Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Benson Pope should resign

David Benson-Pope should resign. NoRightTurn has outlined the reasons.

The question is, is Benson-Pope capable of putting the interests of the Government ahead of his personal ambitions? The lack of political nous he has demonstrated over the whole Madeleine Setchell affair suggests that this is beyond his ability.

I am not at all impressed by the attempts of Helen Clark and David Benson-Pope to blame Ministerial staffer Steve Hurring for the events that led to Madeleine Setchell losing her new job at the Ministry for the Environment. Steve Hurring placed a call to Ministry of the Environment CEO Hugh Logan to inquire as to whether it was true that Setchell was the partner of Kevin Taylor, Chief Press Secretary to National leader John Key. Clark and Benson-Pope are commenting with the benefit of retrospect. Hurring's crime, if there was one, was to uncover a stuff up in the hiring practices of the Department.

At the end of the day, the issue is this - two workers - Setchell and Hurring, are getting a raw deal from their bosses.

Ministerial and Parliamentary staff sign away their rights to speak freely and accept constraints on their activities in their lives away from work. In return staff are not held publicly responsible for actions taken while they are working for their political masters. At least they shouldn't be. As Colin James notes "A person in a minister's office speaks for the minister. The minister is responsible for what that person says or does as a member of the minister's office whether or not it is as at the minister's specific bidding or with the minister's knowledge."

David Benson Pope should have offered his immediate resignation to Clark as soon as the Setchell scandal broke. Clark may not have accepted it. I don't think I am entirely commenting with the benefit of retrospect here - this is how I would have expected Clark to deal with the situation in her first term. In fact this is exactly what another Minister, David Parker did in March 2006, and he got his job back. Ironically it was commented on at the time that Parker was essentially acting as a 'fall guy' for earlier mistakes of Benson-Pope.

Ministerial standards do appear to be falling, and such appearances, even if they are only that, are still damaging. Clark needs to leapfrog some wrinkled egos and find some new faces fast.

The left should not weep at the downfall of David Benson-Pope. Despite claims in some quarters that he is on the left of the Labour party, his actions in his Social Development and Employment portfolio suggest the opposite. The Social Security Amendment Act changed the whole purpose of the 1938 Social Security Act that established the welfare state. The new Act "wipes away any notion our social security system is about ensuring everyone can participate as citizens, instead it makes getting a job, any job the fundamental duty of citizenship". As Louise Humpage and Susan St John say - the Government is undermining the original notion of 'well-fare' in a way that would have Michael Joseph Savage turning in his grave. The new Act also will make it very easy for a future government to reintroduce work for the dole. If Benson-Pope is on the left, the Labour party is now even more of a centre-right party than I imagined.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Workers in, Spotless out!

Its great news that the Employment Court has ruled that the lockout imposed by Spotless Services is illegal.

The company refuses to offer the same terms and conditions as the District Health Boards and three other contract companies. If lower wages and conditions are the only 'point of difference' Spotless can offer, then perhaps they should leave the industry.

The key reason Spotless do not want to join the collective agreement, despite being given additional funding by the Government for this purpose, is they want to undercut so they can keep more of their profits to themselves.

In a crude attempt at economic bullying, Spotless locked out 800 hospital cleaners and service staff, after their staff exercised their right to issue strike notices, after negotiations reached a Spotless imposed impasse. This right to strike has now been upheld by the Employment Court.

A big cheer for the Service and Food Workers Union!

The workers are now likely to get paid for the 9 days they were locked out of their jobs by their employer. But the workers are not likely to get this money any time soon, as it will take time to be sorted through the courts. It is important that New Zealanders continue to support the cause. For the low paid, 9 days without pay leads to greater financial difficulty, as these workers are unlikely to have any savings, and are likely to be carrying greater levels of comparative debt. Many may still have their cars repossessed or be kicked out of their homes by unsympathetic landlords.

So despite the end of the lockout, many workers will continue to experience financial difficulty. Donations are still very much required!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The privatisation of taxation

Given the disgraceful way in which Air New Zealand have treated their workforce this year it was with some surprise I found myself agreeing with their description of the way airports set their charges.

"A privately owned unconstrained monopoly with the statutory right to set fees as they see fit is tantamount to the privatisation of taxation."

I would like to think this is an indictment of how privatisation of strategic state assets is contrary to the long held constitutional principle that taxes should only, and can only, be levied by Parliament, but I don't think so. Sadly, I don't think they understood the full significance of what they said.

While the fuselage of the planes may be round, it is a long bow to make any comparison with a Roundhead.

Privatisation of essential services such as electricity and water are also examples of the privatisation of taxation, whether they be in private ownership or operating as State Owned Enterprises. Why are there no calls for Contact Energy to give tax cuts?

Some would argue the Reserve Bank's so called 'independent' power to raise the Official Cash Rate has a similar function to a tax. Earlier this year, Treasury and the Reserve Bank looked at economic stabilisation (read anti-inflation) measures they could use as alternatives to raising the Official Cash Rate. Interestingly, one of the reasons they cautioned against the introduction of a variable levy on mortgages was the real constitutional issues raised. These issues were also raised with the head of Charles I in 1649. Should a mortgage levy be increased by a Reserve Bank without recourse to Parliament? What say the Finance Minister implemented the levy on advice of the Reserve Bank? But this only shows the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy is a monetarist illusion. For me, the debate over the mortgage levy showed there is no such thing as an 'independent' Reserve Bank - it is an attempting to give over control of our economy to an undemocratic institution.

But back to Air New Zealand.

Some would argue their description of the airport companies could easily apply to Air New Zealand itself may times in its history. There have been many occasions where Air New Zealand and Qantas have tried to merge, only to be told there is too much danger they could become an privately owned unconstrained monopoly (merger plans usually involve privatisation). A recent code sharing arrangement with Qantas failed after concerns were raised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

If Air New Zealand were really worried about the 'privatisation of taxation' they would be calling for the renationalisation of the airport companies. This would allow airport charges to be treated as an economic development issue concerning the operation of an essential service. This could also assist climate change policy as more fuel efficient planes could be charged less.

Air New Zealand says airlines and airports should have the ability to negotiate on a level playing field, and call in an expert to only arbitrate if they could not reach agreement. I look forward to Air New Zealand applying this same principle when they cannot reach agreement with their workers and their representatives.

The Labour-led government try and pretend they do not own Air New Zealand. But they do - and they fail to take responsibility for the disgraceful industrial tactics of their own airline. Perhaps Michael Cullen thinks this will constrain inflation. Even worse, they allow the board of Air New Zealand to issue more shares - therefore diluting the shareholding of the Government. Air New Zealand's plans to contract out airline services also amount to privatision. So its privatisation by stealth under Labour - if they did not support the actions of Air New Zealand they would have fired the company board by now.

PS: I am flying Qantas to Christchurch tomorrow. While I would normally support a New Zealand owned company I detest the way Air New Zealand have treated their workforce under the leadership of Rob Fife. While their marketing department would like me to be thinking about 'amazing journeys' all I can think of is the chilling call of 'contracting out'.

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