Joe Hendren

[ Home ] [ Articles ] [ Blog Home ] [ Travel ] [ Links] [About Me]

Friday, March 31, 2006

Roger Report goes on the parliamentary record

I am currently mildly chuffed to discover that Sue Bradford put the Roger Award on the Parliamentary record on Wednesday night, in the debate on the Westpac Bank Bill.

In the prestigious Roger Awards for the worst transnational operating in New Zealand, the 2006 award went jointly to Westpac and the Bank of New Zealand.
The judges' report and supporting documents make sobering reading. [strictly speaking it was the 2005 award]

I wrote the Roger Report, one of the supporting documents :)

One of the key reasons for the 'win' of the BNZ and Westpac in 2005 was the appalling way the banks treated their own employees. Sue covers this ground well.

I was especially pleased to see that Sue picked up on my point about the highly partisan nature of the so called 'economic commentary' offered freely to the media by the banks.

"Finally NZ Westpac customers of all political persuasions have to put up with the highly partisan and ideological comments of Westpac Chief Economist, Brendon O'Donovan. For all intents and purposes Mr O'Donovan acts as the economic cheerleader for the National Party and is a constant critic of the economic policies of Labour, the Greens or any other of the Government support parties. There was blatant politicking from Mr O'Donovan prior to the last election. To give one example, Mr O'Donovan attacked Labour and Green's student loan policies pre the election, and was subsequently forced to admit that some of the estimates that he was using to cost the scheme were extreme. "

I do not necessarily have a problem with the banks having their views, but I do see a problem when they attempt to portray the comments made by their 'economists' as non-partisan and "independent of any other bank interest" when they so obviously are not. They, and the media reporting their comments need to be more transparent when it comes to disclosing the bank's conflicts of interest. In the 1980s it was more common for journalists to ask academic economists to comment on economic issues - now we only ever seem to hear the whining of the banks when Alan Bollard increases the official cash rate. The banks are whining because they will be "selling" fewer mortgages.

Today ANZ National pleaded guility to 45 charges for breaching the Fair Trading Act, for failing to disclose the existence of hidden fees charged when customers made overseas currency transactions on their credit cards. The BNZ and Westpac are also facing similar charges, so hopefully ANZ National will not be the only bank to be fined in the region of $1.125 million and forced to repay their customers over $10 million in refunds.

As far as I know, this is the first time something that I wrote has indirectly ended up in Hansard. Of course there was the odd speech I wrote while a Parliamentary Researcher for Alliance MPs, but that shouldn't really count in the same way.

Unfortunately when I went to check the Hansard Advances I found the days on line only go up to the 28th of March - a mere one day short. I want to find out if the Roger Report was tabled in the house! Will be checking tomorrow!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Campaign against sale of Lyttelton Port gathers steam

The Keep Our Port Public coalition (KOPP) is holding a public meeting in Christchurch opposing the sale of Lyttelton Port Company to Hutchison, a Hong Kong based multinational corporation. The sale represents the restart of the agenda to privatise publicly owned assets, and there are good indications the sale of the port could be followed by the privatisation of the bus company and Citycare.

For some background on this issue see my earlier post here.

We already have an impressive list of speakers for the meeting, including
So at 7.30 pm on Monday 10 April come along to the Limes Room of the Christchurch Town Hall and stop the privatisation of our port!

An opinion piece by Murray Horton of KOPP, 'Moore's mighty sellout' was published in the Press on Friday, and Murray has already received a lot of positive feedback about the article.

Murray says the proposed port sale sets a dangerous precedent for the future of other publicly owned assets in Christchurch.
"This is the latest move by the Council ideologues who want to convert the People's Republic into Christchurch Inc. It graunches back into life a process that was stalled and discredited back in the unlamented 1990s, namely privatisation. This is the first such sale here since National forced it to sell Southpower. But this one has not been forced on it by anyone else, it is all the Council's own work. It will set off a stampede for port "restructuring and rationalisation" around the country, a process that progressed as far as corporatisation during the 1980s' Rogernomics pandemic. And it looks like there will more to come - the Council has removed both the Red Bus Company and City Care, from its list of strategic assets to be protected. It would now appear that the Mayor's policy on publicly-owned city assets is that less is definitely Moore. It sets a dangerous precedent."

