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...they makes an ass of you and me. | Sep 15, 2005 00:00

Will the real costing of Labour's interest-free student loan policy affect my vote? Well, I guess it shouldn't, since this merely confirms my analysis from July/August. (In fact, the $16.5b debt by 2015 falls handsomely within my $15-20b estimate.)

But it does.

Although the original costing from 22 June (the one everyone has been talking about) blows a hole through Labour's public costing, the second costing - ordered by the government - from 27 June is even more remarkable and damning. The opening paragraph:

You have asked us to provide a costing of providing an interest free student loans scheme, using altered assumptions... this changed estimate assumes that voluntary repayments will continue at the rate at which they occur under the current scheme, the percentage of the $150 [weekly] entitlement for living costs drawn [down] does not increase, and draw down rates increase in the following manner: [a <1% change in fees borrowing over 4 years, ~10% increases for living and course costs]"

This second costing had the cost of the scheme hovering around $300m a year until 2012. This is the costing that Labour went public with, and the assumptions are downright dishonest.

No change in voluntary repayments? 1% (!?!) increase in fees borrowing over four years?

They are such unreasonable assumptions that I can only imagine that they were designed to be so. They don't make any attempts to go half-way to meet the Treasury assumptions. In fact, it's only marginally above the lowest possible set of costing assumptions. In short, it's been rigged to make the scheme look as cheap as possible, and Cullen specifically asked for it to be like that.

I'm trying to convince myself that the Good Doctor Cullen had a gun to his head when he asked for that second costing. I'll tell you whether I succeed on Saturday.

[Update 1: Salient writer Graeme Edgeler cites this line from Question Time on 2 August:

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister asked Treasury to forecast the long-term fiscal impact of her Government's proposed interest-free student loan policy; if not, how can she assure this House and New Zealanders that her gift to students in this election year will not be a noose around the neck of hard-working taxpayers for years to come?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, this is a Labour Party policy, not a Government one. Even the most expensive and ill-founded estimates of its cost are significantly less than what Dr Brash thinks he could spend on tax cuts.

[Update 2: No, assumptions don't make an ass of you and me. It makes an ass of u and mptions.]

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Assumptions... | Sep 14, 2005 20:54

Woah there - the Treasury costing does not "conclude" or "predict" that student loan uptake will increase to 95% by 2008/09, it *assumes* student loan uptake by full-time students will rise to 95% by 2008/2009.

Treasury made their calculations based on those assumptions, which are just educated working estimates. They're not necessarily wrong and certainly not ill-informed - but they're just assumptions.

And those assumptions are most certainly debatable - while Treasury has models (fallible, but detailed and earnest models) to predict things like fees and student numbers, they don't have any statistical model or supernatural powers to predict how people will change their borrowing behaviour in reaction to the policy.

All they know is that if you gave them an interest-free loan, they'd take it. Me too. I would be more than happy to put money on Treasury's assumptions over Labour's assumptions, but I just want to make absolutely clear that assumptions and conclusions are two incredibly different things.

Having said that, I think it was particularly telling that Michael Cullen has been trying to argue that uptake won't dramatically decrease, when the real ripper in the costing is the assumption that voluntary repayments will cease altogether.

The loan debt was always going to go up, but it was expected to reach $13.5b by 2015 (my data here has been superseded, but the principle still stands), and stick around that point once it got there. But if voluntary repayments stopped, then the total student debt would rise faster for longer, and the point at which it stabilised would be much higher - meaning that the long-term cost of the no-interest policy would also be much higher.

(47% of all repayments are made directly by borrowers, most of this would be from voluntary repayments, though IRD doesn't have a figure.)

The cessation of voluntary repayments is the real boogeyman in the scheme, and it makes me greatly suspicious that Cullen doesn't take it head-on.

As for government debt part of the costing, it's been *way* overplayed. The government takes on debt to lend to student, but that debt is instantly offset by the debt that the student owes to the government (i.e. The government gains an asset). However, because it's interest-free, and because not all students pay back all of their loans, the real value decreases over time, which has a real impact on government's net worth, but only at a portion (~20%) of the face value of the debt. (Simplified: Just divide what National says by 5.)

