Asset sales – a last minute call to vote no!

A final reminder to vote in the asset sales referendum, which all eligible New Zealand voters have been taking part in, with over one million people voting over the past two weeks. The question asked is “”Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?”

I strongly recommend voting no in the referendum. Why?
- Loss of dividends to government – less revenue for the govt and therefore less spending or more borrowing in the long run. The dividend yield from these companies is greater than the interest expense resulting from the short term borrowing that we have to do to retain the assets.
- They increase inequality. It will see a transfer of wealth from 100% of New Zealanders to a very small proportion of the wealthiest New Zealanders.
- Money flowing offshore. Every month, our household pay our power bill to Meridian Energy. It’s expensive and overpriced but at least all the profit dividends used to go to government and reinvested back into the country. Now, with an 8.1% stake being owned by the Bank of New York Mellon, some of the dividend goes to wealthy Wall Street investors (who are taking advantage of the bribery offered by the Government in the form of interest free deferred payment for the shares). No asset sales = no foreign ownership of these businesses.
- Could increase pressure to raise prices and make electricity even less affordable.
- Means that the future green energy generators are no longer in the public’s hands, and the private sector may decide to invest in non-renewables instead. The irony of this programme is that Meridian Energy, a leader in renewable energy has been sold off while Solid Energy, a poorly performing coal mining company is not going to be sold anytime soon.

Papers need to be posted off today (Thursday 12 December). It is true that it is a non-binding referendum, but there are rumours that the Government are considering cancelling the planned partial float of Genesis Energy next year. A strong ‘no’ vote in the referendum may influence their decision! We can save at least one SOE from this ludicrous privatisation policy. Vote no, it only takes a few seconds and is a vital part of the democratic process!

Additional reading:

werewolf » Referendum On A Robbery.

The Christchurch East by-election

The second by-election to be held since the 2011 General Election is coming up this Saturday. The Christchurch East by-election was caused by the resignation of Labour’s Lianne Dalziel who is now Mayor of Christchurch. This election could be very interesting to see and should be a good test run for the 2014 General Elections where National will need to work hard to retain its strong result in Christchurch in 2011 and Labour will need to work hard to try and reverse their fortunes.

Although Christchurch East has traditionally been a Labour seat, National won the party vote in 2011 by a considerable margin – 46.1% vs 31.65%. How much of Labour’s support was dependent on Dalziel is an unknown but she was certainly a popular MP. Having said that, from all accounts, Labour’s Poto Williams comes across as a very strong candidate. I’m sure National’s Matthew Doocey is a perfectly nice guy but is tainted with National’s brand with regard to asset sales, deep sea oil exploration and all the other ghastly things the John Key led Government is doing. Doocey’s comments implying that Poto Williams was only selected because of gender quotas and also that he may seek nomination as a candidate in another seat in 2014 have not done him any favours. Greens candidate David Moorhouse would make a good MP, but any votes for him will likely divert support away from Williams and possibly allow Doocey to come through the middle. Other candidates such as Leighton Barker from the Conservative Party have no serious chance of winning, although we should be able to find out whether the media attention that the Conservatives have enjoyed in recent weeks has any effect.

The Nation recently featured a report about the upcoming by-election.

Note that this from The Nation on 16 November not the last episode on 23 November (as an aside, it’s a shame that The Nation will not be returning next year. Rachel Smalley is way better than Guyon Espiner or Duncan Garner in my opinion)

It was also the subject on Radio New Zealand’s Focus on Politics programme

Labour Party Conference & KiwiAssure:

Over this weekend, Labour’s Annual Conference was held. It really does seem like Labour has picked up momentum and is on the rise. The timing is ideal with the conference being held in Christchurch not long before the upcoming Christchurch East by-election. The contest was mainly a positive process and saw impressive growth in party membership and engagement. I think it’s clear that David Cunliffe is the right person to be leading the party. Christchurch is a very important city for Labour to focus on as their poor showing in 2011, which led to two electorate seats and many party votes being lost, present a massive opportunity to make gains in 2014.

The most recent polling in the last week or so was lukewarm, with Labour being flat since the last round of polls. Some people were calling it a disaster, which is I think is incorrect. Given that there has been less media attention on Labour after the leadership election finished, it was unsurprising that Labour had not made significant gains. The polls show that the 2014 election is not going to be easy and there are many votes that Labour need to pick up. The ideal result for Labour would be to win around 40% of the party vote, and with another 12% or so from the Greens would mean that they could form a majority government without needing to rely on support from NZ First or the Maori Party. On current polling, this would mean a gain of 6-7 points is required. Some of those votes will come from the Greens, but Labour obviously need to be careful that they are primarily taking votes, (a) from the people who did not turn out to vote and (b) from previous National voters. Taking votes off other Left parties will not be very helpful. I think this quite achievable.