A leaflet and poster advertising the meeting is currently filling up email inboxes all over the country. Once the leaflet, poster and Murray's article are available online I will post up a link. Till then I am happy to email them to interested people :)

Tags: Politics, Lyttelton, Corporates, Hutchison, Privatisation, Christchurch

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 23, 2006

David Parker and should our politicians be full of convictions?

The resignation of David Parker from all portfolios demonstrates once again how overreaction can often be the best strategy under fire. Political damage is limited as your opponents have nothing to do by agree with your decision.

Don Brash was left trying to make tenuous comparisons with the behaviour of other Ministers - this was only because he was left with little to say about David Parker.

I see political journalists Colin Espiner and John Armstrong both reach the same conclusion. Parker is the fall guy for the mistakes of David Benson Pope. If David Benson Pope had not spent the last few months claiming the tennis ball was out when it was pretty obviously in (would misleading the line umpire would be the appropriate analogy?) perhaps the pressure on David Parker would not have been so urgent. It is a shame Parker is the more able player.

Yet, because of this pressure, Parker will gain greater brownie points among this colleagues for his drastic and quick action. He has done Helen Clark a large favour, and so long as the companies office do not go after him in a big way, he should be back in cabinet within a year or two.

Under the Electoral Act an MP can lose his seat in Parliament if he or she is convicted of a crime punishable by more than two years of imprisonment - this is based on the charge the MP faces, not the actual sentence handed down by a judge. This creates another problem for Parker as filing a false company return, as Parker has done, carries a maximum term of 5 years imprisonment. There is a possibility, abet a remote one, that Parker could be forced out of Parliament.

It may be telling that the Acting Registrar of Companies, Adam Feeley compared Parker's breach of the Companies Act with a traffic infringement.

Even if the Companies Office decides to proceed with a prosecution this does not mean that Parker will necessarily be convicted by a judge. A reasonable case could be made that the consequences of conviction, Parker losing his seat, would outweigh the gravity of the offence. It could be argued that the most serious aspect is that Parker repeated his "mistake" in more than one year, including in a 2005 return while he was a cabinet minister. Assuming Parker has an otherwise unblemished record, I say spare the criminal conviction and give Parker a significant fine.

Recently Don Brash went as far as to accuse the police of 'bias' for not charging Labour over campaign overspending. Of course it was convienent for Brash to forget about the decision of authorities not to take action against National for overspending on election broadcasting, that oh so convienent "mistake" over GST.

Discussing the possibility whether the Companies Office would be taking action, Adam Feeley said, "No regard is had as to who the person is, but rather what the facts of the matter are and what the merits of bringing a prosecution are."

Exactly. Perhaps Mr Feely's words should also be applied to some other recent high profile cases involving politicians accused of potentially illegal acts. It would be an irony if all the shouting from the opposition resulted in a prima facie case of wasting police time. It is the job of the police and other judicial authorities to make the decision whether a "crime" warrants a conviction - and in this MPs should be treated no differently from ordinary members of the public.

PS: I wrote most of this a couple of days ago, but my computer seemed to get a bad habit of attempting to hibernate every time I tried to post it. Gah!

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gary Moore has no mandate to sell Lyttelton Port

The Christchurch City Council (though its assets company CCHL) plans to sell off 49.9% of the Port of Lyttleton to Hong Kong based multinational Hutchison Port Holdings. As the Lyttleton Port of Christchurch is currently a public company the council has to first first buy up the 31% of the shares it does not own.

But don't be fooled by the spin - Mayor Gary Moore is only buying up the shares so he can then sell 49.9% of the port to Hutchison. The end result is privatisation - less of the port will be in public ownership and control.

LPC will be "restructured" with CCHL and HPC starting a spin off company to run the port operations. CCHL plan to sell 50.1% of the shares in the new company to Hutchison, giving the multinational majority control of the operations of Lyttleton Port.

