Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

The Goverment’s rash of PR debacles, & Bob Marley

March 23rd, 2009

Plainly, the wheels are now falling off the government’s attempts to govern by tokenism and PR gimmicks – the nine day working fortnight, the national cycle way etc etc. Only two firms, as Prime Minister John Key conceded on the weekend, are currently lined up to participate in the nine day fortnight proposal, and the cost of the cycle way has ballooned out from a never-credible $50 million to something more like six times that amount.

On RNZ this morning, business commentator Rod Oram gave a pretty good rundown on why the nine day work week was doomed from the outset. The government input was too small (only $20 million!), the costs to business too high (one executive told Oram they would be paying 9 and half days pay for nine days work), the training component was non existent and the conditions that the scheme would place on business were far too restrictive, in that any worker on the scheme could not be fired.

Moreover, the scheme was ill-directed. Manufacturing, as Oram pointed out, was the sector most likely to join the scheme – but job losses are occurring at the fastest rate in retailing, which was never likely to participate. In every respect, the scheme is a shambles. A turkey matched only by… drum roll… the national cycle way.

When announced at the job summit in late February, Key claimed the cycle way would cost $50 million, create 3,700 jobs and take two years to build – and the main benefits would accrue from increased tourism. In recent days, we have learned that only two in a hundred foreign tourists would be likely to use it, that the $50 million price tag paid only for the surface, and the costs for signage, bridge laning, land acquisition and related factors would push the cost out to something more like $300 million. Moreover, tourists would be more likely to use cycle ways built near current tourist destinations than to ride a route stretching from Cape Reinga to the Bluff.

If you think all that was pretty self-evident from the outset, you’d be dead right. At the time in February there were sceptics. Here’s how The Standard blog reported on the cycle way back then

How to solve unemployment? Let’s build a $50m cycleway the length of New Zealand! Whoopee! Somehow, we’re going to build this thing for just $25k per kilometre! Somehow, we’re going to expect that a $50m investment – just $12 per New Zealander – is just the boost that this country needs to arrest the slide towards high unemployment levels and a deeper recession! And over the two-year course of this project, if the workers received the entirety of the $50m in their pockets, they’d get paid $6756 per annum for all their hard work and toil! Oh, how in ten years time we’re going to be swimming in gold coins like Uncle Scrooge, crying ‘Mercy, it was that blessed cycleway that was the turning point!’

The $50 million price tag – let alone the basic concept – was always ridiculous. Back in 2007, Transit had reportedly done a feasibility study on what it would cost to create a walk and cycle way over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, comparable to the one on Sydney Harbour Bridge. The likely cost for this small segment alone of any national cycle way ? $35 to $40 million, and that was back in 2007.

Off With Their Heads

As the emptiness of the government’s plans to cope with the global recession become obvious, a tonal shift is also occurring in how it does its business. A certain shrillness is becoming evident. When mistakes happen, heads will roll.

Why, any bureaucrat in Wellington these days can open their window and hear the sound of the tumbrils rattling over the cobblestones on the Terrace. I know this is supposed to put the fear of God into the error-prone – and show the public this government means business ! – but somehow, Judith Collins just makes me think of Alice in Wonderland, and the mad Queen of Hearts. Remember her ? “The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ”Off with his head !’ she said, without looking around.”

In fact, few people actually get beheaded in Wonderland. ‘Its all her fancy,’ says the Gryphon, aka Simon Power. ‘They never executes nobody, you know.’ And lo, Corrections boss Barry Matthews keeps his job. IMHO, I don’t think the government is reading the public’s mood at all well on this one. To take another example : yes. the errors by the Housing Department and by the Police in the past week were bad, but did they deserve to lead the news, night after night ?

People make mistakes – they try not to, but they do. The strident calls for sacrificial victims just look spiteful, and ridiculous. More heads will roll at ACC, says ACC Minister Nick Smith – who has just bungled the sacking of ACC board chairman, Ross Wilson, and made a pillock of himself in front of the transport and industrial relations select committee. Needless to say, it undermines Key’s Nice Guy image when his lieutenants are baying for blood.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett pose an additional image problem for the government. For a party that made a meal out of gender stereotypes about Helen Clark – Helengrad, the nanny state etc etc – this pair are doing National no favours at the petulant and shrill end of the spectrum. The dreadful performance so far by Collins, Bennett and Education Minister Anne Tolley only underline how much the National party has lost with the exit of Katherine Rich – who could project unruffled competence, and transcend gender stereotypes by hard work and knowing how to do her job.

In her absence, the insecure likes of Bennett are running their portfolios mainly on hot air and posturing. As, again, The Standard has pointed out, the clip of Bennett on RNZ last week denouncing Labour MP Claire Curran for handing out a pamphlet – with actual ideas in it! – at the Otago regional jobs forum is a genuine classic of the genre.

Heaven forbid that at a forum intended to canvass ideas on how save jobs, anyone should dare to hand out background information on how one of those ideas might work in practice. Bennett’s rationale was that the public threw out Labout at the last election, and so no one wants to hear their ideas now. So much for eliciting ideas, so much for inclusiveness, so much for all of us being in the same boat together.
If we are in the same boat, a lot of us are traveling in steerage. In that respect, one of the biggest danger signs has been the rumblings of criticism over Key’s latest PR stunt – that people who get their tax cuts on April 1st should think about donating them to help the less fortunate. In his speech to the Philanthropic Foundation, Key expressed the hope that an “American style’ culture of giving might come to flourish in this country.

