Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Tim Groser missing in action on the TPP

July 31st, 2015

While rapid change is always possible in trade talks as they approach the deadline, lets assume that the offers on the table for dairy at the TPP talks in Maui won’t improve much beyond the “appallingly bad” level currently being lamented by New Zealand dairy industry participants. What is Plan B now for New Zealand? As tactical partners to date, New Zealand and Australia have found some common ground in stalling on the patent terms for medicines, particularly in the expensive, cutting edge realm of “biologics” treatments.

New Zealand has been stalling on the medicines and IP provisions in general, to try and prise that better deal on dairy from Japan, the US and Canada – while Australia has taken the same obstructive line in order to leverage better access for its sugar exports to the US domestic market. Dream on. One of the features of this allegedly “free” trade deal is that the US has decreed that its protectionist wall for sugar is not open to negotiation, and don’t even think of asking the US to reduce its enormous farm production subsidies. And then there’s the Jones Act which has given blanket protection to the US shipbuilding and maritime industry for the past 95 years. You get the picture: from the US point of view, removing trade barriers is something for other countries to do, for its corporate benefit. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on D-Day for dairy at the TPP

July 30th, 2015

While New Zealand may feel flattered at being called “the Saudi Arabia of milk” it would be more accurate to regard us as the suicide bombers of free trade. Ever since the Uruguay Round kicked off in the 1980s New Zealand has set a socially self destructive, tactically inept, tariff cutting example that few other countries have felt inclined to emulate – and this last round of the TPP talks has surely been no exception. It does us no tactical favours to demonise say, Canadian dairy farmers for their domestic quota system of price support. In fact, Japan is the real problem for us – and New Zealand and Canada share a common interest in getting a reasonable degree of market entry for dairy in Asian markets to justify the trade-offs they are being expected to make in other areas.

Before getting into the detail of that, it might pay for New Zealand to get some idea of how it is being perceived within ther TPP context. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the PM’s concessions about medicines and the TPP

July 28th, 2015

So, on the eve of the last round of talks meant to finalise the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, Prime Minister John Key has conceded that yes New Zealand will probably have to pay more for medicines under the TPP.

This is exactly what TPP critics have been warning for nearly four years, while being fobbed off as alarmists for doing so. Key’s belated concession contradicts assurances given only last October by Trade Minister Tim Groser Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the 1990s retro proposals for our health system

July 28th, 2015

Reviews are under way that could transform the New Zealand health system into our very own version of the Eurozone, whereby DHBs that fail to meet their budgets will be treated like Greece, and punished accordingly. As we learned yesterday, the reviews propose that the democratically elected representation on DHBs should be reduced, such that community wishes will be able to be over-ridden by political appointees. In today’s revelations, the reviews also propose a return to the destructive competitive health model of the 1990s. Funding would flow to the best performers and be withheld from financially underperforming DHBs – and the door would be opened for private providers to cherry pick the most profitable bits of the service in regions that fail to meet their budgets. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the government’s dogged reluctance to condemn Serco

July 24th, 2015

The refusal by Minister Sam Lotu-Liga to hold Serco accountable for the company’s failings in prison management is bad enough. Basically, this ingrained reluctance is an echo of the government’s wider failure to heed the dangers that are inherent in turning our prisons into profit opportunities for the private sector. Serco’s poor track record in the UK had been brought to the government’s attention long before it chose to award the company the contracts to run (a) the Mt Eden Corrections Facility and (b) the new Wiri prison complex due to reach full capacity later this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the new bureaucratic tests facing solo parents

July 23rd, 2015

Offhand, its hard to think of a more cynical example of political opportunism than the requirement that solo parents will now need to re-apply for their benefits each year. This new rule is being enforced in the full knowledge that a significant number will be unable to meet the bureaucratic requirements of the process – thus enabling the government and Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley to claim success in bringing down the beneficiary numbers.

Essentially, that’s what has already happened after unemployed people were required to re-apply for the job seeker allowance. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on John Key trying to talk up our – and China’s – ailing economy

July 21st, 2015

It wasn’t exactly Winston Churchill rallying the nation in 1940, but Prime Minister John Key chose to open his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday with a curious little pep talk about the resilience of the New Zealand people. Through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake, we had kept on being resilient, and now we were ‘needing to back ourselves against the latest challenges.’ As for the economy, well…. construction in Christchurch and some exporters were doing OK. It was a picture of respectable growth, bloodied but unbowed. Better than some. Despite dairy prices and uncertainties in China and Greece, we needed “not to talk ourselves into a gloomy mindset.”

