to disagree"” processes ought to be used "“sparingly" or "“infrequently"”. I believe this indicates the way forward. If the Greens go into government I hope they push Labour on this issue, as this would represent a real gain for the progressive movement for the future, as well as increasing the Greens own chances of survival.

Helen may make a big thing of how rare it is for a Westminster Parliament to have an "agree to disagree"” clause, but this is really a red herring. The old conventions of a 'Westminster Parliament' ought to have been chucked out with First Past the Post. We should redesign our conventions using more relevant comparisons, such as European countries with long histories of stable coalition governments elected under proportional representation.

MMP may not survive if New Zealand'’s third attempt at a coalition government once again leads to the rapid and near fatal decline of the smaller coalition partner. This greatly worries me. If MMP does survive, coalition governments may become very rare indeed. New Zealand's cabinet processes need to be reviewed once again, to ensure they fit with the new parliamentary system. We did not vote for proportional representation in 1993 only to have a first past the post style government installed through outdated cabinet conventions.

I hope the Greens do take this as a friendly and well meant warning - I am happy to share my thoughts before the election after all :)

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Act MP already looking for work after the election

With the Act party very likely to disapear from Parliament in next weeks election, it appears Act MP Stephen Franks is looking for alternative employment.

He has offered to take up the legal case of Madeleine Flannagan, a former Christian Heritage Party candidate who has alleged she was assualted by Cabinet Minister Pete Hodgson during Prime Minister Helen Clark's recent visit to Otago University. Mrs Flannagan says Hodgson grabbed her by the arm to stop her from holding a paper placard saying "Speed Kills" behind Ms Clark when she was being interviewed for TV.

"ACT New Zealand justice spokesman and former lawyer Stephen Franks said he would see the incident through to the end even if it was unresolved before next week's election."

Is Stephen Franks attempting to restart his legal career?

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Red Radio, not that revolutionary

Yesterday, while wandering through the Warehouse, I listened to the music they blasted through the stereo in the red barn of imports. They probably play music because such shops have found music keeps people buying.

It was then announced that I was listening to 'Red Radio'.

I was a bit puzzled.

There may be a red flag flying here, but Red Radio definitely seemed to be missing something. Where was the rousing chorus 'Solidarity Forever' or 'Union Maid'? While these songs have an important history, they are probably due for an update - a punk/metal backing or a phat hip hop beat - now that would be intriguing. Would a greater consciousness of unions in the warehouse lead to better pay and conditions for warehouse workers?

Its possible they might play the Manic Street Preachers' later MOR sounding material like 'If you tolerate this' - though I doubt many shoppers would have the slightest idea what the song was about (the Spanish Civil War).

Any other requests?

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Friday, September 02, 2005

The Peters disease must be airborne

Over at Poster Child, Bren examines the geographical spread of the 2002 party vote in an interesting way. Looking at the minor parties, he lists the top 10 electorates by party vote for each party, with the bottom 10 electorates for each party.

NZ First support appears to be focused around the top of the North Island. In fact, most of these electorates are right next to each other - the Peters disease must be airborne! From Northland to the North, to Taranaki-King Country and Rotorua in the south, an iron passes over an Italian suit, and people fall for it. Thankfully, Auckland city appears to have greater immunity (yay to the Migrants!).

I have often wondered why Winston Peters' supporters are so geographically bound. As Peters gained nearly 15% of the party vote in the Maori seats in 2002, does the northern north island concentration represent his Maori constituency in the general seats, as these areas have reasonable Maori populations as a percentage? But given his vote, there must be more to it than this. Any thoughts?

While much as been said of the threat of the Maori party to Labour and the Greens, no one appears to have pointed out that NZ First's vote could be drained by the Maori party, especially given his stance on the seabed and foreshore issue. Given his policies I have always found it strange why Peters attracts support from Maori - it seems more than a little insulting to claim it can be explained in terms of just 'face' value.

And as for NZF's worst seats - the educated liberal electorates absolutely loathe and detest Peters. With good reason, Mr Powell.

I hope Winston looses Tauranga, I really do. The less our MMP electoral system is distorted by egotistical upstarts in single electorates the better. Lets lower the threshold from 5%, but do away with the silly rule that allows those who win one electorate to bring their cronies in with them*. Lets encourage parties to base themselves on clear policy and principles - this is what party votes are meant to be about after all.

* Germany requires parties to win at least 3 electorate seats (or 5%) to gain list seats.

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