In short, Treasury is only offering an opinion. A definitive opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. It's also an opinion that I agree with.

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It's the macroeconomy, stupid | Sep 14, 2005 12:00

This election has brought me into a mild epistemological crisis. What has really shocked me, after seeing into the hivemind of our polity, is that nobody really knows what's going on. It's not that anyone is particularly incompetent, it's just that there are severe natural limitations on what we know and what we can know, and the confidence with which politicians and the media declare what is "true" is for our benefit - so that we can sleep at night knowing that somebody "up there" has everything under control.

Not that I have a better idea of what's going on, but as an agent of chaos I feel obligated to present my contribution to the public discourse this election - some unequivocally qualified answers and absolute uncertainties on the biggest iceberg that's floating through the fog of this election: Macroeconomics.

[Note: It's in Q&A format - or, more precisely, Things You Always Wanted to Know About Macroeconomics But Were Afraid to Ask format - because I can't figure out how to do it all in any structured form.]

Tax Cuts

Are National's tax cuts affordable?
Yes. There is money in the coffers now, and there'll be more if spending on public service is cut and the numbers are jiggled a bit.

Public services cut? It's just all of them bloody penpushers, right?
Well, their "baseline review" business is actually relatively modest - $300m for the first year, an extra $100m for the second and third year. That's a lot of penpushers to send to the gulags, but they intend to save three times as much from reducing the amount allocated for new spending.

The reason the focus has been on the former, not the latter, is probably because penpushing bureaucrats are so easy to hate (uh... except for the ones who read Public Address, of course). But the numbers are pretty clear - the present "wastage" in the public sector is secondary to capping its growth in the future.

It's possible that much of that future growth would have gone to PC bullshit anyway, and so the cut won't make much difference. It's also possible that it will.

The trouble is that I don't think even the public service knows. Such is the nature of these megalithic organisations - they grow according to the rules and environment that they themselves create, and there's no "Architect" sitting in a control room who understands the whole machine.

Short answer: Nobody knows, including National and Labour.

What numbers will be jiggled?
Capital spending that is currently paid out of cash can be paid for by borrowing instead. Think of it as making weekly payments on that $100 TV instead of paying cash for it, and all of a sudden you have a $100 more than you would otherwise have - which you can then spend on other things.

Does it mean more debt?
Yes. National's projection puts government debt at $3.2b higher that it would under Labour by 2009.

That's bad, right?
Not necessarily. Government have debts, just like households have debt. New Zealand has a pretty low debt level, so having more isn't really such a big deal.

So debt's good, then?
Well, no, it still costs money to service debt.

Er, so it's bad, then?
The increased borrowing doesn't matter a whole lot in the short-term, but we don't know how it'll pan out over the long-term. The problem is that once taxes are lowered, it's very difficult, politically, to raise them again. So, even if we assume that we can afford them over the next 3-6 years, it still might not be a good idea, because if a future government can't afford them (and we don't know either way) and they can't get rid of them, it might result in even more debt or spending cuts.

The other argument is that with the aging population, we'll be less able to afford to service the debt in the future.

Why does National hate us so?
I'm glad you asked that question, me-pretending-to-be-Lynne-Pillay.

Actually, debt is not an inherently bad thing - the question is whether we're getting a return on the debt. In this case, National insists that the borrowing is not to fund the tax cuts, it's to fund capital expenditure. (e.g. They've borrowed $100 to buy the TV, and then use the $100 they had sitting around to buy pot, but say that the $100 they borrowed was for the TV, not the er... crockery.)

Anyway, ignoring that crappy argument, let's just say that they are borrowing to fund part of the tax cut. The question then becomes: what is that tax cut going to get us? The pure right-wing answer is growth - more money will mean more spending, which will stimulate the economy and make more money.

Tax cuts = growth?
Michael Cullen says that's what the theory says, but Clinton raised tax, and then actually saw a golden era of growth, so nhhh! He says that pumping money into an overheated economy will cause inflation instead.

Roger Kerr says that that's what Cullen's theory says, but Reagan cut taxes, and that actually inflation go down. So double-nhhh!

