Joe Hendren

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Should the Greens weaken their policies to gain greater political support?

Pablo over at KiwiPolitico has an interesting post looking at whether the Greens should consider "a more nuanced and less ideologically rigid, but no less idealist in principle, approach to New Zealand’s foreign affairs". While I do not agree with his general thesis, I believe Pablo has identified some of the tension points that may arise if the Greens ever become part of a Government.

I posted the following as a comment over at Kiwi Politico.

The problem with the idea that the Greens should moderate their politics in order to become more of a mainstream party is that I can’t think of examples where such a strategy has been successful. I also don’t think it takes into account the impact of MMP and the need for parties to maintain a distinct political brand.

Reading your post I could not help but think of the fate of the German Greens, who watered down their foreign policy stance, particularly with Joschka Fischer serving as Foreign Minister. While their 2002 result was slightly higher than 1999, they also lost a lot of their core support. This hardly demonstrates that softening their policy stance will gain the NZ greens significantly greater political support.

A similar story could be told about efforts of Anderton and his cronies to weaken the policies of the Alliance between 1999 and 2002. Their strategy can now be judged, as it describes the policy direction of the Progressives - its ended up with Jim as a single MP.

I also fear you are following the business press when you equate opposition to open economies and current free trade agreements with ‘a generic opposition to trade’. Given the evidence of the many nasties contained in ‘free trade’ agreements, its reasonable to oppose this model while advocating for reform of multilateral institutions and considering trade within a wider economic strategy that considers economic development and the environment. Equating this with opposing trade full stop is a straw man argument aiming to shut down opposition to the free trade agenda. I should clarify that I do not wish to imply you are doing this personally - its more a comment on the free trade proponents who don’t even want to admit there might be negatives to a particular trade deal.

I also agree with what Rich had to say in the comments.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Triangle TV Scruitiny blows Paul Holmes out of the water

Tonight's edition of the Triangle TV programme Scrutiny demonstrated why Paul Holmes should not be the host of TVNZ's revamped Agenda - now called Q&A.

Journalist Edward Rooney questioned EPMU National Secretary and new Labour Party President Andrew Little about how he planned to do both jobs. Holmes conducted much the same interview on Q&A on Sunday, and the difference was stark. A small regional TV station blew TVNZ and all its resources out of the water.

Holmes narrowed down with a tabloid like fixation on conflict as a concept -"conflict you might say", "there is a conflicted situation isn't there", yet failed to show whether there was any substance to any of these potential conflicts. Instead Rooney looked to ask questions that would seek out the answer in letting his subject talk, and by so doing found a real issue Holmes simply didn't get to.

Both major political parties in New Zealand are dependent on funding from corporate sources, with party presidents regularly playing a key role in soliciting such donations. Rooney questioned how Little could seek such funding, at the same time he was advocating, potentially in an adversarial sense, with the same corporate bodies on behalf of union members. For example Telecom seeks benefaction through such donations - it is also a significant EPMU site. Little acknowledged the problem and said he could not be involved in that.

Instead, Little said he would focus on gaining smaller regular donations from a larger number of people. This would make the Labour party more democratic, but turning around 25 years of significant corporate wine and cheese is not something that can be done before the next election, and Labour could be left with small pockets in 2012 as a result. So while Little's democratic aims are laudable, this can only be a long term project.

While in the Holmes interview Little said he had committed to the union until 2011, where he expected enter Parliament, in the Rooney interview Little gave an indication he could step down earlier, by mentioning "succession plans" that were underway within the EPMU. Gaining revealing answers from subjects is another way to judge the skill of an interviewer, and who is just a show pony.

Holmes also has a habit of impatiently interrupting people, enforcing a format where interviewees can only give banal cartoonish like answers and simple soundbites. I found Therese Arseneau to be the most interesting commentator on the Q&A panel last Sunday, and wished Holmes would quit constantly interrupting her.

It is a shame TVNZ have consistently thought less of Agenda than it deserved. It might have been a show for political geeks, but then TVNZ only ever showed it early on weekend mornings - so it was never going to be 'mainstream'. Agenda regularly showed its value by breaking stories that were later part of prime time news bulletins - it is surprising how often comments made on Agenda ended up as front page news.

TVNZ have seriously erred by imposing Paul Holmes as the host of Q & A. Particularly as the start of the Holmes show in 1989 is around the point many Agenda fans would see as the death of thorough, issues based political journalism in New Zealand. Anyone else remember what Ian Fraser or Ian Johnstone were like in their prime? After that real journalists like Ian Johnstone went off to make great documentaries like Someone Else's Country and it look TVNZ 8 years before it bothered to screen it.

Paul Holmes as host of Q&A is like having an unscrupulous developer as head of the Historic Places Trust.
PS: A few weeks before Helen Clark is expected to be appointed to a top UN job, TVNZressurects the career of the same Paul Holmes who made international news after he referred to the head of the UN as a 'cheeky darky' - sigh.

Update: I have since discovered Telecom stopped making political donations in 2006. At the time Chairman Wayne Boyd said the decision was "absolutely not" a reaction to the unbundling of the local loop - I am sure readers will reach their own conclusions on this.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Auckland rail stations to prop up a debt ridden KiwiRail?

The decision the National Government to abandon the regional fuel tax, but promise to fund Auckland's rail electrification left a number of other significant transport projects unfunded. This included railway station upgrades, ferry terminals and (long fought for) integrated ticketing.

The Auckland Regional Council (ARC) based its budgets on income that was expected from the regional fuel tax, only to find the rug pulled out from under it by unilateral action from central government. Its not the ARC being irresponsible here*.

Now it appears National may have had an ulterior motive. To cover the shortfall, the ARC may be forced to cede the region's control of 41 railway stations to government owned KiwiRail, with Mike Lee calling the move a 'technical confiscation'.

If another Government was attempting to pull the same trick and the train stations happened to be privately owned National would have been crying communism and predicting the end of the capitalist world order. That said, its a pity Labour were not this hard nosed with Toll Holdings, the former owners of the railways.

I don't discount there may be strategic advantages to having KiwiRail own the stations - but the way National is going about it is very underhand, particularly as they are dealing with locally owned public assets. The ARC is likely to be the more responsible public owner at present, particularly when National is attempting to run spending cuts across the public service.

At the same time Transport Minister and former Hollow Man Steven Joyce is announcing new investment in KiwiRail as a 'stimulus package', when it is nothing of the sort. Instead Joyce is merely re announcing investments made by the previous government, and forcing KiwiRail to take on more debt as a means of gaining long overdue new locomotives. He is also cutting public transport funding to build more roads. In other words, cynical public relations spin many people would just call lies.

There may be a link between Joyce's demands to reorganise the train set in Auckland and in KiwiRail nationally. By acquiring Auckland's rail stations KiwiRail gains significant assets and land to add to its balance sheet. This would only encourage National to load yet more debt onto KiwiRail - is this the grand plan?

* One wonders Stephen Joyce, as one of the more 'cynically motivated' Nats has an ulterior motive for attempting to undermine the ARC, with the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance soon to report, and Mike Lee likely to be the main challenger to John Bank's quest to be 'Lord Mayor' of Auckland. Hmmm

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