Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Prefu, and on the RWC attempts to vilify the French

October 26th, 2011

Update: Audio – Bill English speaks to media at the release of the 2011 pre-election fiscal update.

Click a link to play audio (or right-click to download) in either
MP3 format or in OGG format.

No surprise, really, that Treasury’s pre-election economic and fiscal update proved to be such a highly political document. The document gave ample reason for feeling extremely nervous about the economic outlook – global economic unease, downturns in demand among our key trading partners, major declines in commodity prices, delay in the Christchurch rebuild (and likely skills shortages and upwards wage pressure when that rebuild does eventuate) poor prospects for growth long term, a widening current account heading for 7 per cent of GDP … Name your poison, it’s here. Even the reasonably acceptable rate of underlying inflation is to be taken as a sign of weakness in the economy.

Oh, and that’s if everything turns out OK. There is a one in five chance, Treasury says, that an even worse scenario will eventuate. As mentioned though, this is a highly political document. Thus, Treasury also cites the stronger than expected growth in the short term and – despite all the storm clouds mentioned above – it paints a relatively rosy scenario where unemployment heads down below 5% in the forecast period, and wage growth stays pretty robust. If it is credible at all, this cheery picture of wage growth and job growth averages can only be on the back of the eventual rebuild in Christchurch, and will largely be limited to skills shortages in the construction industry.

Lets just say that on this occasion, Treasury is far more convincing as a bearer of likely bad news than it is in touting the scraps of possible good news. Keith Ng queried Finance Minister Bill English at the briefing about Treasury’s apparent nonchalance about those pesky credit rating downgrades we’ve had recently, which Treasury chooses to dismiss (at page 25 of the Prefu document) like so:

The credit rating downgrades…are not expected to have a material impact on debt financing costs (long term yields are expected to increase by around 15 basis points)

If that’s the case, Ng asked, why we were trying so hard just recently to re-assure the rating agencies? Good point. (English’s reply was to the effect that lots of countries are getting downgrades, so no big deal. But it would have been a bigger deal if it had happened a few years ago. Huh?) As yet though, there is no sign that the public feels unduly alarmed by the economic picture, or feels like blaming John Key and his team for the downward slope on which the economy will be perched, after the election.

Going into that election, the Key government has two main policy planks – the partial asset sales and the benefit reform process – for which it has yet to provide any kind of net costings. We await a spreadsheet where the gains/losses of the options of retaining the assets in question in state ownership are placed alongside those from the mixed ownership model that the government is promoting. So far, no transparent figures on the net position have emerged, for the public to evaluate. With the partial asset sales, we have been given only estimates of what revenue could conceivably be generated from a sell down. To repeat: there are no estimates of the long term comparative gains and losses from keeping them, as opposed to selling them

Similarly, there seems to be no modelling of the likely costs and savings from the much-heralded reform of the benefit system. Treasury does monitor and measure such things: eg the Prefu document pointed to the savings in benefit payments since the Budget from the lower than expected unemployment figures. On page 63 of the Prefu document, it also concludes that many of the Welfare Working Group recommendations “would result in large upfront costs if adopted”. It must be doing those calculations though, on the back of an envelope. Because when I asked English yesterday what the aspirational target – and/or the expected net gain – was for the benefit reform process in say, its first year of operation, he maintained that no such work had yet been done.

Essentially then, the government is heading into the election campaign asking the public for a blank cheque in two of its main policy areas. We should be asking for more.

***

RWC Fallout

One of the rationales for the massive expenditure on the Rugby World Cup – at a time when for instance, every hospital in the country is being run into the ground – is that the tournament is serving as a valuable showcase for New Zealand to the world. Well, if that is the case, could Keith Quinn and his anonymous sources in the All Black camp please shut the f***up with their campaign to vilify the French team?

The rest of the world admired the French efforts in the final. The efforts being made to the contrary are only underlining to the world – and to the other 50% of New Zealanders who are not obsessed with rugby – that the All Blacks and their fans can be just as ugly and graceless in victory, as they are in defeat.