They both agree on one thing, though: The other guy is wrong.

Working for Families

Is WFF inflationary?
If the tax cuts are inflationary, then WFF would be inflationary too. It would be less so because it's smaller, but dollar for dollar, it would have more impact because it's targeted to slightly poorer people, who (in all their poor-people silliness) go out and spend their extra money rather than put it into their nest egg.

Whether it's inflationary also depends on the state of the economy. If there's already a lot of activity in the economy, then pumping more money in with something like WFF or tax cuts would stimulate inflation. The trick to counter-cyclical fiscal management is to wait until it's just starting to cool down, then pump money in, so that the economy gets going again.

Counter-cyclical what now?
It's the idea that the government should save when it has a lot of money, then spend it when it's poor, because the spending will stimulate growth. It's like, you know, making hay while the sun is... you know... and eating hay when the sun goes... bah, I don't really know much about making hay. But you get the idea. Hay. That's what it's all about.

Uh, okay. So WFF might be bad?
Fiscally, it really is just like a tax cut. Pretty much all the bad things that can be said about tax cuts can be said about WFF. The major difference between the two is that WFF is targeted at a specific group of people, whereas the tax cuts are dispersed over the whole workforce.

Was it a last minute bribe?
Yes and no. Cullen really didn't know what was in the Pre-Election Fiscal Update until he saw it. Dodgy Treasury forecasts underestimated the strength of the economy, which meant that the government had more money than Treasury said they would. As far as problems go, having more money than they realised doesn't seem so bad, but it does have consequences.

Earlier this year, I reported that the government stuffed up big-time on giving out student allowances. The government had earmarked the money, made policies to give it out, but nothing happened - because faulty Treasury forecasts meant that the policies didn't work, because people were better off than they were supposed to be. Well, boohoo - but it does demonstrate that Treasury's repeated misunderestimation of the economy is not a stand-alone occurrence and can be problematic to the functioning of government

So it wasn't a deception on Cullen's part to hide the money - it was just a matter of Treasury stuffing up - and it was really extra money, on top of what Cullen deemed prudent to save, so it was only natural that he spent it.

But hey - a bribe from good money is still a bribe!

--

Originally, it was a question of fiscal management. Do you save now, or do you spend in the hope that it'll create growth for the future? Saving is safer, but spending now has a longer-term pay-off (if it translates into sustained growth). With Labour blowing the books wide open, the difference between the two parties has closed, but the question is still relevant.

On balance, I'm leaning towards Cullen, as the safe option. The tax cuts and the public service reviews are certainly interesting, and I'd like them if they worked (more growth, more efficiency - why not?), but they're all terribly speculative. The risks of a tax cut that would be locked in for a decade, chalking up debt but delivering few benefits to the economy as a whole, or even damaging it by fueling inflation is quite a big risk, not to mention the mayhem that would become our public service (which would be unavoidable in the short-term, at least)... these are all big risks. Scrooging money away? No great evil can come of that.

Still, I guess I've always had a soft spot for Scrooge McCullen. I would have a great deal more faith in his fiscal management if he'd stop throwing money at me, though.

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God-fearing | Sep 12, 2005 06:02

Things are looking a bit dire for Wellington Central candidate Mark Blumsky at the moment. First he was beaten up before the campaign really even got started; his campaign HQ, which he got through some connection or other, got taken back two weeks ago (at least his apartment is nice. Lots of stairs, though.); then I hear from people deserting from his core campaign team that there's a lot of frustration in the ranks (fingers were pointed at one David Farrar, actually); and *then* the DomPost came out with a poll showing incumbent Marian Hobbs 16-points ahead. Ouch.

As if all of that isn't bad enough, the gossip/speculation about his assault early in the campaign has reached saturation point among Wellington's chattering class. Journalists have been on to it for a while now, so the fact that nothing's been published could mean that the gossip was unsubstantiated or at least unsubstantiatable (or they're waiting until later in the week), but at the current rate, it doesn't need to be published - the majority of voters in Wellington would have heard about it before the week is out!