One of the main parts of the conference was the passing of policy motions. I was trying to follow on Twitter but there was a lot of conflicting information, so it would be good to see a some sort of summary document. The main policy however, is a state owned insurance provider that will operate as a very similar structure to KiwiBank. By all accounts, KiwiBank has been very successful (although is in need of some more capital) so I see no reason why KiwiAssure will not enjoy similar success. It will cost $80 million to set up, but because it will still be run as a profit-making business, KiwiAssure will eventually provide returns on that investment, dividends which can be used to finance government spending – rather than being shipped offshore like what a lot of profit from insurance companies is now. The fact that the Insurance Council is so opposed to such a scheme is unsurprising and a good thing. Their job is to protect the interests of the existing insurers so they obviously will feel threatened if a competitor sets up which may force them to reduce premiums.

Last year’s Labour conference saw a brilliant speech from David Shearer, and the KiwiBuild policy being launched. Shortly afterwards, and despite much media speculation of disunity and a leadership coup that never happened, the Colmar Brunton poll showed a gain for Labour. The question is whether the same thing will happen. I wasn’t at the conference this year and am yet to watch the speech, but from all accounts it went down very positively. So it seems that there are many reasons for Labourites to feel very positive at the moment.

Here’s a video of David Cunliffe’s speech.

And here’s the transcript.

John Armstrong: Energised the new buzzword – John Armstrong on politics – NZ Herald News.

One of year of blogging

Well the title explains this blog post sufficiently. A year ago today I set this blog up. Since then it’s had 5,289 views. Unfortunately writing blog posts has proven to be very time-consuming and I haven’t been able to post as much as I would like to, but hopefully I can find some more time to post more often in the future. Thanks everyone for reading.

A brief note on Transmission Gully

Construction to start on Transmission Gully in 2014 – National News | TVNZ.

It is saddening that the Government has decided to fast track the construction of the ghastly Transmission Gully Motorway project to start in late 2014. The cost is around $3 billion and will be funded via a Private Public Partnership – which means that the Government pays a private developer a fixed rate every year to cover the cost. All the risks associated with this project will be borne by the taxpayer, while the private sector will reap the rewards: “privatise the profits, socialise the losses” as the saying goes.

In the meantime the road does not stack up financially or economically. Traffic volumes are falling, and the motorway will undermine public transport investment, create more traffic congestion and increase oil usage and carbon pollution. The whole business about Transmission Gully being ‘alternative route’ in the event of seismic activity is overblown, because the new route will cut straight through a faultline and would almost certainly be blocked off in any earthquake large enough to threaten the existing road.

This, along with the gold plated Puhoi to Wellsford Motorway, is a disgraceful waste of Government money. Funding that could be invested in public transport, or into fighting child poverty. Shameful!

PS: Sadly I haven’t been able to put as much time into this blog as I would like to. Plenty of topics to write about but I find quite difficult and time consuming. Hoping to get more blog posts soon but will be quite busy for the next month or so.

Evaluating John Palino’s Unitary Plan Policy

This was originally a post from several weeks ago but given that the election campaign is nearing its final stages, I thought I should re-post it

Continuing my commentary as we lead into the 2013 Local Government Elections, today I am going to take look at John Palino’s Unitary Plan policy. For those who are not aware of him, John Palino is pitching himself as the centre-right ‘opposition’ candidate to Len Brown in these upcoming elections. You can see his website here – palinoformayor.co.nz .

I am not going to quote the introduction as that is not very interesting, but you can look at the full policy here.

Planning From the Bottom Up
In order for the Unitary Plan to be the right plan for Auckland’s many communities and foster the support it needs to be a success, it must be developed by all of us. I want all the residents of Auckland to get involved in developing the Unitary Plan and I want the rules for individual communities to be developed by those individual communities. I want every local board, every suburb and every neighbourhood to feel unique and feel represented by the Unitary Plan.

Right, let’s stop here. He’s proposing that individual communities develop their own plans. While this may sound good, it’s actually completely unworkable.