The claims of Gary Moore and his cronies that CCHL will keep "control" of the company are at best misleading. As for Moore claim on local radio that Christchurch citizens would be in control of everything they see when they look over the hill - this is simply not true, as can be seen from the following passage in the Christchurch City Council's takeover offer for the 31% shareholding it is attempting to buy.

"CCHL and HPHL will restructure LPC and CCHL will create a new operating company that will acquire all the non-land operating assets of LPC and operate LPC's business. CCHL will initially own 100% of the shares in that new company and then sell 50.01% of those shares to HPHL (or its affiliate).

Moore's proposal to sell of the port company is a complete reversal of the mandate on which he was elected. It has emerged that CCHL have been working on this deal for around two years - yet there was NOTHING said about selling the port during the last local body election campaign. Moore has no mandate.

Ironically, merely a year ago, Moore was in The Press welcoming a $140m dividend from CCHL and explaining how the public ownership of assets such as the port contributed to the city.
“It is good news for ratepayers because the money the council gets from CCHL means rates are up to 18 per cent lower than what they would be”, he said. “It shows the council was right not to sell the assets when people like the Business Roundtable called us the People’s Republic of Christchurch.” (The Press, 14/03/05, '$140m for CCC coffers')

You said it well a year ago Gary, so what has changed? Where is your mandate? Lyttelton Port Company made nearly $12m of profit last year, so why do you plan to give away our dividends from the additional 18% stake that will be in private hands at the conclusion of this shonky shady deal?

I am currently involved in the Keep Our Port Public Campaign (KOPP), a very promising "joint venture" of local unionists, CAFCA, Alliance members, Greens and other activists, so expect some more posts on this issue in the next few weeks.

Tags: Politics, Lyttelton, Corporates, Hutchison, Privatisation, Christchurch

Monday, March 13, 2006

New blog Mirage Media on attitudes to mental illness

New media watch blog Mirage Media includes a great post about the census worker who was forced to resign from his job after it was discovered that he had previously escaped a murder charge on the grounds of insanity (he killed three members of his family). Mirage Media points out insanity is not an easy defence - less than 1% of those who claim insanity in murder cases escape conviction on these grounds.

Strictly speaking, the census worker had no criminal convictions to disclose, and therefore no grounds for losing his job. The Mental Health Commission regards the case as a breach of the human rights act and is taking up the issue with the Human Rights Commissioner.

"Praising_idleness" of Mirage Media takes Radio Live breakfast host Martin Devlin to task for dismissing the possibility that a "murderer" should be allowed to get a job after 13 years of rehabilitation.

"Devlin often makes the assumption that mental patients are intrinsically morally corrupt. In his eyes, mental health patients are 'bad eggs', and should be stripped of basic human rights. He willingly ignores evidence which illustrates mental patients too, are victims of their illness. That they can be rehabilitated. And they are no more likely than anyone else to commit an act of violence in the first place. Instead, he maintains a bigotry which perpetuates a sceptical untrustworthy view of individuals with mental illness.

Actually there is considerable evidence to show that those who experience serious mental illness are, on average, more likely to be victims of violence than its initiators. A 2005 study found that one forth of individuals with severe mental illness were victims of violent crime in the previous year, eleven times the rate of the general population.

In response to an email from Praising_Idleness Martin Devlin said "Hmmm Somewhere in the middle lies the answer? I actually think we almost agree.. Thanks for your mail son...". In other words Devlin completely failed to engage with the issue. "Somewhere in the middle lies the answer" reminds me of the sort of meaningless nonsense that might come from the keyboard of Peter Dunne. Why is it those who attempt to position themselves in the so called "centre" of politics so often end up sounding intellectually and morally vacuous?

Welcome to the blogsphere Praising_Idleness :)

Categories: , , ,

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More evidence the UK helped Israel get the bomb

The BBC's Newsnight programme has revealed yet more damming evidence demonstrating how the British Government helped Israel develop nuclear weapons during the 1960s (hat tip NRT). Recently released papers show the British supplied to the Israelis many of the chemicals vital to the production of a bomb, including plutonium and uranium. To make matters worse, it appears relevant ministers, including technology Minister Tony Benn, were misled by public servants and were unaware of some of the transactions.