But Blumsky was just a segway, actually, into United Future. Sure, they're just on 2%, so who cares? But it was nonetheless interesting to hear Blumsky - a former president of UF - talk about their membership base. This is from an interview I did with Blumsky last Tuesday - just before Brash got with Dunne:

I just want to ask a few questions about the time you spent as the President of the United Future party last year. Did you consider yourself socially liberal then?

Very. At no stage was I ever actually asked my opinion on civil unions, at no stage did I vote, at no stage did we develop policies. I was only there for 6 months, the whole point was to get the board and the party organised for an election coming up. Don't forget I was only there for 6 months.

Peter Dunne asked me [to be the president] - he's a very good friend - [and] philosophically, they're not that far [a] fit from the Nats, so I was happy to do Peter a favour. But I realised I just didn't fit, at the end of the day, so I was happy to move on.

Hang on, if you didn't fit with United Future, and United Future is philosophically close to the Nats...

No, it's the people. Not so much the close people, because I knew Peter very well, and he hasn't changed his stripes at all. I suppose I was surprised, when I got to the outer regions, [that] the mix of people in the party was different to the mix I had met in Wellington. They had very strong feelings on... how do I put it... I got a lot of emails that were quoting various scriptures or looking for... I mean... and these are the wider... and it's just not my space.

Are you concerned that the same socially conservative element exists in the National Party?

It wasn't the social conservatism that scared me about United Future, it was the... some of them are very fanatical in how they see religion and politics tied up. So that's why I [said] that I get scriptures or [bible] quotes sent through, and [they thought that] these should be driving, divining reasons for me to be doing things, because it was quoted in this Book of Jeremiah or whatever.

When I travelled the country with United Future, I realised just how many of these people were involved in the party. And they weren't slow in letting me know their feelings. I realised if I was to stand tall as the President of United Future, I had to be more all-encompassing to the wider United Future group than just the Wellington team. So it was nothing to do with social conservatism, it was all to do with how they saw their religion in helping decide how they live their life.

--

So there you have it, the secret is out: United Future is actually a bunch of fundies.

Remember - you heard it here first.

Seriously, though, the role of religion in New Zealand politics is interesting. It is... menacing, really. Maybe it's just us godless Wellingtonian inclusive heathens who think this way, but it seems like any party with a religious undertone is seen as one destined towards theocracy. Why else would UF try so hard to hide their religiosity?

Even Destiny tries (albeit, very very badly) to distance themselves from religion. Their Wellington candidate, speaking at Vic, exclaimed that Destiny Party is completely distinct from Destiny Church, and said that the connection between the two is as loose as the Labour Party and the International Labour Organisation.

All this makes me wonder how big a part our... er... "god-fearing" play in the Exclusive Brethren thing (I hope they haven't named a "-gate" after it and forgot to tell me. My vote is for Heavensgate). Anyway, as with these things, the response has become the story, so I guess the funny church people will be returned to the box from whence they came...

Actually, I'm not so sure about that, either. The Greens have come out with yet another coup - they've found that the pamphlets the Brethrens were distributing are variants of ones used in Tasmania last year. Maybe Exclusive Brethrens don't believe in this whole copyright thing (well, if everything is created by God, then what's property, anyway?).

And the busy bees over at Frogblog also dug up this gem from Brash's "Baloney" speech, in response to Brash calling all the attacks on his credibility a "distraction":

Today, I want you to know that the credibility of Helen Clark, the ability of our Prime Minister to tell the truth, the ability of her Ministers to tell the truth and to give honest answers in our Parliament, is firmly on the agenda as an issue for the 2005 general election. I make no apology for that.

New Zealanders have had enough of the culture of evasion, deceit and half-truth which characterises not just this Prime Minister but her Cabinet, and in a few weeks' time they will have the opportunity to do something about it.

If nothing else, I think the Greens have won the investigative-thriller votes.

[Tom Scott has been delayed until possibly after the election.]

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Hot Lesbian Photos | Sep 09, 2005 02:16

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Not long before the politicians storm the beaches now, so I reckon it's time for a bit of R&R and to stretch those voting muscles - so get some practice by voting for the Glammies at GayNZ.com. To help you on your way, here's my friend Maddy, who's been nominated for a few categories, including "Hot Chick". Also nominated is His Grace Bishop Brian Tamaki, for the Best Hairdo and HeteroHero (for uniting the GLBT community like nothing else) categories.

