Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

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Gordon Campbell on the political risks of the rising price of oil, and Harry/Meghan

November 28th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

harry-meghanThe price of oil at the pump is always a highly political issue. One of the juggling acts for any Finance Minister is managing the cost of oil on one hand, and the purchasing power of the NZ dollar on the other. For most of the Key/English era, the government seemed willing to ignore the screams from exporters over the high dollar, if this meant it could reap the political benefits of being able to buy oil (and other imports) relatively cheaply. Thankfully, the days when Brent Crude was up at $100-120 a barrel have gone, undermined by supply from (a) non-Opec countries and (b) US oil production from hydraulic fracking. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on National’s penchant for bashing (a) students and (b) beneficiaries

November 27th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

tertiaryOccasionally, political parties paint themselves in their true colours, almost by accident. For example: the National Party evidently thinks it’s a bad idea to increase student allowances and bring them remotely into line with the actual cost of living these days in our larger cities. Why, says National MP Paul Goldsmith, this will merely encourage waves of beneficiaries to enroll in courses that they have no intention of completing, in order to pick up the $50 difference between the student allowance and the jobseeker allowance. Because poor people are just like that. And when all’s said and done, poor students have got only themselves to blame for not being born into families able to bankroll them through university. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the new Pike River agency

November 21st, 2017

First published on Werewolf

ardern_littleMuch of the sympathy the public still feels for the families of the Pike River miners has been sustained by the sense that the previous government – let alone the mining company and the processes of receivership and litigation – has never dealt honestly, or fairly, with them. Finally, yesterday’s announcement by the Ardern government that a new state agency will be set up to assess and plan the manned re-entry to the mine (on a set timetable) goes a long way to meeting the families’ remaining request : that they be enabled, if at all possible, to bury their loved ones. The previous government made those noises too, but was woefully short on delivery.

This new effort is the least that can be done, given the role that successive National and Labour governments played (in legislative changes made in 1993) that fatally weakened the framework of health and safety protections available to New Zealand workers. Subsequently, the Pike River Royal Commission found those regulatory changes led directly to the disaster. The Commission laid blame at the feet of the senior management and board of directors: “The board of directors did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing…”

It also blamed the government: “the Department of Labour did not have the focus, capacity or strategies to ensure Pike was meeting its legal responsibilities under health and safety laws. The department assumed Pike was complying with the law, even though there was ample evidence to the contrary”.

Right. As a result of the Pike River findings (and the tireless efforts of the late Helen Kelly of the CTU) our health and safety laws have been changed, and our workplaces should now be safer as a result. Arguably, hundreds of thousands of workers in this country have come to benefit subsequently from the loss experienced by the Pike River families. True, some people may begrudge the cost of the Royal Commission and related litigation, and bemoan the $23 million that’s now been budgeted for the new agency – which will be set up at the end of January 2018, with the aim of completing recovery by March 2019.

That cost is peanuts though, especially given the ongoing benefits from the lessons learned from Pike River. Obviously, money cannot compensate for the loss of a partner or family member. Yet as Milford Assets pointed out in 2013, secured creditors like the BNZ got paid in full ($50 million) from the insurance proceeds, while the Pike River families received a comparative pittance, especially when compared to overseas mining disaster precedents involving the same number of fatalities. Currently, the National party is spinning the claim that the new government has softened its stance on re-entry, and has adopted its own approach. Hardly. The Pike River families certainly aren’t buying that line. The Key/English administrations effectively excluded the families, discounted their experts, and strung the families along about the potential for re-entry, with no closure date in sight.

By contrast, the new agency’s approach will be inclusive, all available expertise will be drawn upon and the families will be regularly advised of progress, with fixed dates for decision. The risks of re-entry will be openly weighed, and the buck for any subsequent mishap would stop with Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little. That’s somewhat ironic, given that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster in 2010, Little – then head of the EPMU – had initially defended the mine’s health and safety record.

Given that the recovery would not be risk free, I asked Little yesterday, would the employment rights situation enable the workers involved to refuse any call for them to carry out the tasks of re-entry? Yes, Little replied, the current health and safety laws would enable such a decision to be made by workers, right up until the day of re-entry. By March 2019, this sad story will be resolved, one way or the other.

Into the Hornet’s Nest

Defence is one of those areas of government spending that involves (a) the spending of colossal amounts of taxpayer money and (b) Ministers making decisions with their eyes glued to the rear view mirror. According to the conservative tip sheet Transtasman ( Nov 8 edition) Defence Minister Ron Mark is looking at the feasibility of re-instating the air strike capacity of the Air Force, by buying the Royal Australian Air Force’s old F-18 Hornets, as the RAAF moves on with a planned upgrade to new F-35 fighters.

At yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference, I asked PM Jacinda Ardern whether restoring the air strike wing was likely to be seen as a budgetary priority for her government. In reply, Ardern gave her usual response to queries about Defence spending – namely, that Labour will honour the spending commitments envisaged by the prior National government, but no more. Those commitments entail the replacement of our current frigates, Orions, Hercules etc, to the tune of some $20 billion over the next 20 years. Any additional elements – such as the air strike capability – would have to go to Cabinet, Ardern indicated, and be judged on their merits.

Fine. Yet according to Transtasman, Canada is also after those Hornets, and Ottawa will be advised by year’s end about whether its expression of interest will be embraced by the Australians. If there is a fiscal envelope in New Zealand for Defence of $20 billion over 20 years, it is still unclear how itemised that projected spend-up may be. Meaning: if Mark sought to front-end the process with a bid for the Hornets, could that create a fait accompli that short-changes the rest of the Defence shopping outlay that’s due a bit further down the track, during the early to mid 2020s?

In terms of job creation, the massive projected Defence spend is mainly going to benefit Aussie shipyards likely to be building our new frigates. Buying old fighter planes off the Aussies would be another bonus for them, and – arguably – could sweeten any relations with Canberra that may have been soured by the Manus refugees issue. At least that’s how Mark and his NZF boss – Foreign Minister Winston Peters – might argue this possible Hornets investment, unless told otherwise. As things stand though, any attempt to outbid the Canadians on the Hornets would displace other expensive priorities – the Hercules, the frigates, the Orions – that rank higher up the shopping list.

On any rational grounds, trying to restore New Zealand’s air strike wing makes no sense at all – either militarily, or in terms of value for taxpayer money. Besides the initial capital outlay for the Hornets, even Transtasman concedes that it would take nearly a decade of investment to rebuild the air strike wing “into an effective force.” Moreover, we’re operating in a security environment in the Pacific where not even Defence’s internal assessments can conjure up a realistic threat scenario. Here’s how the 2014 Defence Force Assessment painted the situation:

Para 66. New Zealand does not presently face a direct threat of physical invasion and occupation of New Zealand territory. The likelihood of such a threat to the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and territory over which we have a sovereign claim, emerging before 2040 is judged to be very low, and would be preceded by significant change to the international security environment. New Zealand could therefore expect to have a reasonable amount of time to re-orientate its defence priorities should this be necessary. Although there is no direct threat to our territorial integrity, New Zealand faces a range of other threats from state and non-state actors, including cyber threats and terrorism.

Plainly, frigates and Hornets aren’t any use in copingwith cyber threats and terrorism. Meanwhile, as we spend billions to defend ourselves against phantoms, schools and hospitals are putting the lives and wellbeing of New Zealanders (young and old) in harm’s way, for wont of adequate funding.

Posse, R.I.P.

The now defunct Seattle band Posse has just released its latest (and last) recording, an EP called Horse Blanket. While the 12 minute title track is the band’s masterpiece, this opening track “Dream Sequence” is pretty typical of their strengths. Routinely, Posse conveys a quasi Velvets sense of wasted ennui, via the murmured to and fro vocal exchanges (between Sacha Maxim and Paul Wittman- Todd) and the backdrop of melodically inspired guitar noise that taps into all the urges that are lurking below the surface….if only they had the energy to get off the couch.

The end result is beautiful, superficially passive music for people transfixed by the minutiae of their boredom to the point where it feels like transcendence. “Voices” (one of Posse’s earlier B-sides) put the basic problem laconically :

If I saw you on the sidewalk
Would you give me a sign
Or would you be wary if I saw you?
And if I gave up all my hobbies
And you gave up yours too
Would we be okay, doing nothing?

For the pigeon-hole inclined, someone once said Posse were like Real Estate meets the Pixies. For their part, the band have name-checked The Church as heroes, and Wittman-Todd once dreamily told one interviewer that he found inspiration for his own guitar work “in the thought of a 40 minute guitar solo by Carrie Brownstein…” Here’s the EP’s opening track “Dream Sequence”:

If you like this, take the half hour required to listen to the whole Horse Blanket EP. The title track stands full comparison to “Marquee Moon” as a beautifully constructed piece of lonesome guitar shredding grandeur, woven together by the barely conscious interplay between the male and female vocals.

And finally… Youtube has the live KEXP version of “Shut Up” which was their biggest ‘hit’. It also has the “Perfect H” single from earlier this year, where the cryptic interplay between Maxim and Wittman-Todd is initially impossible to decipher, but worth the effort. In this band’s breakup songs, it isn’t as if heartache is pre-ordained; it feels more like an inevitability dictated by almost geological sweeps of time.

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Gordon Campbell on the centre right’s love of ‘nanny state’

November 16th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

nanny-imageLike clockwork, the old ‘nanny state’ criticism has been wheeled out this week by the National Party and lapped up just as predictably by the mainstream media.

