Category Archives: politics – New Zealand

Does @OxfamNZ know of this shakedown? Any in the Pacific? @TaxpayersUnion #oxfamscandal

Japanese ODA agencies budget 10% for donations. Their main interest is making sure that these donations go to the politicians who can actually deliver on removing roadblocks to their aid delivery rather than chancers who try it on and never deliver. Benazir Bhutto’s husband was Mr. 10% when she was first prime minister. He was a net plus to the country according to The Economist Magazine article of say 20 years ago because investors only had to pay him rather than dozens of petty bureaucrats, each wanting a taste. These payments are lawful under the laws of Western countries because they are facilitation payments. They are not bribes because the foreign company is only paying the politician or bureaucrat to do what is his duty to do in the first place rather than stall the process in the hope of a bribe.

From The Dictator’s Handbook.


Learnt a new word today: virtue out-bidding

Does @_chloeswarbrick believe @PPTAWeb betrays the working class? Are handmaidens of the bosses?

Unions fight for better playing conditions for their members. Is not that what the class war is all about? Unions are not there to act as management consultants to the employer, working out ways to make their wage slaves profitable – extract more labour surplus.

Please do not mention that the employer of teachers is the state sector. That is an argument against unions in the state sector, a very slippery slope.

When the interests of the union and it is teacher members and the interests of children conflict, the union will do what its mission is which is to protect its members.

The first jobs to be unionised were craft jobs. The craft unions certainly foster the marketability of their members but were keen to suppress competition nonetheless. To quote Charles Baird

Most unions in the private sector are in crafts and industries that have few companies or that are concentrated in one region of the country. This makes sense. Both factors—few employers and regionally concentrated employers—make organizing easier. Conversely, the large number of employers and the regional dispersion of employers sharply limit unionization in trade, services, and agriculture. A 2002 unionization rate of 37.5 percent in the government sector, more than four times the 8.5 percent rate in the private sector, further demonstrates that unions do best in heavily regulated, monopolistic environments. Even within the private sector, the highest unionization rates (23.8 percent) are in transportation (airlines, railroads, trucking, urban transit, etc.) and public utilities (21.8 percent), two heavily regulated industries.

Craft unions opposed unionisation of less skilled workers because it threatens their own ability to extract higher wages as explained in the Wikipedia entry:

The concept of organizing a strong federation on the basis of craft evolved out of conflict between the Knights of Labor (KOL), which organized mass organizations of unskilled, semiskilled and skilled workers by territory, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which organized only skilled workers.[1] The craft workers were capable of demanding more from their employers due to their skills, and therefore organized into stronger organizations pursuing narrower interests.[2] The AFL was formed as a direct result of the perceived need by skilled workers to defend their individual craft organizations from poaching by the Knights of Labor.[3] The Knights of Labor believed that skilled workers should dedicate their greater leverage to benefit all workers.[4] Selig Perlman wrote in 1923 that this resulted in “a clash between the principle of solidarity of labor and that of trade separatism.”[2] The trade unions “declared that their purpose was ‘to protect the skilled trades of America from being reduced to beggary’.”[5]… As long as the craft unions were the dominant power in the AFL, they took every step possible to block the organizing of mass production industries. This led to challenges from both inside and outside the Federation.

The craft unions such as teachers unions have more bargaining power because they are difficult to replace on short notice unlike less skilled workers. In addition, teachers are much more difficult to automate away. I am not too sure what the teachers union might think of giving more responsibility to teachers aides?

My Submission to the Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill

Assisted suicide has had popular support for many decades. The two previous attempts at passing a Death with Dignity Bill failed despite widespread public support:

The reason political parties do not act is those who are against assisted suicide are passionately against it and will change their vote because of such a bill. Those who are for assisted suicide are unlikely to change their vote if a bill is not passed by Parliament.

Parliament will be divided into thirds

Any bill that does go for on assisted dying will divide Parliament in much the way it divides the community which is into three equally sized groups.

  • One-third will be against assisted dying on moral or religious principle.
  • One-third will be for it.
  • One-third will be for it will be but will be riddled with doubts about the ability to draft a bill that safeguards against abuse and misadventure.

Those doubts are legitimate and entitled to be satisfied before an MP votes for the bill.

Many who support euthanasia in principle have serious reservations about the ability to craft a Bill that prevents abuses. Parliaments have an interest in protecting vulnerable groups–including the poor, the elderly, and disabled persons–from abuse, neglect, and mistakes.