And for some Office-like cringe humour, how about the Brash-Dunne meeting? Dumping Hide was a long time coming, but did Brash really have to make out with Dunne in Hide's own turf? It's like a spiteful ex who *wants* their spurned partner to see them with someone else.

Speaking of bad exes, I had an interview with Blumsky this week where he dished the dirt on his old chums, United Future. Funny thing being that I interviewed Blumsky on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday afternoon, UF suddenly became National's new love. Should be interesting. More next week...

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The Ginga from Otaki | Sep 08, 2005 01:25

"Social engineering"? "Homosexual agendas"? "Pragmatic sell outs"? What is Labour really trying to do? We ask Labour's Junior Whip, the Ginga from Otaki and career politician, Darren Hughes.

[Update: Ah, guess I'd better take some of my own medicine and withdraw and apologise for calling for the Greens to withdraw and apologise over their claim that National was involved with the Brethren's campaign! Man, and I thought this campaign was going to be boring.]

[Update: Turns out that 1.75:1.95 wasn't the best odds on Labour - it briefly rose to 1.85 - even odds! - yesterday, before the poll was released, but is now settled at 1.70:2.00.]

[Brief interlude: There'll be a charity screening of Campaign, a documentary about the Wellington Central race in '96, on at the National Library this coming Wednesday. Amongst the audience will be the director, Tony Sutorius, and the subjects of the film, then-Labour candidate Alick Shaw and then-National candidate Mark Thomas (who was the one to spectacularly cop it when Jim Bolger publicly urged National voters to vote for Prebble to get ACT in). I wonder if Thomas is feeling any schadenfreude towards Rodney Hide at the moment? Email campaign@unreal.co.nz for tickets.]

Why do you think that Labour had a slump in the polls earlier this year?

We've had a very tough year! We've had a year where we've kinda went from one kind of sideshow to another. And then we had the expectations that built up in the last week [before] the Budget that there were going to be tax cuts, and that just capped off what has been a difficult year.

Labour has never won a third-term during peace-time. We tend to be more reforming, we want to change things, and the country can only ever cope with so much change at one time. So to go for a third term is a hard ask, but the fact that we're looking good for one is testimony that there's a core vote for Labour that's pretty much behind what we've tried to achieve in the last six years.

Do you think that Labour has pushed social changes too far ahead of public opinion?

We are legislating to reflect what's already occurring. Take the Civil Union Bill. We've got 300,000 people already living in Civil-Union-type relationships - majority of which are straight de facto relationships. I don't believe there were any new gay relationships created because we passed the bill.

What happens is that, for members of the public for whom those issues have nothing to do with their day-to-day lives, all of a sudden it's on their agenda and they're having to think about it. But it doesn't actually affect them. For those who it does have an impact on, they can see the reality is there anyway.

Where the Government has to be careful is that the general public can only accept so many of those changes at a time, and I think we've pushed a number of - not pushed - introduced and passed legislation during this term [that] probably rattled the cages of some New Zealanders. I think it's the right thing to do, but I am conscious that you can't keep on doing those things. You've got to keep that in balance so you don't get people feeling as though you're trying to, you know, turn society up on its head.

So are you saying that you haven't been pushing the issues too fast, but you've hit the point where you need to slow down?

Each Labour government has some things that become enduring pieces of legislation. Even the most ardent critic of the Civil Union Bill didn't argue that we should make homosexuality a criminal offence like it was in 1986. Yet at the time [in '86], 800,000 people signed a petition against that bill [to decriminalise homosexuality]. So you do get things being more accepted over time. But you can only ask people to absorb those changes at a reasonably slow rate. We had a lot on the agenda of moral issues this time, and I think we need to just take a break from some of that stuff and just get on with some of the more bread and butter issues that affect far more people, like running the public health system well.

Is this slowing down a concession that you can't push the social agendas that you want to push?

No, it's just that politics is the art of the possible. We haven't been a radical reforming government, and as Helen often says, there's no sense in the country for radical change. We had 15 years of that sort of thing.

