The Insider

What they're whispering about in Parliament...

The Insider: Open Secret

The blood pressure of a few Ministry of Foreign Affairs mandarins went through the roof this week, when John Key confirmed on the record to one journalist that he would be going to China late next month. Some press gallery offices had been briefed on the trip on a confidential basis for planning purposes, but some in MFAT were horrified at the trip's timing becoming public. Sticklers for protocol, the diplomats were in a tizz because not every detail has been nailed down. The Insider doubts Key is lying awake at night worrying about that.

Cut the complaining

Statute amendment bills are mostly dull, uncontentious things which meander through Parliament and usually contain amendments of a technical nature. But the latest such bill, introduced this week, is a bit different. It includes changes to the reasons the Ombudsman can refuse to deal with complaints. The Office of the Ombudsman has been overstretched and underfunded for years, and is swamped with complaints not only from journalists and politicians, but also prison inmates and now a wave from people affected by the aftermath of the Canterbury quakes. Giving the Ombudsman more ability to reject certain complaints may be a cheap way of sorting out the problem, but slipping it into a statutes amendment bill might be seen as a bit unusual.

Perhaps someone was hoping it wouldn't get much attention.

National priorities

National MPs held one of their quickest caucus meetings on Tuesday morning so they could rush to their TVs - or in some cases the Basin Reserve - to watch New Zealand cricket captain Brendon McCullum notch up his triple century against India. Prime Minister John Key had to wait until after the match to have a beer with the team in the dressing room.

Left, write, left

A survey of New Zealand journalists as part of the Worlds of Journalism Study will have confirmed the darkest fears of many in the National Party. Of the 320 respondents, 62 per cent described themselves as left of centre. Only 16 per cent categorised themselves as right-leaning, and 22 per cent as centrists. While female journalists were in the majority (57 per cent), only 9 per cent of the women surveyed were in top positions, compared to 20 per cent of the men. About 91 per cent were NZ European, 5 per cent Maori, 3 per cent Pasifika, and 1 per cent Asian. And journalists will not be surprised at the finding that they are going backwards financially. The approximate median income was $52,300, up a little since a similar survey in 2007, but down 13 per cent in real terms since then.

good time to split

Another sign of economic recovery in the United States comes from an unusual statistical source: divorce is on the rise again. Divorces hit a 40-year low in 2009, in the depths of recession, but have been rising since. "As the economy normalises, so too do family dynamics," notes the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, Mark Zandi.

Call that growth?

New Zealand isn't the only place where authorities are trying to rein in a runaway real estate market. In Germany, the government has proposed new rules to curb rising property prices and rents. So German home prices are soaring? They certainly are, up by 4 per cent last year, the biggest increase since 2003. New Zealand house prices rose by about 10 per cent last year, and many local property investors would regard a 4 per cent gain as a disaster.

Different rules

There was some irony in the Greens and environmental groups taking umbrage at an oil industry roadshow's rather loose use of science and images appealing to children (in this case dinosaurs). The Greens and many environmental groups are known for their use of warm, fuzzy imagery to push their causes. For instance, there were howls of outrage when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said in an interim report that the scientific evidence pointed to fracking being safe if regulated properly. This opinion did not fit the Greens' world view, so it was ignored by some, and attacked by others. The commissioner's final report is due around Easter; it will be interesting how well she withstands the pressure to reverse her view.

- NZ Herald

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