The Unitary Plan needs to be a coordinated effort. A lot of people seem to (somewhat unfortunately) have a conservative, anti development, NIMBY side to them. Letting individual communities do their own planning is bound to cause trouble, as it means that communities can simply opt out from having any intensification. This is great for serving the narrow minded interests of vocal complainers, not so great for the best interests of the city.

Achieving the required number of 400,000 additional dwellings will be next to impossible without central planning. I agree it is very important that residents and local boards are involved in the Unitary Plan process, but final say should remain with Council. Palino’s proposal completely ignores what possible future residents in the area may think, which is unfair. The main desire that future residents have is affordability and convenience, and that may not always fit with the ‘quarter acre dream’.

Continuing on:

But for that to happen we have to completely turn around the Council’s approach. Over the past three years, the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been set aside and the Auckland Council has followed in the footsteps of its dysfunctional predecessors by rejecting early, considered and genuine community involvement in planning for Auckland. Instead of local communities determining the look, feel and future of their neighbourhoods, townships and suburbs, the Council alone determined a one-size-fits-all approach to the regional growth of 1.5 million people for 30 years. Before engaging with any local communities, the Council declared at least 60 per cent of new development would occur in established, distinctive and irreplaceable neighbourhoods.

If you’re a candidate without a decent policy platform to stand on, resorting to scaremongering seems to be the only option. “Rejecting early, considered and genuine community involvement”. “One size fits all”, blah blah, blah.

Is Palino serious? The version of the Unitary Plan released in March was a pre-draft (something Council communications probably could have made clearer, but someone running for Mayor should really know this). Engaging with communities was exactly the idea. Release some plans, and then go through an informal feedback process. The feedback will then help the planners shape the final draft which will be notified for a formal submission process shortly.

The idea of having a ‘first-draft’ and running a round of feedback before formal submissions were called on is not something Council were required to do. They chose to. By releasing the draft plan as a whole first, it allowed people to see an overall plan for all of Auckland, rather than a higgledy-piggledy approach of consulting before any context was given. The Untiary Plan has actually been very heavily consulted on. 20,000 people placed feedback – probably a record for any local government issue ever.

This is not local democracy and it has to stop. People across Auckland are really hurting from their experience with the Unitary Plan. They feel left out, disempowered, frustrated and threatened.

Shock horror! Scare tactics at its worse! What was wrong with the consultation process? The feedback was listened, is currently being processed, and changes will be made! What more could you ask for?

If local communities want development because they see the benefit of employment, activities and better public services, then let’s do everything we can as a region to ensure they get it. But if those same communities are satisfied with their current circumstances, happy with the level of public ser- vice and want to retain qualities that may be compromised by growth, then as a region we have to be equally committed to protecting their values.

I fundamentally disagree with this. Residents don’t own their neighbourhood, they are not the only people who get a say about what they want. The UP process has shown that people will resist any form of development. Having local communities block out other people from living in their neighbourhood is going to limit housing supply and drive up prices. Change is good, and ultimately the planners at Auckland Council know better than most of the NIMBYs out there. They know that change will ultimately benefit all Aucklanders. Remember that a developer cannot force a resident to sell up if they want to redevelop, that would only happen if the owner agreed to sell, a point not well articulated during this debate.

He finishes with:

I am going to lead a revolution in local decision making in Auckland.

No you’re not John. You are proposing a plan that will return to the ‘dark ages’ of having disjointed Councils without any combined plans or vision. The supercity is delivering much better outcomes for Auckland, and Palino is proposing ruining all the synergies we get from it.

So let’s move on to the “Action” section:

I am going to revise the Unitary Plan and the process by which it is developed. In my first week as May- or I will initiate a new process to engage local communities. I am going to hand responsibility over to local boards to manage engagement processes and develop individual, fit for purpose plans for each of our distinctive suburbs, centres and neighbourhoods. Local resident and business associations, working collaboratively with local boards, will be responsible for developing their own vision for their local area and then working with Council technical experts to work out how we can best accommodate our region’s many aspirations and desires.

“In my first week as Mayor” – sounds like Mitt Romney’s “in my first day in office” promises.

I will make the Unitary Plan development process an iterative one. As the vision for our local communities is revised by those communities, I will direct Council officials to provide expert technical advice on where we have capacity for growth in our region and where environmental, infrastructure or other constraints preventing it. As community plans evolve, I will feed in technical information so that communities un- derstand the costs and the impacts of their decisions. Together we can harness the Council’s technical expertise with resident’s local expertise to attain the best development outcome for our region. This doesn’t have to be a litigious or confrontational process.