That's not backing off, it's just that we've done some pretty big things and you want to get the focus on to some of the other things, because otherwise you end up with this label that we're all social engineering, PC sort of stuff. And yet when you look at the work programme, all those sort of issues have only been a tiny fraction of what we've done.

The irony of the "social engineering" is that most of the things we've done allow people to make choices about their lives. Those who accuse of social engineering often have very narrow, rigid view about the way the world should be and everyone should conform with that. And if they don't conform with that then they're not in the mainstream. Well, that to me seems more like social engineering than anything we've actually done.

Let me put the other side to you, then: Do you think that Labour has become too pragmatic?

If you go into parliamentary politics, you have to accept that it's not an idealistic place and you have to keep enough people around you to keep the overall programme going - so that does mean being pragmatic. There's always been the great debate between the purists - those who don't get involved in the actual practicalities of implementing the agenda they believe in - and those who are pragmatic - who do get out and are prepared to commit to a longer time-frame to see social progress and social change.

We've extended the Working for Families Package by another 60,000 families. Now, if you're "pure" you'd say "why didn't you do that when you first announced the programme". But you can't. The practical side of running a political party is you can't do that.

On the foreshore and seabed, of course, we got accused on both sides of having sold out. A whole political party got started because they thought we didn't listen to them. The National Party have gone around putting up billboards saying "Iwi vs Kiwi" on the foreshore and seabed. Now, both groups can't be right, but that's what you get accused of.

Was that selling out half-way on both sides?

No, because they're both saying completely different things - one says you're stealing it, the other says you're giving it away.

I haven't seen one example of a customary right that has been withdrawn or destroyed because of what the government did on the foreshore and seabed. Equally, to counter the National Party, we haven't seen any serious or credible attempts by Maori to drive Pakeha away from the foreshore and seabed. So, huge amounts of heat, but in the end, our job is to try to get a common sense, practical legislation through Parliament.

So, if the Labour was in government for the better part of the next 20 years, what would NZ look like?

I'd like to think we'd just continue to have a fairer, more tolerant society where we are welcoming and accepting of people, and compassionate towards those who fall on hard times. I'd like to think that we would continue to express more of an independent nationhood.

We are at a pretty delicate time, I reckon. Take the whole arts policy. When that whole emphasis on arts was brought in five years ago, everyone pooh-poohed it as being, you know, arty-farty nonsense. But now you can actually see people creating jobs and making an economic return off the creative sector, and that's good on its own, but the intangible gain you get from those strong creative sectors is people feeling better about themselves, their country - things that you can't really measure, but you feel that there's a lift in the country.

I think we are seeing glimpses of an independent kind of Kiwi patriotism. We were all blown away by the public response to the Unknown Warrior's return from France, when the body came back here and the outpouring of emotion and pride that ordinary Kiwis took from that. There are tentative steps being made [towards becoming] a strong and independent people, and if Labour got a good run in government, we would be able to develop that.

Is that a core value for you, that idea of nationalism and national identity?

I think that's one of the things that we've got to do, and we've got to do it from a position of strength and not from a position of being defensive about ourselves. That's why I'm glad that the whole issue of an independent foreign policy - the nuclear-free issue - [is] on the agenda for this election. To me, as a younger person who was seven years-old when that came in, that says a lot about who we are. That we try and do the right thing even though we're one of the smallest kids on the playground.

Does this nationalism automatically imply republicanism?

I think there'll be a natural parting of the ways [with Britain], and I don't see that as a rejection of the monarchy or anything like that. It's just a natural evolution into what this country should be in the 21st century. For example, it seems odd to me, as a member of Parliament, that I have never met the head of state. In an intimate democracy like New Zealand, where everyone calls their local MPs and the Prime Minister by their first name, that doesn't quite fit with the way we operate.

Do you see Maori identity as part of New Zealand's national identity and as part of our constitutional arrangement?

Oh, [it's a] very important part. Where I disagree so strongly with the National Party is in their statement that the Treaty of Waitangi is not a living document. The Treaty of Waitangi ought to be something that's celebrated, because the very same document that was used to cause so much harm is now being used to put it right.