In 1966 Britain supplied Israel with 10mg of plutonium, despite strong warnings from the Ministry of Defence and the foreign Office that even such a small amount could be of significant military value, as it could be used as the basis for experiments to fast track the development of a bomb. There is also evidence that Michael Michaels, the public servant who pushed strongly for the sale, knew how useful small amounts of plutonium would be to the Israelis.

In August Newsnight revealed that the UK Government supplied heavy water shipments to Israel from June 1959. At the time officials claimed "It would be somewhat over-zealous for us to insist on safeguards" against military use. See my earlier post here.

It now appears there were hundreds of shipments of nuclear material from Britain to Israel during the 1950s and 60s.

Earlier this year I was debating Israel's nuclear status with GT (over a beer). I argued that putting pressure on Israel to disarm would strengthen the moral force of the diplomatic pressure currently being put on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, as Iran would be less able to claim it needed nukes for defensive purposes. GT responded that Israel had possessed nuclear weapons for around 40 years and had not used them against anyone. While this is true, I replied that I suspected this probably had just as much to do with luck as intention.

Recalling this conversation as I read the latest New Statesman article - I found it particularly interesting to note the date Israel is thought to have gained a couple of working nukes. In the leadup to the Six Day War.
"They had a secret weapon - two, to be precise. In the weeks before Israel took on the Arab world in June 1967 it put together a pair of crude nuclear bombs, just in case things didn't go as planned."

As Israel's Arab enemies of June 1967 were nowhere near developing their own nuclear bombs, this suggests Israel developed its nuclear arsenal with a nuclear first strike capability in mind.

From a humanitarian perspective it is probably a good thing it was only a Six Day War. But as the world continues to grapple with the consequences of Israel's illegal land grab of 1967, perhaps talking about a "Six Day War" is somewhat of a misnomer.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lookalikes: George Hawkins MP and Mr Creosote!

I always thought George Hawkins looked like Mr Creosote from the Monty Python's film 'The Meaning of Life'. For those who haven't seen the film for a while, Mr Creosote is the humungous fat guy who 'blows up' after eating too much in a restaurant ('I'll have the a bucket!')

George Hawkins was never the most competant minister - but then he was Roger Douglas' annointed successor after all. Roger Douglas ought to be blamed for the dire state of broadband in this country for selling off Telecom as an effective private monopoly and gifting the new owners with control over the local loop.

George Hawkins has always been one of Labour's most right wing MPs. The Manurewa MP is now promoting a private members bill to restrict access to abortion (hat tip Maia) - clearly a swipe at the factions within the party who he blames for getting him kicked out of cabinet.

Categories: Politics, New Zealand, Humour, Lookalikes, Labour

Monday, March 06, 2006

BNZ and Westpac worst transnational corporations in NZ in 2005

Congratulations to the Bank of New Zealand and Westpac Banking Corporation for being joint winners of the 2005 Roger Award - assessed by an eminent panel of judges as being the worst transnational corporations operating in New Zealand in 2005.

"The BNZ and Westpac are the Roger Award's first co-winners. They won because of tax avoidance, profiteering, bullying of the Government and banking authorities, blatant attempts to lure Kiwis into debt, and treatment of their workers. To quote the Judges' Report: "…many of the practices they have adopted also apply to the other two large Australian-owned banks ASB and ANZ– and had they also been nominated then the likelihood is that all four would have been joint winners. Together these banks constitute a '‘gang of four'’ wielding huge power and influence over the NZ economy and operating solely in their own interests rather than that of their accountholders, employees and the wider community"”

Third Place: Toll Holdings
Forth Place: Telecom
Special Award for the Protection of Profit and Privilege at the Expense of Public Health: Guardian Healthcare, British American Tobacco and Merck, Sharp and Dohme.

Judges: John Minto, Laila Harre, Mary-Ellen O'Connor and Marie Leadbeater. The judges statement can be read here.

For more reasons why the banks won the Roger Award this year, see the Roger Report (written by me) and the Sue Newberry's Financial Analysis.

The Roger just made Nightline. Apparently the banks have no comment to make...