Unfortunately as we have seen, the obstructionist NIMBYs who will complain about sort of change (like the ones I came across at the Herne Bay Residents Association meeting) have a habit of ignoring any sort of “technical expertise” offered them. They believe that they are always right, and are unmoved by facts or new information. “Local expertise” for some seems to translate into “My property is the best and everyone needs to live like this and I don’t want any nasty Asians and their shoebox apartments in my neighbourhood”.

And as we develop the Unitary Plan together, I’m going to investigate phasing growth. The current prac- tice of permitting growth to accommodate 30 years of development from day one is going to result in rapid redevelopment of some communities beyond their expectation and leave others waiting for op- portunities. Our infrastructure will not be able to cope in the first instance and in the second we will have capacity sitting idle, wasting limited Council resources. I’m going to channel growth into areas where there is local support and capacity, when there is local support and capacity.

I hate to say it, but the answer must surely be ‘leave it to the market’. If a development goes ahead, then Council planners would already have determined that it complies with the planning regulations. Developers are going to go ahead if they believe there is demand and they are the ones taking the risk. If there’s no market for intensified development in an area, then it won’t be built! All the UP is doing is allowing for the 400,000 new dwellings that need to be built in 30 years, if they get built all in less than 30 years, then that’s because they had the demand. Remember the zoning, is allowing for development, not saying that it will happen. All this fuss about “infrastructure being inadequate” is a red-herring because planners are not going to let a development happen without there being the infrastructure being there.

He concludes by saying:

We have three years from notification to get the Unitary Plan right. We must complete the Plan in that time to give our residents and businesses certainty about their property and rights. I am committed to giving our businesses confidence and getting agreement around how Auckland develops. I believe in the people of Auckland and I believe that we can work together to seize the opportunity created by the Unitary plan.

For as long was we do not have people to call Palino out on this mainly rubbish policy, it is clever politics by Palino to buy the votes of the reactionary NIMBYs out there. He could have gone further, but chose not to so that he could pass off as a moderate. But this policy will not work and will be disaster for Auckland. As I blogged about yesterday, Palino may be a “decent bloke” but he is out of touch. His plans will cause great discomfort with the Council planners who have worked hard on the Unitary Plan and will hold back essential housing supply to cater for Auckland’s projected growth. Auckland is a big city, and John Palino clearly is not the guy who can offer Auckland the strong, decisive leadership (I think that was one of Banks’s slogans in 2010!) that we need.

Len Brown for Mayor!

Local Government Elections 2013 – some very useful scorecards to help you decide

Voting is underway for the local body elections. Remember that votes must be in by 12 October so get your votes in soon. It is so important that you vote, as by not voting you are effectively abdicating your democratic rights. Life can be busy, but take some time to do some research into the candidates. If you live in Auckland you vote for three different levels of governance:

- Local Board: The entire Auckland region consists of 21 different Local Board areas and are not always based around size of population. They are effectively a committee who work to deal with issues in the local area and advocate for the people of the area. This level has become far more important since the Super City shakeup.
- Councillor: Aucklanders elect a Council of 20 people, elected from 13 different wards. Some wards elect one Councillor while others elect two, depending on the number of people living in the ward. Councillors deal with Auckland-wide policy, budgets and so on.
- Mayor: Everyone in Auckland votes for one single Mayor of the entire city.

Remember that while generally only the Mayoral race gets significant media attention from the NZ Herald and so on, that Council seats and Local Board are also very important. After all, the Mayor only gets the same vote (plus a casting vote) as each of the 20 councillors!

There are a number of issues that are very important at the moment in local government elections, but the trouble is with the lack of media coverage it is sometimes hard to tell what a candidate actually stands for. A lot of the candidates run on quite vague slogans. To makes things easier for voters some organisations have scored Council candidates based on their agreement on certain causes.

Generation Zero have rated a number of different candidates on areas of public transport, intensification, cycling and climate change. These are very important issues, so please do have a look at their score cards and take them into consideration when casting your vote. Have a look at them here. They have also scored some of the candidates in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, although remember if you live outside of Auckland you also vote for the Regional Council. Generation Zero should be commended for their efforts as this is a massive task.

Unions Auckland have also published a list of candidates who they think you should support. This is based on issues such as paying a living wage, anti-privatisation and dealing with the situation at the Ports of Auckland.

Please make sure you do vote! Voter turnout is normally very low in local elections so let’s try and reverse that trend!

More posts to come.