No one's to blame for that, no one should feel guilty about it, but we've enter this process of trying to do the right thing about it, and I think that that keeps Maori identity very much important in New Zealand's history. And I think for younger people, who've come through it and can pronounce Maori words correctly, and don't see the big problem with things that people of the older generation like Don Brash seem to have such a terrible problem with - it's all just ho-hum stuff, you know?

Is the difference that Labour thinks the Treaty process and race relations is going well and that all it requires is patience, while National think it's going poorly and going to get worse?

By its very definition, that term "race relations" means it's a tricky, bumpy road. And it is. But on the whole, over that whole foreshore and seabed issue, which resulted in a big hikoi outside Parliament and lots of Pakeha New Zealanders getting pretty angry, saying "I'm fed up, this is enough"; despite those high levels of emotions; despite the fact that a Minister resigned from the Government and set up a new party, and despite the fact that it occupied our country's public debate for 18 months, not one person lost their life over it.

We have some pretty serious challenges, but we handle them pretty well, and it doesn't get way out of control. I listened on the radio this morning, they were talking about the pull out from Gaza. They talked about how smoothly it was going, and then the radio announcer said that four Palestinians had been shot dead, and then continued reporting the story. Well, four people lost their lives, just on that one incident, and that's considered smooth.

So here, people get uptight about different things, some people get impatient because it takes too long, some people get impatient because it's going too fast, saying you're being walked all over. But in the end, in the middle of all that rhetoric is the fact that we're a good-natured people doing the right thing, and we've seen the results of it.

Do you want to be the Prime Minister one day?

Me? No, I only want to be the MP for Otaki. My goal is to spend my working life in politics. The people of Otaki willing, I'll get the chance to do that, and I'll do whatever job I get the chance to.

Do you think New Zealand will accept a ginga prime minister?

It's always good to have a first. Equally, no one from Levin has ever done the job, so who knows? I think there'd be an enormous sense of pride to see how far a ginga could go, just to show what a diverse country we are. There's room for everybody in this country.

Even gingas?

Even gingas! That's right - keep [the] hope alive.

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Bloggers in Action | Sep 07, 2005 02:27

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Funny thing happened while I was taking out the trash earlier this evening. I was out the back of the house when I heard someone shout "someone stop that guy!" on Aro Street. I bolted out to see David Farrar and Labour Party hack Greg Stephens sprinting down the road (yes - this really did happen!). At the moment of recognition, I feared that the blogosphere has finally manifested itself in the real world, like one of those Twilight Zone episodes where the TV people jump out and enact TV violence upon the stupefied viewers.

It was quite the opposite, actually!

Apparently, someone hit Marian Hobbs and stole her camera after the Aro Street candidates meeting. I hurried back to the meeting to see if she was okay, but she'd already left by that stage. Bumped into Jordan Carter further up the road, and it turns out, contrary to the account I had just heard, she just had some yogurty-substance thrown at her, and he suspected it was one of the anarchist kids.

Farrar and Stephens didn't get the guy - he disappeared down the end of a dark driveway - but good on them for their bipartisan crime-fighting efforts, anyway.

Crime-fighting bloggers - man, that would make a great TV show. (Or have they done that already? Did the Lone Gunman have a blog? Well, they didn't have a partisan one.)

Speaking of crazy investigations, the Greens claim they have discovered that the recent sets of "smear" pamphlets against them were produced by the Brethren church! Crazy-nutballs! What's next? Spam from the Almish? They also say that the pamphlet campaign is "aimed at getting Don Brash and the National Party into power"; while this is strictly true, I think it's a bit uncharitable of them to link National in with the Brethren church just because they're both anti-Green and anti-Labour.

Come to think of it, I reckon that National is owed an apology over this, given how they've been receiving the evil-eyes from the Greens over this. And really, (to add the positive reinforcement here) if any of the parties are capable of being civil and admitting when they were wrong, it's the Greens. Come on, take the moral high-ground - you know you want to.

And how'd they find out, anyway? Did an old-fashioned gumshoe hand Jeanette a brown paper (recyclable) envelope with some names? Does the Greens have a mole inside the Brethren church? Oh, the possibilities are endless (and priceless!).