You’d almost think it was 2005 again. That was a time when the rugged individualists of the centre-right were being beset by government regulations on the nature of light-bulbs, the size of shower heads, the junk food available at school tuck shops and other such essentials.
Nannies are female. They fuss. They meddle. Real men don’t need’ em. Like the term ‘First World problem’ that it epitomizes, the ‘nanny state’ label is reserved only for those occasions when the state intrudes upon the lifestyle options of the upper middle class: most of whom see no trouble at all when Big Government micro-manages the lives of anyone poorer than they happen to be.

Like most political clichés, the term flatters the people who use it. This week, the ‘nanny state’ label got attached to Workplace Relations Minister Iain Less-Galloway, because he rejected a National would-be amendment to its parental leave legislation that would have allowed both parents to take up parental leave at the same time. Nanny state-ism, right ? You had to read right to the end of the Dom-Post story to find the reasoning behind the rejection:
Lees-Galloway may have a point that the changes required [would] be out of scope of the current legislation and far more technical than what a simple ‘supplementary order paper’ amendment could capture.

Right. So… given the technical changes to the current bill before the House that the amendment would have entailed, National’s gambit was actually a delaying tactic, and one utterly in line with the party’s track record of hostility to the whole notion of extending paid parental leave. Reportedly, Lees-Galloway was discussing (with colleague Willow Jean-Prime among others)on whether to promote National’s point in separate legislation, and more besides:

Lees-Galloway said one suggestion he had heard was that both parents could take leave for the first few weeks of a baby’s life. “It’s a completely separate policy issue, we really need to look at it outside this bill,” he said..He said Labour did look favourably at a second amendment from National to extend the number of “keeping in touch” days parents could spend at work without losing their paid leave.

National has no credibility to pose as the champion of parents and babies on this issue. In reality, it has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting any extension of paid parental leave at all. During the last term for instance, Bill English used the heavy hand of the state to veto a bill containing an extension beyond 18 weeks – because to do so, he argued, would be “unsustainable. ” The new government’s schedule – 22 weeks by July 2018, and 26 weeks by 2020 – will still bring us up to scratch in three years time only with what countries like Brazil and Russia already offer, but still behind the entitlements available in the United Kingdom. Regardless, those ‘nanny state’ headlines seem to be just too tempting for the media to resist.

Nanny National

The underlying ideology involved is kind of fascinating, though. As mentioned, the centre-right tends to tie itself in mental knots when it comes to the powers of the state. For avowedly sturdy individualists, they seem to have a surprisingly low personal tolerance for the challenges that come with change. Business requires certainty, we are cnstantly told, even as the same firms routinely impose job/ income insecurity upon their workers – for whom apparently, being made to endure regular bouts of change management is a wonderfully bracing and productive experience.

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised at the hypocrisy involved. Centre-right parties may campaign on a promise to reduce the clout of Big Government and the dinosaurs of commerce – but once elected, they seem more than happy to preside over the extensive growth of Big Government and the entrenchment of corporate power. It happened in the US under Ronald Reagan, and it occurred here under John Key and Bill English.

That complacency is remarkably inconsistent in the light of what came before. During its final term of office, the Clark government was successfully demonized as an authoritarian regime, a rampant nanny state. Why, the NZ Herald even saw the Clark government as a threat to democracy itself.

So… it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see National – in Opposition – bringing the same label out of the closet again, with the help of its friends in the corporate media. Purely for the record, lets look at how the Key/English government happily wielded the powers of the state. For some reason, none of this moved the NZ Herald to fear for the fate of democracy.

For starters, National oversaw the extensive expansion of state surveillance, and the ability of the state to hand the information gathered to foreign powers. It passed legislation to formalize and extend the state’s search and surveillance powers, across a range of some 70 state agencies. It sought ‘reform’ of the Resource Management Act, in order to restrict the public’s ability to challenge resource consents. It imposed a range of highly intrusive, punitive and discriminatory obligations on beneficiaries and their families, and was about to use Big Data (compulsorily gathered) to focus state intrusion on families that had received prior attention from state agencies. National also mounted a sustained attack on both the criteria and funding for legal aid, and on the consequent ability of defendants to contest prosecutions mounted by the state.

Moving right along, the Key government passed retrospective legalisation to validate illegal spying by the Police. It scrapped local democracy in Canterbury in order to further its own agenda for water utilization; it granted itself sweeping powers to over-ride local democracy in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake; it stripped workers of many of the key protections they previously held during their first 90 days of employment; it acted to privatize the ownership and much of the profits in energy companies previously owned by all New Zealanders, for the prime benefit of a small minority of them.

It was also a National government that passed a law to remove the right of prisoners to vote, thus violating section 12 of our Bill of Rights and article 25 of the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Such blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners has been held to be inconsistent with electoral rights by the Supreme Court of Canada, by the European Court of Human Rights, by the High Court of Australia, and by the South African Constitutional Court. (Note : removing this injustice should be a priority on the new government’s reform agenda.)