The sanctity of life is the first rule of law

Many people have strong views on exactly when and when not euthanasia is permissible because of their views about the sanctity of life and the risk of abuse. The recent High Court judgement on an unsuccessful application for an exception to the criminal law on assisted suicide said that:

The sanctity of human life principle underpins the criminal law relating to culpable homicide. It was said by Blackstone to be the first rule of English law.

When making an exception to the first rule of law, people want to know exactly what they are voting for and exactly what safeguards apply the proposed exceptions. A badly drafted bill may offer insufficient assurances to some MPs about preventing abuse and ensuring people who are depressed are not offered options that are not in their best interests.

Others have moral or religious objections. The religious objections were summarised by Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, where suicide was also a spiritual offence:

…in evading the prerogative of the Almighty, and rushing into his immediate presence uncalled for

The importance of getting the details right

Many Bills have failed such as recently in the Scottish Parliament and in 2003 in the New Zealand Parliament because they were badly drafted and were considered to offer insufficient protection of the vulnerable against abuse and melancholy.

Even when courts rule favourably on the matter, such as in Canada with its recent Supreme Court decision under its Bill of Rights, that court suspended its judgement upholding the right to euthanasia for 12 month so that the Canadian Parliament could work out the ever so vital details by passing a Bill. As the Supreme Court of United Kingdom recently ruled:

… unless the court can be satisfied that any exception to the subsection can be operated in such a way as to generate an acceptably small risk that assistance will be afforded to those vulnerable to pressure to seek to commit suicide, it cannot conclude that the absolute prohibition in the subsection is disproportionate to its legitimate aim.

Blackstone’s ratio

That is the essence of reservations about end of life choice. Blackstone’s ratio applies to standards of proof in criminal proceedings: it is better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent suffer.

Those with reservations about end of life choice have the same concerns that motivated Blackstone’s ratio. Their reservations are focused on few cases of abuse not justifying the benefits of going gently into that good night by making exceptions from an absolute prohibition under the criminal law against assisted suicide for the terminally ill despite they being of sound mind and independent judgement.

The law has long acted to prevent, by force if necessary, suicide – including suicide by refusing to take appropriate measures necessary to preserve one’s life after the point at which life become unbearable. Whether the patient’s wishes to be honoured in this area is left to elected representatives to legislate. Justice Scalia asks

Are there, then, no reasonable and humane limits that ought not to be exceeded in requiring an individual to preserve his own life? There obviously are, but they are not set forth in the Due Process Clause.

What assures us that those limits will not be exceeded is the same constitutional guarantee that is the source of most of our protection – what protects us, for example, from being assessed a tax of 100% of our income above the subsistence level, from being forbidden to drive cars, or from being required to send our children to school for 10 hours a day, none of which horribles is categorically prohibited by the Constitution.

Our salvation is the Equal Protection Clause, which requires the democratic majority to accept for themselves and their loved ones what they impose on you and me.

It is a decision for Parliament

The biggest threat to an End of Life Choice bill passing the New Zealand Parliament was judicial intervention in this charged social issue that will only mobilises the opponents of the right the applicants to the court seek. Scalia again this time on the risks of the courts moving in advance of the popular will, and thereby poisoning the democratic process:

Leaving this matter to the political process is not only legally correct, it is pragmatically so. That alone… can produce compromises satisfying a sufficient mass of the electorate that this deeply felt issue will cease distorting the remainder of our democratic process.

As an example of the importance of democratic compromises in securing the votes in Parliament, there is a voluntary euthanasia bill currently before the Scottish Parliament. It has been stuck in committee for two years because it not only promises end of life choice, it also grants a right of euthanasia to those with progressive degenerative diseases.

By overreaching to progressive degenerative diseases, the Bill in the Scottish Parliament was bogged down because euthanasia as distinct from a death with dignity is a step too far from many members of Parliament willing to support end of life choice for the terminally ill such as provided for in the House of Lords Private Member’s Bill on end of life choice which later failed in the Commons.

Parliament can make finely judged compromises

Any private member’s bill that does pass the New Zealand Parliament on end of life choice will be riddled with compromises and will have a genuine concern to prevent abuse and guard against questionable decisions made when judgements of the terminally ill is clouded in some way. No court in a single judgement can provide all those details and compromises.

The great strength of democracy is a small group of concerned and thoughtful citizens can band together and change things by mounting single issue campaigns or joining a political party and running for office and winning elections or influencing who wins.

Indeed, it is that very strength of democracy – small groups of concerned citizens banding together – is what is holding up legislating on an end of life choice. It is not that minorities are powerless and individuals are voiceless. Exactly the opposite.