Hmmm. If things were really doing OK to pretty good, thanks… one has to wonder why the Reserve Bank is poised to cut interest rates again on Thursday morning – some are predicting by as much as 50 basis points – in order to stimulate a faltering economy. Let’s not talk each other into a gloomy mindset – but we do have the worst dairy prices for a decade, business and consumer confidence is falling, the currency has lost 25% against the US dollar since last year… gosh, remember how only a few months ago Key was touting the strong dollar as evidence of the world’s faith in our strong economy? Well, yesterday he was saying how good a weakened dollar was for our exporters. Clearly, the Reserve Bank’s imminent interest rate cut – which will almost certainly push our currency down further, to a point where it is going to really start hurting at the petrol pump and for Kiwi travellers – was the main reason for Key’s pep talk.

Elsewhere in the world, the likes of Bloomberg News are tying New Zealand’s current misfortunes to the deteriorating situation in China. In the immediate wake of the GFC, it had been demand from China – rather than our native resilience – that had kept our economy afloat. Now the reverse conditions apply. According to Bloomberg columnist William Pesek a couple of days ago:

That dynamic [of slowing growth in China] explains why commodity-currency nations Australia and New Zealand are under pressure to slash interest rates. Both the Aussie dollar and the kiwi tumbled to multi-year lows Thursday after fellow commodity exporter Canada eased monetary policy. Meanwhile, waning Chinese demand has resulted in falling global prices for everything from oil to metals to milk. Those problems will be amplified if China begins exporting deflation to the region.

In the face of such problems, our fragile dollar has fallen further, faster against the greenback than the Mexican peso or the Canadian loonie. And uh-oh, some analysts are even predicting there may be de-leveraging among assets, such as housing:

New Zealand’s currency declined to its lowest in five years after prices at an auction of milk — the nation’s major export — fell. Weaker prospects for dairy prices are an economic headwind, the nation’s central bank said when it cut rates last month.

“Growth momentum across commodity economies remains weak, and outright growth is likely to slow further,” said Atul Lele, who manages $2 billion as the chief investment officer of Deltec International Group from Nassau, Bahamas. “That may ultimately lead to de-leveraging across housing and other asset classes, all necessitating increasing monetary stimulus.”

So, rather than treating it as fuel for further house price hikes in Auckland, one could just as easily see the Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts as being a stabilising action – a means of keeping up economic demand and growth in order to stave off the hard landing for house prices that (as it was warning only a few months ago) could well de-stabilise our entire economy. Not that one wants to talk oneself into a gloomy mindset.

As an export nation, New Zealand is now unhealthily dependent on the economic fortunes of China – not as much as we used to be dependent on Britain, before its entry to the European Common market, but close to it. Again, this explains why Key’s other odd little pep talk at yesterday’s press conference was about economic conditions in China. Why, Finance Minister Bill English had just returned from China and things over there looked better to him when he left, Key said, than they had before he arrived! China too, had its problems with its sharemarket and with slowdown in growth but hey, English had found many reasons to be positive. Consumer demand for our kiwifruit was still good. There was unused capacity here and there.

Good for English, because positivity about China is pretty thin on the ground. As William Pesek of Bloomberg News also pointed out the numbers behind China’s claimed 7 percent GDP growth rate, rising middle-class incomes and a pickup in credit are deceiving.

For starters, China’s second-quarter performance was pumped up by a stock bubble that’s now losing air. Financial-sector growth combined with government stimulus (and some creative accounting, of course) to boost gross domestic product. Financial services alone surged 17.4 percent in the first six months of 2015, a dynamic that helped offset a weak real estate market. But, given the recent stock rout that wiped out almost $4 trillion in market value, it should be obvious this isn’t a durable source of growth. Meanwhile, China’s housing slowdown is a major deflationary event. Real estate has been China’s biggest growth engine since the 2008 global crisis. Now, it’s in negative-growth territory. And that’s having knock-on effects for local-government finances and vital sectors like manufacturing.

Yikes. And it gets worse.