It was a pretty incredible statement. Essentially, Key was ‘fessing up to the fact that the design of National’s tax cuts would benefit – as his critics alleged all along – those who have plenty, at the expense of those who have very little and who, on April 1st will get nothing at all from National’s tax cuts. On the weekend, the NZ Herald, to its credit, let Key have it with both barrels:

The [tax] cuts now look simultaneously like a luxury the country can’t afford and a lifeline that hard-pressed middle New Zealand can’t do without. The Government tried to put a brave face on it by spinning the cuts as a fiscal stimulus, hinting that we all had a patriot duty to run out and spend the extra money to stimulate economic activity. It was a good try, but it just made the PM look out of touch: if he didn’t know that the vast majority of households already have the money earmarked – for luxuries like new tyres, clothes for the kids or repairing the lawnmower – somebody should have told him.

It is understandable that Key, in his speech to Philanthropy New Zealand would want to depict the tax cuts as an opportunity for the better-off to act on their better instincts…. But he still has some gall to make the plea. He knew when the Nats designed their tax-cut programme that it was criticised for unduly favouring the well-off and effectively increasing the tax burden on those at the bottom of the income ladder. For him now to turn to those who did not need, deserve or ask for a tax cut and suggest that they give it away looks suspiciously like an attempt to have someone else cover up his blunder. It is not up to the beneficiaries of ill-conceived policies to mitigate their effects on the socially vulnerable; it is the responsibility of Government to target economic and fiscal policy correctly in the first place.

When even the Herald can be so trenchant about tax cuts, which are the National’s raison d’etre, then the wheels are indeed wobbling. And remember, this government is still not even six months into the job.

Bob Marley Inc.

And how, you are probably wondering, is Bob Marley bearing up in the global recession ? Pretty darn well actually.

The rights to Bob Marley’s image have just been leased out to a Toronto firm called Hilco Consumer Capital, a firm that specialises in buying up the intellectual property rights to well known but defunct retail brands and then selling them exclusively to retailers. Bob Marley joins their roster alongside Linens and Things, Bombay Home Furnishings and Polaroid as a dead but still profitable brand.

Hey, Hilco were going for the Beatles, Supertramp and Pink Floyd – and last year it pursued a deal to license Jimi Hendrix, but the talks went nowhere. “Hendrix would have been great, but Bob Marley is way better,” a company spokesperson said. “He stands for peace, love and redemption. With everything going on in the world, it just makes a lot of sense.” The deal will see Hilco step up the merchandising of Marley on everything from footwear to video games.

The Marley family have essentially hired Hilco to be their revenue sheriff. As happened with Elvis Presley, the target will be anyone trafficking in the non-licensed use of Marley’s image. You want to put his image on a t-shirt or a poster or a lunchbox ? From now on, you will have to deal with Hilco, or Hilco will deal to you. One love, mon. And as the Marley family have demonstrated more than once before, that love is money.

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    1. 5 Responses to “The Goverment’s rash of PR debacles, & Bob Marley”

    2. By Jono on Mar 23, 2009 | Reply

      I think you will find that the $300 million for the cycleway was for surfacing only, with everything else like planning and project management, land acquisition, consents, and water crossings extra, per Trevor Butler on Nat Rad this morning.

      I know Trevor and his design work and it is definitely gold-plated, but that being said he designs good recreational infrastructure and e.g. DOC uses him alot, including for engineering inspections aimed at avoiding another Cave Creek.

    3. By V on Mar 23, 2009 | Reply

      The only good thing I heard that came out of the expensive Jobby head summit was the idea of an end to end cycle lane.But it is completely out of place to use it under the banner of “increasing tourism or job creation” or to put on list of top ten things to fund in the event of an ecomomic meltdown/global recession/bailing out of the bankers by creating more debt.

    4. By K on Mar 24, 2009 | Reply

      The cycleway’s a nice innocuous distraction from the real issues – any coincidence that the NZ Herald’s devoted ridiculous coverage to this one?

    5. By V on Mar 26, 2009 | Reply

      Absolutely.
      “Look over here folks!… and while you are fully distracted by media idiocy we can set up for the private profits off public debt creation.

      Aren’t the US up to a zillion dollars yet? Bailouts and bonuses, in the mind blowing profiting scheme of wall street.

    6. By Bruce Thorpe on Mar 29, 2009 | Reply

      hey guys,

      most of you have got it all wrong.

      the cycle track will be a boomer. Not save the economy but sure will reinvent New Zealand as a return destination.

      I already know people, neighbours, workmates who have done the down south one, and it is significant how many are planning to return, or in some cases have already done it more than once.

      They have convinced me. The word was out about its success, because other communities have been checking its feasability in their corner.

      The bike and horsetrail along the rail reserve between Okaihau through to the railhead at Otiria was on plan for example before the JObby conference mentioned.

      It is the combination of local attractions, and truly unique experiences that make this a winner.

      And the technical and money costs are pretty much in reach of a well motivated community and government joint initiative.

      Its a goer.

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