Many people have passionate opinions for and against an End of Life Choice Bill. These opinions are taken into account by members of Parliament in fine detail depending on how voters will vote at the next election. What can be undemocratic about members of Parliament paying attention to how a wide range of ordinary members of the community might vote if they disappoint them.

The key safeguard of minorities against the majority is their ability to block vote. Yes, those in the majority will be annoyed at the power of the minority to slow down the passage of a End of Life Choices Bill. Yet on some other matter passionate to them those currently in the majority will one day or another end up in a minority. The rotation of power is common in democracies, and the worst rise to the top.

It is wise to design constitutional safeguards to minimise the damage done when those crazies to the right or left of you get their chance in office, as they will sooner or later rather than focus on the powers you and those that currently agree with you should have in your few days in which you fleetingly have a majority. Too many policies and ideas of the one political party or another assume that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not and always for an uncertain time.

New Zealand Parliamentary elections are always close because of proportional representation. This makes reality of ending up in the minority again very quickly in a few years very real.

Yesterday’s majority of the vote sooner or later and often sooner than they expect will break off into different minorities on the next big issue of the day.

These newly formed minorities will use that same ability to band together as a minority to block vote to protect what they think is important and advance agendas they think are to be wider benefit despite the opinion of the current majority to the contrary. All reforms start as a minority viewpoint.

You can’t complain about democracy not working because it’s working precisely as it should: parliamentarians paying close attention to how a great number of people from all walks of life vote in light of how they as members of Parliament voted on specific issues important to them.

Do not underrate the terrors of death

The democratic process must strike a proper balance between the interests of terminally ill, mentally competent individuals who would seek to end their suffering and the State’s interests in protecting those who might seek to end life mistakenly or under pressure. The pros and cons of euthanasia as a practical matter is ably summarised by Richard Posner:

 Countries and states that authorize physician-assisted suicide impose strict requirements that minimize the danger of involuntary euthanasia—too strict, some believe (such as the requirement in Dutch law that the patient’s suffering be “unbearable” before he can invoke physician assistance to end his life).

These requirements (which further reduce the stigma of physician-assisted suicide by confining the practice to cases of genuine desperation) are not airtight, or uniformly observed.

Any system will be abused. The question is whether the incidence of abuses, combined with the other costs of the system, outweigh the benefits.

Gary Becker has written frequently on the issue of euthanasia and suicide. Indeed, he wrote the Economic Theory of Suicide, not long after his wife took her own life in the early 1970s. He argues well about people’s ability to weigh the considerations:

Rational forward–looking persons with good information about their future circumstances would commit suicide only when convinced that they would be worse off by continuing to live.

David Hume said (in his Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul) “That suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves no one can question, who allows that age, sickness, or misfortune may render life a burden, and make it worse than annihilation.”

Schopenhauer was also confident about the rationality of suicide, “It will generally be found that, as soon as the terrors of life outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life” (Parerga and Paralipomena).

Becker also wrote insightfully of the terrors of death:

Hume adds “I believe no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping. For such is our natural horror of death”, and Schopenhauer makes the same observation “But the terrors of death offer considerable resistance…”

The reason why Death with Dignity Bills fail in Parliament is those in the community who are against it are passionately against that it and will change their vote if it passed. Those that are for it are not swinging or single issue voters.

Let the people decide through parliament

The way in which a bill on assisted dying is to be passed is by normal democratic means: by trying to persuade each other and elections. As United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said

The virtue of a democratic system [with a constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech] is that it readily enables the people, over time, to be persuaded that what they took for granted is not so and to change their laws accordingly.

Yes, assisted dying years a passionate issue and some people are impatient and wanted to use the courts, but again I believe Justice Scalia is right when he said:

We might have let the People decide. But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.

That importance of a fair defeat at the ballot box and in Parliament is important both to when and if a bill on end of life choice is passed, and to how quickly support opposition to that bill will be mobilised before such a bill even is put into the Parliamentary ballot of private member’s bills.

Nothing stirs up the impassioned (and most other people as well) more than depriving them of their right to support or oppose what is important to them through political campaigns and at an election. The losing side, we all end up on the losing side at one time or another, are much more likely to accept an outcome if they had their say and simply lost the vote at the election or in Parliament.

We live in a representative democracy

The advocates of a referendum want to remake democracy with the faculty workshop as their model. Such deliberation has demanding requirements for popular participation in the democratic process, including a high level of knowledge and analytical sophistication and an absence, or at least severe curtailment, of self-interested motive.

