Saturday, November 15, 2008

The public sector versus the public service

Earlier in the week some bloggers were somewhat triumphant about John Key's stated intent to cut the number of public servants as reported by Radio New Zealand.

Now he is promising NOT to cut any public service jobs. He is going to need to learn to communicate better than this;

Mr Key said the point of National's policy was to cap the number of public servants - whatever that was - at its current level.

"Whatever the starting point is, it's an apples for apples comparison," he told reporters.

"The point is it's not rising from the starting point."

Anyway (takes a deep breath) this whole business warrants further investigation given the additional remarks by the State Services Commissioner.

He said public sector growth between 2003 and 2008 was roughly in proportion to private sector growth.

So let's look at what yesterday's report actually tells us, because, like you, I was under the impression that the public service has blown out over the last few years.

Between 2003 and 2008, employment in the public sector as a whole increased by 36,452 to 335,012 (12.2%) compared with an increase of 232,000 to 2,163,800 (12.0%) in the employed labour force.

But wait...

The increase in public service headcount is 33 percent, with the largest increase among advisors and policy analysts.

So let's be clear about the difference between the public service and public sector.

The public service is made up of bureaucrats, pen pushers etc who manage the public sector.

If the rise in the public service is much higher than in the public sector as a whole then those vital frontline jobs (those which would have to be filled whether education, health, etc were private or public) must be proportionately diminishing. Which begs the question; why do we need more managers for fewer staff?

So get a grip John and start asking the same questions instead of playing pals with the PSA. Right now the last thing New Zealand needs is a nice, (self-described) 'smiley', Prime Minister.

Friday, November 14, 2008

That depends, Obama

New Zeal has a Penn and Teller video about Obama and his tax plans. Obama is featured telling a detractor facing higher taxes that he believes, "When you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody."

And guess what? I agree.

But spread the wealth through jobs and supportive relationships. NOT through taxation and handouts.

Because wealth spread through jobs and mutually dependent relationships between individuals is wealth spread voluntarily and for mutual gain. The incentives stay right. People have to work at their jobs and their relationships and they are rewarded.

But when the state takes it upon itself to direct money to people who do neither, it distorts incentives. It rewards the very actions that would be fruitless in a society reliant on goodwill, trust and mutual gain.

So it is with a sinking sense of disbelief that I hear Barack Obama making this sentimentalised statement when he fully intends to try and achieve the 'sharing of wealth' the wrong way.

Where's Ronnie Reagan when we need him most?

Treasury forecasts bode ill for welfare bill

Media Release
Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Treasury report released today forecasts unemployment rising to 5.7 percent by 2010.

Commenting on this prediction, welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell said, "To put that number into perspective, last time unemployment was at that level, in September 2000, 135,000 people were claiming the unemployment benefit - 112,000 more than today."

"Bear in mind too, that 5.7 percent of today's labour force represents more people than it did in 2000."

"Additionally, whenever unemployment rises so do numbers on other benefits, particularly the Domestic Purposes Benefit. During two previous periods of rapid unemployment growth - 1980 to 1983 and 1985 to 1988, DPB numbers climbed by 30 and 32 percent respectively."

"This is a time when it is crucial that government ensures that the numbers of people resorting to welfare for reasons other than unemployment are contained. For example, a stand-down period for the DPB would discourage families from splitting in order to claim two benefits instead of one."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unbidden thoughts

Isn't it interesting that ACT was essentially formed out of Labour yet nobody ever entertains the idea that the party would do anything other than support National. Yes, ACT campaigned on changing the government. And a Labour government with a new Prime Minister, Deputy and Party President would be a changed government. A government that included the Maori Party (with Helen the Impediment gone) would be a changed government. A government that isn't beholden to the worst weasel, Winston Peters or that populist pretender, Peter Dunne, would be a changed government.

Holy hell. Get thee away such outlandish thoughts.

Why Labour lost

This is a load of old bollocks. I wonder if the author actually lives here. Apparently the electorate threw out Labour because they weren't socialist enough.

Far from being a popular endorsement of Key and the National Party, the vote represents a clear repudiation of Labour and its pro-business orientation by significant layers of the working class.

ACT, New Zealand First and even the Maori party are all "right-wing";

The Maori Party split from Labour over its Seabed and Foreshore legislation, which was designed to cut off Maori claims to indigenous rights over the inter-tidal zone. It then contested the 2005 election, winning four of the special Maori seats by posturing as the champion of the Maori population, which is one of the most impoverished sections of the working class. The Maori Party, however, is a right-wing formation that speaks for a thin layer of the Maori petty bourgeoisie who reaped the benefits of multi-million dollar land settlements and built businesses and careers on the basis of Maori identity politics.