About this alleged eye gouging by the French centre Aurelien Rougerie ….no one laid an official complaint that an eye gouging occurred. The player allegedly gouged – Richie McCaw – is not saying that he was deliberately eye gouged. In fact, in the Guardian, McCaw said this about French captain Thierry Dusautoir:

Dusautoir showed what he was made of last night. Every time I have played against him he has had one hell of a game. He has been around a long time and he inspires his team by the way he plays.

That surely, should be the end of it. If you’ve got the evidence, you front up. Instead, some anonymous elements within the All Blacks camp have taken the back door route – they’ve avoided fronting up, while using Keith Quinn as a conduit for allegations of foul play. The attempt to smear Dusautoir has been particularly contemptible, and looks like petulance at him being named man of the match, and IRB player of the year. Apparently Dusautoir’s sin was that he was “close” to the incident, and did nothing about it. Yep, three minutes before the end of a RWC final, Dusautoir has an over-riding obligation to be offering solicitous comfort to Richie McCaw. Good grief. If McCaw got an eye injury this was no less accidental – and did far less lasting damage – than McCaw’s knee to the face of French flyhalf Morgan Parra, far earlier in the game.

According to the French, their team members felt unable to leave their hotel on the night of the victory for fear of being attacked by celebrating All Black fans. (What would have happened to them if the French had won doesn’t bear thinking about.) Later, a photographer harassed the team at a private function and after being ejected tried to shoot photos through the restaurant window – and all the subsequent headlines were about the angry response to this cretin by one French player. Right.

We have lavished millions on this RWC – largely to the benefit of a fortunate few bar owners and hoteliers. No doubt, some business advantages will occur downstream in the wake of this tournament – but you can bet that RWC Minister Murray McCully won’t be ordering an opportunity cost analysis on whether this huge RWC spend-up really was the most effective way of promoting New Zealand as a business and tourism destination.
Footnote : The New Zealand Herald, which prominently featured the Quinn allegations also carried a highly selective story headlined “World Media Reacts : NZ Nailed It” that began with a largely positive report from the Guardian’s Robert Kitson. To get to Kitson, the Herald had to ignore the article in the same issue by the Guardian’s chief sports writer Richard Williams. For the record, here’s what Williams said:

All New Zealand did was win, which was presumably all they wanted to do in order to end their famous 24-year drought. They had hosted the tournament beautifully but when it came to the showdown they derived disproportionate benefit from home advantage, including a few free gifts from a referee who spent the first half infuriating even neutrals by giving virtually every decision to the men in black.

France’s fans were unable to make themselves heard in a stadium draped in black but their team’s display was full of spirit, generosity, creativity and adventure… and were hugely unfortunate not to become the first side from their nation to capture the Webb Ellis Cup.

The All Blacks were grim, pragmatic and joyless: a caricature of a stereotype. Nothing they did in the 80 minutes truly illuminated the game. Their try was a gimme, tinged with a hint of obstruction, and they never came close to scoring another…”I’m tremendously sad but tremendously proud, too,” [coach Marc Lievremont] said during a dignified post-match press conference. He made no reference to the collision between Richie McCaw’s knee and the temple of Morgan Parra in the 11th minute, which forced the early removal of France’s own influential fly-half.

For the Guardian’s overview article on how New Zealand had successfully hosted the tournament, go here. It ends with this paragraph, which should also be kept in mind alongside the hosannas of praise for our hosting of the RWC, when assessing the tournament’s tourism legacy:

Abiding memory : A nation so immersed in their sport that it was possible to watch rugby 24 hours a day even if the down side was trying to dodge questions about England in every bar and restaurant visited. It was almost possible to forget the rip-off prices. Almost.

********

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    1. 14 Responses to “On the Prefu, and on the RWC attempts to vilify the French”

    2. By Russell Brown on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      Gordon you’ve published your demand for evidence *after* the evidence has been made public.