Tags: Politics, New Zealand, Corporates, Westpac, BNZ

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why Joe hasn't been blogging much

Apologies for the lack of posts of late. For the past three weeks most of the time I usually devote to blogging has been taken up researching and writing the 2005 Roger Report for CAFCA and GATT Watchdog. This accompanies the Roger Award, the dubious honour given to the worst transnational corporation operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2005.

Of course I can't say who won the Roger Award this year - I am sworn to secrecy!

All will be revealed tomorrow when the Roger Award is announced at the Classic Comedy and Bar (321 Queen Street) in Auckland. The event is being hosted by Global Peace and Justice Auckland, with doors opening at 7pm.

I wish I could be there - it will be a fun night.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Don't stand so close to me

National and Act MPs may enjoying laying into David Benson-Pope, but I believe they are overestimating the sympathy of the public for their cause.

Yup there are teachers who are scumbags and bullies, and Benson-Pope may be one, but there are also children who are scumbags and bullies. Just about every teacher could tell you about an instance where they have been a victim of a false or misleading allegation lodged by a student. To give one example, I know a (female) teacher, A, who was accused of hitting a student. Given the unblemished professional record of A people were very sceptical of the tale to start with. The student later admitted that he had made it up as he didn't want to go to reading, and thought if he said his reading teacher hit him he would not have to go. Given the DBP case, could this allegation ever resurface if A stood for any sort of public office?

The Nats could find their pursuit of DBP costs them the support of just about the whole teaching profession, or for that matter any profession in the social services. People in such jobs are constantly aware of the dire professional consequences that can result from an allegation being made against them. The vast majority of people working in the social services are entirely professional and would not knowingly do anything to harm the people under their care. Whatever their politics, the coverage of the DBP saga is likely to leave many in a heightened state of awareness, and this awareness could feel stressful and uncomfortable.

Expect the shortage of male teachers to get worse next year.

To my mind the latest allegations, in themselves, are not as serious as the 'tennis ball' incident. Take away the implication of sleaze and there is nothing more than an air of triviality. When DPB says he opened the door to the shower room to give the students a hurry up from the door, I think most people are inclined to believe him, as just about everyone would have to admit to mucking about/wasting time in a changing shed at some time or another (towel flick fights etc).

David Benson Pope may well be a sleaze, but merely stating he entered a shower block or a room where students were changing fails to demonstrate he had ulterior motives for doing so. It would be far more convincing if it could be shown DBP went out of his way to ensure he saw a bit of naked flesh, and entered these areas with no clear reason for doing so (note I would expect teachers to be a little zealously overprotective on a school camp). "Benson-Pope enters girls shower" may make a great headline, but the details of how and why he did so may tell an entirely different story.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Perhaps it would be best if it all went before a judge - it would allow both parties some element of closure.

By far the most serious and the most damaging revelation is that DBP misled Parliament when he claimed there had been no complaints laid against him in 24 years as a teacher. This is the real issue, not the nighties. But I suspect the general public do not attach as much importance to "misleading the house" as do political and parliamentary junkies. The public are more likely to accept his public apology, even if they do not trust him quite the same way again.

While it is often claimed that in politics any publicity is good publicity I have never been sure that this is true, especially when the publicity is in any way attached to a grubby little scandal. Between 2001 and 2002, when Richard Prebble was leading the hunt against Marion Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle over their accommodation allowances I often thought that Prebble seemed to be doing just as much damage to himself as he did to the women with many houses. Is it a coincidence that it was around this time we started hearing the whispering campaign about Rodney Hide replacing Prebble as Act leader? I can't see the DBP saga doing anything to improve National's very low support among women, especially when one of its few women MPs appears to be engaging in traditional masculine dirty politics. Do not expect the DPB saga to do any great favours for the career of Judith Collins (probably a good thing!).

Ironically the Nats little witch hunt may create a groundswell of sympathy for DBP, sympathy DBP probably does not deserve. It has never stuck me as slightly surprising a teacher with 'power and control issues' decided to become a politician. It makes perfect sense.

Categories: Politics, New Zealand, National, Benson-Pope

Labels: , ,