THE DEAR OLD DAYS
Fascinating news from Statistics NZ: delving into their files, the number-crunchers have revealed that in 1949 - when they began tracking the cost of large home appliances in the consumers price index - a washing machine cost the equivalent of $4170 in today's money, once you allow for inflation. A vacuum cleaner was $2040, and when fridges were added to the CPI in 1955, they cost the equivalent of $4770. So much for the good old days.
With the May Budget all but settled, ministers are turning their minds to milking its publicity possibilities for as much as possible. John Key, wearing his tourism hat, started that process this week with a $158 million increase over four years to boost New Zealand's international profile. He will get more mileage from the move when he announces where the money will go. Budgets haven't given ministers much to shout about in recent years, but with indications that $800 million will be available, maybe there will be more to see.
Bill English is still predicting a boring budget and the truth is that any extra money could easily be eaten up by costs in the health portfolio. The problem for English is the pressure he will come under when the books do eventually return to surplus; his signals are that any extra will go into repaying debt, restarting repayments to the Super Fund and, more controversially, tax cuts for the middle classes.
DOING THE HARD YARDS
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully is pulling out the stops in his campaign for New Zealand to be given a place on the United Nations Security Council. Over 14 days starting this week, he will visit South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Belgium Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Malta and San Marino.
Not all parts of the public service are shrinking; the word is that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise is having to find more room to house the 60 to 70 procurement experts they are engaging to help other departments save money.
A BIGGER STICK
Telcos and internet service providers (ISPs) are wondering if the GCSB and its political masters are failing to keep up with technology. The new GCSB legislation is apparently going to enlist New Zealand telcos and ISPs to support the government on security matters, under the threat of legal punishment. But for many digital natives, communicating with friends - or criminal co-conspirators - occurs via a range of methods that bypass traditional telcos and ISPs. These include Skype, Viber, iMessages, Google Talk, Jitsi, Facebook Messenger, Talkatone, Dropbox, FaceTime, and a thousand other applications and services. This means that if the Government really wants to police the internet, it will have to deal with much bigger players such as Google and Microsoft, who don't take kindly to legal threats.
FEELING THE HEAT
Some political consultants and lobbyists were green with envy after hearing that Solid Energy spent $48,000 on advice from lobbying consultants Saunders Unsworth before appearing before a select committee. For Saunders Unsworth's sake it is hoped that the company ignored the advice because it was a very poor appearance, bordering on a contempt of Parliament. But the expenditure shows how some intelligent and powerful people go all quivery when faced with the prospect of a select committee hearing. Even those thoroughly familiar with the political world get worried. Treasury used to hold full rehearsals, complete with staff acting as mock MPs, before a select committee appearance. Some free advice for anyone appearing before a select committee: show up, be polite, tell the truth and if you don't know the answer, say you'll get back to them.
WANT RISKS WITH THAT?
Selling burgers and fries must be riskier than it looks. Wendy's, America's second-largest hamburger chain, has revealed that it paid US$657,514 ($776,000) last year to ensure the security of its chairman, Nelson Peltz. In the past three years, Pelz has received more than US$1.7 million from the company for security, including guards and equipment.
TOOT, TOOT ... CRASH
Here's the most succinct explanation yet for the global financial crisis: "Bankers use cocaine and got us into this terrible mess." That's the view of to David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, and at one time chairman of Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Nutt told the Sunday Times that cocaine was the perfect drug for banking's "culture of excitement and drive and more and more and more".
Gerry Brownlee may have got the job of representing New Zealand at Margaret Thatcher's funeral, but her great admirer Judith Collins could not help but give a eulogy in the House and throw a little party for Government MPs.