      The attempt to pin this on Dusatoir was ridiculous, but Rougerie’s actions were disgraceful. Had there been a citing, he would have been subject to a summary six-month ban from all rugby. He can count himself lucky McCaw’s eyesight wasn’t permanently damaged.

      I fully understand why McCaw and NZRU want to take the win and move on, but it’s ridiculous to pretend this was simply an attempt to vilify the French. It actually happened, and it was awful.

    3. By Russell Brown on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      And you also managed to brandish the only mildly critical passage in the entire Guardian roundup as some sort of proof of … well, something. That people wanted to talk about the England team and downtown bars are pricey? The *shame*!

      You’ve got a bit of a nerve calling everyone else “graceless”, really.

    4. By A neutral on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      “They derived disproportionate benefit from home advantage, i… giving virtually every decision to the men in black……….Their try was a gimme, tinged with a hint of obstruction, and they never came close to scoring another…”

      Graceless and lacking in nuance Williams demonstrates none of the insight that he graces to his writing on cycle racing. Perhaps he ought to stick to what he is good at which isn’t Rugby, it seems.

      This is after all the man who insisted that Wales needed Gavin Henson……

      I feel a little sad about the uneccesarily heroic reporting of the French performance. When Manchester United grind out another premiership win against the play, they call this greatness. When New Zealand does this it is called ?

      And no I don’t like gouging or the way it has been covered.

    5. By kappanz on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      Well now, I have sampled a wee few world sports blogs, and hell hath no fury like viewers of a competition where 19 of the 20 teams lose. So what. I’m glad we won’t have to put up with another 4 years of angst.
      But we will have to pay for the $39m over spend. We are still having to deal with a shipwreck that “couldn’t happen here!”, and which has no portent for the for deep sea drilling being foisted upon our defenseless coastlines. We still have a government whose only solution is to sell off the jewels and create a class division. And our PM would still rather be on Letterman than Hard Talk. There is a critical election looming, so it is time to let the expensive, large, ball-kickers go back to their home paddocks. Personally, I hope someday we pay scientists more than sportsmen. k

    6. By Graham Dunster on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      Interesting that the only responses to date are about rugby in the vein of the graceless behaviours noted in your column. I have to confess that I find the PREFU section more interesting and a lot more worrying.

    7. By Joe Blow on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      Yeah, the fallout from the RWC looks a bit too intense for the likes of me…

      As for the economy and wind up to the election I have something to say. It looks like the government is winding up for a shock doctrine agenda next term. Why else would they be moaning on about how bad a job they’ve done just before an election? I thought the recession was supposed to be over by now… remember Key and English saying as much? What gets me is that the bulk of the nation is still oblivious to the consequences of electing in National for another term and are still more worried about how badly they won the RWC than on the future of our nation politically. Ego bruised even when we win! Nothing the All Blacks do will ever be good enough!

      Still I have felt like there has been some movement away from favouring National with the slow response to the Rena disaster and did everyone see Key trying desperately and shamelessly to get his photo op with McCaw at the end of the game? McCaw looked at him like “Why are you here?” when Key tried to push in front of Bernard Lapasset. I can’t remember Clark ever walking out onto the Rugby field after a game, can anyone? And now the IRB have pulled the footage from youtube:

      IRB pulls John Key handshake from YouTube
      http://www.3news.co.nz/IRB-pulls-John-Key-handshake-from-YouTube/tabid/1534/articleID/230752/Default.aspx

      Shameful!

    8. By Tiger Mountain on Oct 26, 2011 | Reply

      Agree re PREFU, it will be interesting to see how some of the luvvies at Public Address cope with Labour’s plan to change employment law relating to the film industry. Does any other country in the world have legislation that mentions Hobbits?

    9. By Gray on Oct 27, 2011 | Reply

      I’m at a loss as to why people get so upset over a game like rugby and in particular the violent acts that take place during a match. When you look at it the game is little more than organised thuggery. Keith Quinn and the rest of New Zealander’s buying in to this rubbish needs to grow up!