But there’s another deflationary force confronting President Xi Jinping: the fading of China’s credit super-cycle, in which people and businesses tried to borrow their way out of debt problems….Let’s say China actually did grow 7 percent between April and June. That’s still markedly slower than the 12 percent jump in corporate and household borrowing last month. All that borrowing limits the ability of companies to increase employment and consumers to spend. Outstanding loans for companies and households are now a record 207 percent of GDP (and growing fast), compared with 125 percent in 2008.

While the government is sure to do more to stabilize growth, “we are far from certain that China is about to exit the deflationary dynamic of recent years,” says Andrew Batson, the China research director at consulting firm Gavekal Dragonomics. While China’s consumer prices rose 1.4 percent in June, producer prices plunged 4.8 percent.

This is the real and worrying global backdrop for the Reserve Bank rate cut on Thursday. The Reserve Bank is looking at the systemic reasons for China’s slowdown in growth, and the capacity of that slowdown to weigh on the entire Asia –Pacific region. Deflation, not inflation, is now uppermost on the region’s mind. Finally, and with that in mind, I asked Key yesterday, whether he had any general worries about the demand side of the New Zealand economy. [The question is at about 28.25 here]

No, Key wasn’t. Demand in many areas still looks “pretty strong”. He then spent most of the rest of his answer talking about demand within the Chinese economy – a telling sign of just how much the fortunes of China and New Zealand are now entwined. Tourism demand out of China, Key concluded hopefully is still one of the areas where demand is still ‘quite strong.’ Then dangers of basing a modern economy on dairy powder and a construction boom created by a natural disaster are now coming home to roost.

Susanne Sundfør, Delirious

At 29, Susanne Sundfør has become one of Norway’s finest singer-songwriters, and “Delirious” is a highlight of her fifth album Ten Love Songs,that she released in February. While the immediate comparison is with Sweden’s beloved Robyn – and both artists have recorded albums with the Norwegian band Royksopp – Sundfor has her own distinctive voice. On “Delirious” she’s offering a giddily chilly vision of romance : ‘I love the game/I love the pain/ come into my arms / delirious…” Not that we sturdy, sensible, resilient types here in New Zealand would normally have much truck with that gloomy Scandinavian mindset…

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Gordon Campbell on the plight of dairy, anti-Chinese sentiments and Pluto

July 17th, 2015

Where now for dairy farmers? On RNZ this morning, Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce was portraying the carnage of plunging global dairy prices, declining Fonterra payouts and bank foreclosures as merely a product of the normal business cycle and hey – eventually – things will get back to normal sometime soon. Dream on. In a world awash with milk and milk producers there is no reason to expect the glory days of a few years ago will return soon, if ever. The white gold rush seems to be over.

With similarly ill founded optimism, the likes of Andrew Huggard, the dairy sector chief at Federated Farmers, was publicly expressing hope this morning that the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks will deliver relief to dairy farmers. Again, forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the deal over Iran’s phantom nukes, and nuking Greece’s future

July 15th, 2015

Though it isn’t being mentioned, Islamic State was really the elephant in the room in the final phase of the decade-long negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Basically, how could Iran continue to be expected to do all the military heavy lifting in the battle against Islamic State, while still being economically sanctioned and isolated for the threat that Teheran allegedly poses to the region? Plainly, the lesser evil – Iran’s potential to one day, somehow, manage to match Israel’s existing nuclear armoury – is of less concern than the more pressing need to deal with Islamic State. And if that situation involves allowing Iran back on to the global stage as a legitimate economic power and a geo-political player in the Middle East, then so be it. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Treasury’s plans for Kiwirail

July 10th, 2015

Is there any more terrifying phrase in the English language than “Treasury recommends”? The latest idiotic idea to emerge from the Treasury – lets close down Kiwirail – deserves to be filed away alongside previous gems such as “Treasury push for bigger class sizes” and “Kiwisaver providing poor value for money, Treasury says” and “Treasury recommends big tax cuts for top tax bracket”.

What is it in the water supply at No 1 The Terrace that makes it such a reliable source of Looney Tunes right wing extremism? It’s been that way for well over 30 years, ever since its advice stream began to be captured by the minions of the Chicago School in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Its plan to close down Kiwirail was contained in the pre-Budget advice it offered to Finance Minister Bill English, who rejected its most extreme formulation – close down the rail network and launch a year long public relations ‘consultation’ to soften up the public for the pre-ordained decision – while still accepting the thrust of the Treasury argument Read the rest of this entry »