Not once is the anti-smacking legislation mentioned, a significant factor in Labour's downfall, nor the Electoral Finance Act, another. The entire election outcome is explained in terms of Marxism and the evil that is big business. Very funny.

"Show some sensitivity Rodney"

Jane Clifton is channelling the arrogance of National in these comments;

A political analyst is warning Act leader Rodney Hide not to overplay his hand as National's coalition partner.

It is understood Mr Hide is pushing for a role in finance, law and order or local government.

The Listener's political commentator Jane Clifton says he needs to be careful to show some sensitivity and remember he does not exactly have a towering mandate.

"He's been extremely ill-mannered to John Key making public remarks like 'John Key is to the left of Helen Clark' and harping on about still wanting Roger Douglas in Cabinet. It's just bad manners."

Ms Clifton says Mr Hide would do well to remember he is only in his seat because he got the nod from the last couple of National leaders.

How frigging hoyty toyty, matronly is that? "Mr Hide would do well to remember..."

Those people who invested hours and hours of their time helping get Rodney elected in Epsom should bow down before the superior knowledge of Ms Clifton. And Rodney should eat a substantial slice of humble pie. There but for the grace of National...

Get away.

Earlier this year Clifton wrote, Bloggers and activists make it hard to tell the accurate from the biased and the malicious.

Of course Clifton is herself untainted by bias. Her description of Rodney as 'bad-mannered' for telling the truth (Key is demonstrably to the left of Clark on certain issues) demonstrates just how deadly objective she is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Consulting members

The Maori Party have drafted an agreement with National and are now heading off to consult with members.

No word on ACT's consultation schedule as yet.

Minister of Social Development

Is Key about to put a one-term MP, who has not even held the portfolio, associate or otherwise, in charge of the single biggest government department and spending ticket?

The Maori Party and Nanny State

How does a party that believes in the power of nanny state to the extent that she can increase life expectancy, work constructively alongside parties that purport to be the parliamentary opposers of her? (notwithstanding that National doesn't properly comprehend what nanny state is and throws the term around expediently.)

Tariana Turia is at it again.

The gap in life expectancy between Maori and non-Maori is like an epidemic wiping out 10% of the Maori population, according to the Maori Party.

“If bird ‘flu killed one in ten of New Zealand’s population, a national emergency would be declared. There would be crisis plans put in place, trained personnel and resources redeployed and public spending redirected until the emergency was over,” said Health spokesperson Tariana Turia.

“There is an equivalent disaster taking place in Aotearoa right now. The latest life expectancy figures show Maori people have 10% shorter lifetimes than non-Maori...

...It is utterly appalling, and a national disgrace that this country does not expect that tangata whenua should live as long, or as well, as others, but we have come to regard this situation as normal and it barely rates a mention in the news.

“These terrible discrepancies in Maori health do not get the priority they deserve. Successive governments have drawn up Maori health strategies and action plans, but they have not been given sufficient urgency and importance.

Her approach to life is vaguely similar to the approach socialists take to money. There is only so much of it to go around and those getting more do so at the cost of those getting less. It's a nonsense. Just as Maori as a whole could earn more, invest and save more, so they could increase their life expectancy.

I could probably increase my own life expectancy if I ate better, drank less, exercised a bit more and went to bed earlier. But the truth is I want to enjoy my life on my terms. So do those individuals who just happen to have Maori ancestry. If anybody is robbing us of extended lives it is ourselves.

But Tariana wants more taxpayer money spent on denying that reality. That people actually make their own choices - good or bad. In fact she patronises 'her people' by suggesting that it is somehow the lack of government action - and by implication, spending - that is robbing them of life itself; that without government telling them, they can't draw constructive conclusions themselves. I wonder when she is going to grow up and in doing so, allow her adherents to.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Successful lives"

The Ministry of Social Development recently revamped its website. I have been looking for a picture to accompany their service descriptor.

The Ministry of Social Development helps people to be successful in their lives.

Every day our people invest energy and passion into making a difference in the lives of children and young people, families, individuals and communities. In helping New Zealanders gain a job, an education, a responsibility or an opportunity, we build their security and welfare. We support people to form strong families, build vibrant communities and a dynamic nation.

(Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves)

Risky arrangements

It was Clark who began the practice of having Ministers outside of cabinet. Here she explains how that operates;

HELEN New Zealand First is not in coalition with Labour, a minister is in the executive government, there's two distinctions here.

GARTH Well what does that distinction mean though?

HELEN It means they're not in coalition, it's a confidence and supply agreement. Because they have accepted a position in the executive ministerial responsibility will apply to that position and the same for United Future, but they're not in coalition.

GARTH But that must be confusing to anyone looking on surely.

HELEN well it's not a question of whether it's confusing it's a question of what are the practical arrangements you need to make to set up a government in present circumstances, and that’s the practical arrangement we've made.

GARTH The deal that you’ve done with New Zealand First says that it will fully represent the government's position and be bound by the cabinet manual provisions in areas within the responsibilities that you’ve given Winston Peters, so what exactly does that mean?

HELEN It means that collective responsibility applies to the portfolios which he holds and the same for Peter Dunne but neither he nor Mr Dunne or their parties are expected to speak for the government or in line with the government on issues outside those portfolios.

GARTH So what happens is Ron Mark gets up in the House for example and wants to criticise Annette King as Police Minister in the way that he went after George Hawkins and really hounded him?

HELEN Nothing to stop him. I guess New Zealand First is going to have to work through how they position in this parliament but the agreement does not take away their right as a party to express their views on issues outside those portfolios.

GARTH And you can't see that posing any problem at all for a stable coalition?

HELEN Not particularly, I think if people have got used to the idea that with MMP governments the support arrangements can be quite complex and parties are entitled to keep their brand identity.

So ACT are going to be the meat in the sandwich this time. Haranguing National over the many policy matters with which it disagrees while simultaneously being loudly berated by the opposition for propping up the government. That's a very principled position.

The public has limited capacity or care to familiarise itself with complex arrangements. There are real risks (for the minor party) in this sort of set up. I don't need to spell them out.

Not that ACT has a better alternative....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Changing fortunes

Thought that'd give the lefties a brief fright.

Time for a ramble back.

25 years ago Roger Douglas, "Labour's Manurewa maverick", was assigned finance in the newly-led Lange Labour government.

Helen Clark was given disarmament and overseas aid. Today (or thereabouts) she relinquishes her Prime Ministership and leadership of Labour. Today Douglas returns to parliament.

But what role will he play?

How much influence can a back-bench minor party MP (inside or outside the government) have?

Quite a bit. How much will be entirely up to Roger. But I do think he has to abandon the grand schemes and start pushing for radical change within the existing system. Particularly the welfare system. He has to accept that New Zealand is not going to move to an individual compulsory savings/insurance scheme, which will cover all manner of incapacities to earn, any time soon, and focus on what can be changed.

Ending lifestyle welfare by ending the entitlement mentality. If he expresses reform in those terms he can build public support.

Wrong about 'right'

Yesterday saw headlines that were various versions of "New Zealand moves to the right."

I was going to comment on the laughability of this claim. New Zealanders voted for the continuation and escalation of expansive redistributionist policies; the retention of state assets; the state saving on their behalf and the state sorting out climate change.

But I need not bother. I will borrow from the Melbourne Age which has concisely put the change into context;

The New Zealand media is portraying the Key government as right-wing, but it is only in what has become a nanny state like New Zealand that such a charge could reasonably be made.

Hence, unlike others, I am not taking for granted that National will do a deal with ACT.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Sunday morning a little the worse for wear but with a life.

As the song goes, regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.

What the hell. I'll mention them anyway.

I am very sorry Stephen Franks missed out. The irony is, if he had backed the same horse, he would have been quids in. Whoever put him at 60 on the National list needs their head read.

Ron Mark. Personally I like Ron. It takes guts to run a strong campaign shackled to a liar.

Judy Turner. Judy is worth ten Peter Dunnes. Elections are cruel.

The Libertarianz. Give up. You are too good for New Zealand. Buy an island somewhere and secede from the world.

Myself? All through the campaign I was lucky. The kind of luck whereby bad things happen but they could have been much, much worse. Twice I lost significant material from the trailer but both times there was no-one behind me. The second time a cop was just 5 seconds from coming over the brow of the hill and would surely have thrown the book at me. Similarly I was dumped down the list but it could have been much worse. I could have been number 5.

Paintings await. My welfare campaign awaits. My book about welfare awaits. And the dog always wants to walk. Freedom! There's a lot to be said for it.