    10. By Garth on Oct 27, 2011 | Reply

      @ Russell Brown.

      What I take from Gordon’s WRC thoughts is that kiwi’s are once again displaying Little Country Syndrome, coupled with an inability to take a breath and reflect. We’ve had 4 years of Wayne Barnes being treated as one of histories greatest monsters, but when Joubert takes a hands off approach to a game (sans missing blatant forward passes), he’s a great referee letting the teams decide the outcome.

      I’m not saying the French player is innocent but the footage (that I’ve seen) is all in slow motion, which tends to make things look worse (see: Troy Flavell’s eye gouge, or, McCaw’s knee Parra’s head).

      If a British newspaper was as vociferously shitting on the AB’s the way that the Herald is going after the French, NZers would have a meltdown. We already know how we react to All Black foul play – looking the other way, or contemptuously dismissing the players as whiners i.e. O’Driscoll vs. Umaga and Mealamu.

      Compare this to Warriors fans who got on with life and treated this NRL season as something to be enjoyed, despite what strongly appeared to be an intentional headshot to their playmaker and a case of obstruction turning the tide of the final.

      The All Blacks won. Let’s just be happy and move on.

    11. By Gordon Campbell on Oct 27, 2011 | Reply

      Hi Russell, knew you were a busy guy, didn’t realise you were also chairing the IRB complaints committee. My point about evidence was that there was a place to put such evidence as there is, and lay a formal complaint. No one did. Its called fronting up. If you don’t want to make a case in public and put the evidence on the table, you shouldn’t become party to a chickenshit whispering campaign via Keith Quinn, as some in the All Blacks camp did.
      Hmm, what could have been my reason for quoting the Guardian’s Richard Williams and his generous praise for the French, in a context where everyone here was howling for their blood ? Gee, that’s a hard one. Maybe I was hoping it might serve as a reminder about the great contribution the French team had made to the final. A forlorn hope, obviously. As for the Herald…look, it was claiming in its headline that the world media are loving us. To me, it seemed relevant to mention the Guardian citing the ripoff RWC prices, since that might well rebound on the tourism legacy and the value of the RWC spend. (Several among the visiting media I spoke to – from Argentina, Australia, and Britain – had also mentioned the rip off prices here.) We ran a successful tournament, as I also said. My point was that we have been less than generous in victory. Talking of which…did anyone else feel those victory parades were a bit too…North Korea-ish for comfort?

    12. By Mike on Oct 27, 2011 | Reply

      A Guardian article presented as knowledgebale about rugby? Ha ha – their level of expertise is about zero and it was a rubbish article. Fact remains it was a terrible eye gouge attempt on McCaw by a dirty French player – all glory to this being aired…

    13. By Gordon Campbell on Oct 27, 2011 | Reply

      Of course. All injury that is sustained by New Zealand players is always deliberate, all injury sustained by our opponents (even when as in Morgan Parra’s case, it was far more damaging) is always accidental.

    14. By Huw on Oct 29, 2011 | Reply

      Well said Gordon. As someone once said “O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us”, but it’s a brave man who uses it.

      Objectivity over one-eyedness, reason over ranting? Works every time for me.

    15. By nznative on Nov 2, 2011 | Reply

      ah rugby, Nz’s pride.

      Richard Lowe would be the dirty’st player I’ve ever seen and he was an all black.

      It was NZ rugby which supported the aparthied reigem in South Africa and it was the All Blacks who all but ruined the Montreal Olympics because most of the African nations were boycotting it because New Zealand was there………. “Among the most eagerly anticipated events at the Montreal Olympics was the expected 1500-m showdown between John Walker of New Zealand and Filbert Bayi of Tanzania. But Bayi would not compete, with Tanzania the first African nation to announce that it would boycott the Games. In all, more than 20 African nations stayed away, ”

      Rugby which was and is used cynically by our politicians.

      Rugby, racing and beer, short back and sides. Its our nasty, violent conformist past.

      Celebrate it.

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