Representative democracy is a division of labour in the face of information overload. John Stuart Mill had sympathy for parliaments as best suited to be places of public debate on the various opinions held by the population and as a watchdog of the professionals who create and administer laws and policy:

Their part is to indicate wants, to be an organ for popular demands, and a place of adverse discussion for all opinions relating to public matters, both great and small; and, along with this, to check by criticism, and eventually by withdrawing their support, those high public officers who really conduct the public business, or who appoint those by whom it is conducted.

Representative democracy has the advantage of allowing the community to rely in its decision-making on the contributions of individuals with special qualifications of intelligence or character. Representative democracy makes a more effective use of resources within the citizenry to advance the common good.

Members of parliament are trustees who follow their own understanding of the best action to pursue in another view. As Edmund Burke wrote:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. … Our representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Modern democracy is government subject to electoral checks. Citizens do have sufficient knowledge and sophistication to vote out leaders who are performing poorly or contrary to their wishes. Modern democracy is the power to replace governments at periodic elections.

Richard Posner argued that a representative democracy enables the adult population, at very little cost in time, money or distraction from private pursuits commercial or otherwise:

  1. to punish at least the flagrant mistakes and misfeasance of officialdom,
  2. to assure an orderly succession of at least minimally competent officials,
  3. to generate feedback to the officials concerning the consequences of their policies,
  4. to prevent officials from (or punish them for) entirely ignoring the interests of the governed, and
  5. to prevent serious misalignments between government action and public opinion.

The power of the electorate to turn elected officials out of office at the next election gives elected officials an incentive to adopt policies that do not outrage public opinion and administer the policies with some minimum honesty and competence.

A referendum is too blunt an instrument for a matter requiring finely judged compromises

A referendum is an all or nothing choice that does not allow an iterative process where people can converge on better and better drafts of the proposed law. Only Parliament can do that.

Bills have 3 readings on the floor of the house and a select committee process for a reason. There is plenty of time for the parliament to deliberate consider options and alternatives and change its mind in light of further revisions to a bill. None of those possibilities for reflection and reconsideration are available in a referendum. That is why we live in a representative democracy.

We choose people and parties who we see to be of sound judgement and leave the details to them. If they keep getting it wrong, those members of parliament will pay at the ballot box.


Do-gooders want to introduce rent controls and security of tenure to restrain rapacious landlords further. Little wonder every 3rd Auckland rental property is sold and the tenants evicted every 2 years.


Veniality haunts the state sector @TaxpayersUnion

One of the first things I noticed after coming to New Zealand from Australia in 1998 was the petty veniality in government departments.

In my first week, I discovered employers pay for farewells. No chance in Canberra. We take our colleague out for lunch and have a whip-round to pay for their lunch. If it was a retirement function, such as for a long serving employee, the senior staff would pay for it out of their own pocket. The taxpayer never ever paid.

Then I noticed that public servants would charge lunches with each other to their government credit card. They would buy wine! By chance, I discovered when working at the Productivity Commission that the chairman was authorised to send out for sandwiches if a meeting ran over lunch time. He never did. The last time I remember a meeting running over lunch, the deputy chairman, who later went on to be the chairman, bought the sandwiches out of his own pocket.

It got worse when I noticed who went on overseas trips. When it was a more exotic location, a much more senior manager felt the need to represent his country. Enthusiasm in a minister’s office for going to a rather boring international meeting picked up no end when they discovered it was in Istanbul.

I thought most overseas travel was a waste of time in 1999 even with that so primitive an Internet back then so I actively avoided it and never proposed a trip. This became crystal clear when we were receiving cables from the embassy in Washington and London telling me what I had already read in the Washington Post and the London Times while they were sleeping. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs a couple years later installed desktop Internet access.

Then to my astonishment, I found that government employees would take holidays at the end of their business travel. If you tried that in Australia, you would be fired and hopefully your manager too for not setting the right tone. It would never be considered.

If you were on an interstate secondment, as some friends once were from Adelaide to Canberra for the Tax Office, they were entitled to take leave equal to the amount of time accrued while on that secondment. If they were away for one month, they were entitled to take one and a half days leave and receive travelling allowances and so forth for those one and a half days.

Clearly, it would give an appearance of bias when you are writing the business case if you could get it business class air ticket to the other side of the world and then take a long holiday on the way back. Appearances count, especially when you are thinking about taxpayers’ money.

New Zealand government departments seem to employ a lot of contractors as policy analysts. I have never heard of such things in Canberra when working at the Department of Finance, the Prime Minister’s Department and the Productivity Commission.