There’s more. The last National government increased the state’s powers to carry out random breath testing and drug testing. It sought to compel agencies (such as Rape Crisis) to hand over personal details of their clients to the state, as a pre-condition of continued funding. It required women to inform the state of the name of the fathers of their children on pain of having their meagre benefits docked, despite the physical danger (from revenge action) this would pose to the woman and children concerned… one could go on, and on. Safe to say, if any of the above had been carried out by a centre left government, the corporate media would be thundering about the arrogant intrusions of the nanny state into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Hey… after nine years of neglect of child poverty, homelessless and proper health funding… maybe a bit of genuine care and attention from the state would come as a welcome development, for most of us.

Song to Remember

Elvis Presley’s output on Sun records gives the lie to the myth that he was just a hillbilly natural who didn’t have a clue about what he was doing early on, and who later got corrupted by RCA and the Colonel. Sure, the waste and corruption became real enough, but maybe more because Presley came to feel it didn’t concern his audience much, either way. Audiences do matter.

This year’s The Boy From Tupelo 3 CD box set of Elvis out-takes and live performances from the Sun period offers plenty of evidence to contradict the ‘instinctive performer’ myth that Peter Guralnick and others have promoted. As Elvis, Scotty Moore and the rest of the band revisit these songs in take after take, its fascinating to hear the 19 year old Elvis identifying the core essentials of these songs, holding them through multiple versions, and refining them. Beyond his ritual expressions of Southern modesty, he was consciously shaping this stuff, and was justifiably proud of it.

The nine takes of his radical, hauntingly spectral interpretation of “Blue Moon” offer a case in point. (In line with the haunted mood he was going for here, Elvis dropped the upbeat middle verse.) Here’s take four :

And here’s the final product:

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Gordon Campbell on the TPP outcome, and the Hobbit law

November 13th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

tpp-hobbit-biggerWhen even Justin Trudeau seems willing to abandon you by the wayside, you know you’re in trouble. Yet somehow the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal has come lurching back from the dead – and as predicted in this column last week, the member countries gathered in Vietnam have announced a deal in broad principle, shunted aside until a later date the stuff on which they don’t agree, and declared victory. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Ardern’s trade battles at APEC

November 9th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

ardern-jpeg-biggerResurrections are rarely pain free. Coming back from the dead changes you – in the Bible, and on Buffy The Vampire Slayer alike. It should therefore come as no surprise that this week’s attempt to resurrect the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal has been fraught. If any TPP 11 deal at all is struck in Vietnam at the APEC gathering his week, the document signed off will be quite different from the original one that US President Donald Trump tore up earlier this year.

The question is not whether the original TPP will be changed – it will be by how much, depending on what extent of changes the signatories can abide. The APEC gathering will sign off an incomplete deal – on the bits on which there is ‘broad agreement” – and it will simply declare victory at that point. Japan has invested far too much diplomatic prestige in the resurrected deal to allow itself to emerge from APEC entirely empty-handed. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the battle over select committees

November 7th, 2017

committee-image-bigOver the past 30 years, so many of our economic theories, health, education and law and order policies, and surveillance activities by the state have been imported from the United States. Basically, our politicians – National, Labour and Act – have been more devoted adherents of US culture than any hip hop fan. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the National Party has been planning to mimic the worst practices of the Republican Party when it comes to its parliamentary tactics in opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the fear of change

October 25th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

Change isn’t the same old menu, with merely a better range of desserts. As New Zealand has woken from its nine-year slumber to confront National’s dire legacy of social and economic neglect, the changes involved are going to be extensive. Everything from the minimum wage rate – due to reach $20 an hour by 2020 – the Gold Card and the Reserve Bank Act are up for super-charged makeovers. The currency will be managed more energetically. Regions will be developed. Infrastructure will be built, power pricing will be reviewed. Over 70 policy commitments are contained in the coalition agreements that Labour has struck with the Greens and New Zealand First, let alone Labour’s own initiatives. These changes won’t be risk free or painless for everyone; but turning a blind eye to the country’s social deficits is no longer an option. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Kaiser Bill alive and well in the White House?

October 17th, 2017

Article – Gordon Campbell

T he Passchendaele centenary commemorations were held last week. Amid the military rituals, there was a notable lack of commentary on the imperial platitudes that sent those young soldiers off to kill and be killed. That seems unacceptable, today. Even … Read the rest of this entry »

What does Winston Peters want his legacy to be?

October 12th, 2017

Article – Gordon Campbell

A lot of people in New Zealand seem to resent Winston Peters and the power that he appears to have. “Appears” being the operative word. In reality, Peters will have power only up to the point that he uses it. By next week, he’ll have become … Read the rest of this entry »