Speaking of high horses, how about that Michael Cullen, eh? Actually, I'm a bit disappointed about the news coverage of Cullen's lecture, particularly Tracy Watkins' write-up in the Dom today (slightly unwise of me to say this, since I may well be hitting her up for a job in the not-so-distant future). It's partly to do with the restriction of the style in which newspaper articles are written, but the coverage of the debate over the affordability of tax cuts remains a partisan talking-heads affair - i.e. Cullen says "no surplus", Key says "big surplus".

The truth is out there, but nobody seems willing to take up the task of explaining cash vs operating surpluses and funding of expenditure from cash vs funding via debt. There's a perfectly rational debate, with logical and arguable cases on both sides, but Key is only interested in yelling "$8b surplus" (which is not true in a practical sense), while Cullen is only interested in fudging the books to fit with his counter-cyclical agenda (which is not nearly as sinister as it sounds).

To this end, I hope to produce (and I'm aware of the hubris involved, especially given my previous balls-ups) a comprehensive yet concise explanation of the tax debate next Wednesday.

But, to Fairfax's credit, I've just found that they put the full Fairfax/AC Nielsen poll results on Stuff. Must say, it's very generous and transparent of them to open up their books to be scrutinised (a task which I'll be taking up soon, probably this weekend - if anyone has a good go at them in the meantime, I'll be more than happy to link instead).

As E-Day approaches, I've got the following things lined up:

Thursday: Interview with Darren Huges, Junior Whip for Labour and bright young ginga from Otaki. He articulates the social vision of Labour and pins down the nebulous idea of national identity and Labour's role in its formation.

Friday: For your Friday reading, I'll be posting hot lesbian photos. (No, really, I will. You'll see.)

Monday: Interview with Tom Scott about the state of politics and, in particular, the Press Gallery. The man is permanently hilarious, and his insights into the human emotions and human beings in the political arena is nothing short of unique. (It was originally intended to be part of a feature article on the Press Gallery, but self-preservation and laziness conspired to sink that idea - however, the interview was much too good to waste away.)

Speaking of Tom Scott and stuff-ups, he's got a cartoon in one of his books (see the gallery link below) that I took some solace from after my $12.8b stuff-up. The guy in the cartoon is Scott himself, after a hugely embarrassing - and very costly - stuff-up while he was a columnist for the Listener, when he was still in the Press Gallery. If you get a chance, you should look up his book, Ten Years Inside - the story to go with that cartoon is priceless.

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Cashing In | Sep 05, 2005 16:01

I don't have kids, and I'm not even close to hitting the second tax bracket, but damnit - I want to cash in on this election.

The weekend's poll has shifted Centrebet's odds to 1.75 for Labour and 1.95 for National. It's as unfavourable as it's been for Labour for a while - and I've just staked $100 on the fact that this is National's high-tide mark for this election.

Why? It's partly a matter of pace. National has been steady in increasing its momentum - it's followed a disciplined plan of using taxes and race as its rocket-boosters, hoping to pick up speed, get a lead, then cruise to the finish line. The question is, has it achieved escape velocity? Or will it fall back to earth before the end?

Labour came out with its shock and awe student loan policy, then threw out more on WFF. But, like I said when the student loan policy came out, the real question is: what have they got stashed away for the end-game?

It's a pretty big variable, which makes it worth a gamble.

And of course, the minor parties will have a huge impact on the numbers, and the variables on those are farcically chaotic*. The present thinking seems to be that ACT voters should support the National candidate in Tauranga (at least when asked in opinion polls) to put NZ First perilously on the edge so that National will go crawling back to ACT on its hands and knees, forsaking their own man in Epsom and ensuring ACT's return; Labour voters should support the National candidate in Epsom to obliterate ACT and ensure that National doesn't have anyone to form a government with.

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

("Chaotic" systems, as in Chaos Theory, refer to systems in which very small changes in the starting variable can lead to very big changes in the outcome. They're not random, since they're theoretically predictable, but you just need to know the starting variables with a practically impossible level of precision.)

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