If a manager could not recruit and retain enough analysts to work through peaks and troughs in the workload, you were not a very good manager. If it was a real crisis, you found someone who was not busy from within the organisation and had them seconded to your team.

In more than a few places, these contractors seemed to be good friends of the manager. These contractors can be hired so quickly and in such number that a new manager can find no time to talk to his existing staff about what they do now, what they might do in the coming months or what skill sets they might have. Is always a bit odd that new managers can hire a couple of contractors but not have time to sign a performance agreement with any of his staff in that year.

I was talking to a colleague, also a migrant to this country from another state sector about how he would always refuse attempts by people to buy him lunch or a beer. Like me, he would be up the back eating his own sandwiches while the senior executives tucked into 3 course lunches plus wine provided by various lobby groups.

Until I came to New Zealand, the taxpayer had never bought me lunch or a beer. I was careful to refusal offers of hospitality. If an offer was made, I thought they were up to something.

But worst of all, worse than any of this veniality, the worst culture shock of all was until I came to Wellington, I had never been to a team meeting. When I was asked to go to my first team meeting, the 2nd day on the job, I just had to wing it.

In Australia, managers are expected to keep staff in the loop and staff are expected to talk to each other about what they are working on in case they can help each other. Managers and staff are expected to be frugal with their time as well as the taxpayers’ money paying their salaries.


It is not a case of under-investment denying buses and trains their day in the sun. The overseas evidence is rail cost estimates and passenger forecasts are much more politicised than those for roads because of the political pressures to invest in more public transport no matter what (Flyvbjerg et al. 2006).

There is more organised political support for buses and trains and considerable organised (often NIMBY based) opposition to road building. A major driver of cost blow-outs in the road projects reviewed by the Ministerial Advisory Group on Roading Costs (2006) was scope changes to appease local political pressures to mitigate community and environmental impacts. Community group driven litigation under the Resource Management Act to frustrate NZTA road projects is proliferating. Their High Court loss which prevented the building of the Basin Overpass in Wellington is a recent example.

In contrast, light rail proposals such as a billion-dollar proposal in Wellington City for a few kilometers of track including a $400 million tunnel were entertained for far longer than any sensible benefit cost analysis could justify. Quite fanciful fast-rail proposals costing many hundreds of millions of dollars are floated in by-elections and from time to time by the commentariat and rent seekers.

The proposed upgrade the Auckland to Northland railway line and the rail link to the port was costed by the Taxpayers’ Union (2015) at $198 million. Dreams of fast rail receives a generous hearing despite mind blowing costs and incredulous and sometimes impossible freight and passenger forecasts.

Buses and trains are not the forgotten children of urban transport policy. The Greens are passionate about massive investment in buses and trains at the expense of roads. Labour is also competing for the same urban middle-class votes so it too champions more public transport. In an MMP Parliament, all parties have an incentive respond to political pressures in a fine-tuned way when voting on budgets.

Public transport advocates do well in the scramble for taxpayers’ money. The road with the worst benefit-cost ratio of all in the post implementation reviews was the Auckland Northern Busway, which cost $182 million. It had a cost benefit ratio of a miserable 1.2 at approval and a no better 1.3 after its completion. With a benefit-cost ratio rounding down to one with ease, this bus network upgrade must have had political muscle behind it to dam the taxpayers, full steam ahead.

Our house too big for ultrafast broadband hook-up @stevenljoyce @TaxpayersUnion @EricCrampton

Your picking loses detector is at maximum when governments are retrofitting infrastructure in the suburbs. We just had Chorus in to retrofit ultrafast broadband to our house. Our house is too big and complicated to rewire.

In addition to stringing a wire from the road to a ATC box, as with everybody, we need to rewire from that box to my office for another ultrafast broadband box next to my computer on the other side of the house 2 floors up. I was told I would need an electrician to do that as the house is already built, most of the wires will probably be external, ugly and I would have to pay for it and the drilling through my floors.

Seems like the political genius behind government paying for ultra fast broadband including fitting it into my house assumed everybody had a nice simple one story house where the office was near the ACT box so there would be minimal rewiring. That would involve minimal internal wiring.

If I want to proceed, I need to bring in an electrician and as the house is already been built, he will need to drill holes, string wires and then the chorus team will come back. The alternative was to have my modem just above the ATC box in the spare bedroom and the rest of the house operate including my desktop in my office on Wi-Fi which seems to very must defeat point of ultrafast broadband indeed.