If you are going to sell out, at least get a decent price. Our politicians are far too cheap if our recent political donation scandals turn out to have any substance. The latest is Clayton Cosgrove's promotion of a private member's bill regarding Christchurch zoning that would advantage, among others, Independent Fisheries. The company had previously donated a few thousand to Cosgrove, but before the last election donated $17,500. TV3's The Nation questioned the Labour MP about the issue - see TV3's Clayton Cosgrove at centre of political row and read the transcript of Clayton Cosgrove's interview on The Nation here. Cosgrove hit back, claiming TV3 was running a dirty campaign on behalf of Gerry Brownlee (see Georgina Stylianou's Cosgrove hits back at Fisheries 'smear') and pointing out that all the donations were declared publicly as required under law.
Labour is backing Cosgrove (see Adam Bennett's Leaders back Cosgrove over donations to campaign) but, as the Keeping Stock blog points out the choice of words could have been better: 'just remember what happened to the last Labour MP who was only guilty of "helping his constituents"', referring to the recently paroled Taito Phillip Field - see: Haven't we heard this before?
The best analysis is from Andrew Geddis - see: What is necessary is never unwise ... is it?. Geddis, like most commentators, accepts at face value Cosgrove's denial of any direct cash for policy deal, but questions the wisdom of accepting the donation. He takes issue with the logic that because a donation is declared (months after the election) it must be all above board: 'if we were to say that simply declaring a donation automatically means that, ipso facto, there cannot be a corrupt intent behind it, then that would have a rather perverting effect on the disclosure regime!' The US has far more stringent donation disclosure requirements than New Zealand (direct political donations at least) but there would be few who would deny the influence that cold hard cash plays on politics there. The zoning issue at the centre of it all has headed to court according to Liz McDonald in Brownlee in turf war, with corporate heavyweights lining up on both sides. The legal bills alone will probably render Cosgrove's $17,500 into the chump change category.
As the Government knows, even if you do get legislation passed it doesn't necessarily give you the green light. John Key thinks the urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing starting today and possible legal challenges have 'no merit' but admits they could delay the timetable - see Adam Bennett's Urgent hearing for Maori Treaty bid to block asset sales. Lawyer Mai Chen looks at previous court rulings on Maori claims to rights over water and the land beneath it, and says recent cases may strengthen the Maori Council's case. She also points out that these decisions can have significant political impact, as with the Foreshore and Seabed Act which led directly to the formation of the Maori Party - see Chen's Ruling boost to Maori river claims. While comparisons with the 1980s Maori Council challenge to asset sales are inevitable, Maori political and economic structures are much more complex today and the Government will be looking to do deals with individual iwi to head off legal delays.
Protest action against the sale continues with a mock auction of the Prime Minister's own home over the weekend (see: John Key's mansion sold for toilet paper currency) and further protests being planned - see Joelle Dally's Chch mum organises asset sale protest. The impact of the sales on New Zealand's growing wealth gap is examined by the Press editorial Mind the gap between the rich and the poor while Rodney Hide points out the mixed ownership model was created by the previous Labour government - see: Maybe Mixed Ownership Model can sort it. Bryan Leyland thinks the real issue with our energy sector is the way it is regulated - see his very good analysis Partial privatisation stymies market changes.
The last six months have put a dent in National's arrogance says John Armstrong. John Key is moving back to his pragmatic and incrementalist approach to reform which, while slow, will get there in the end:
'Everyone knows the mixed-ownership model is nothing other than a halfway house to the power generators eventually falling completely into private hands. National's unconvincing pretence otherwise is one reason it has lost the debate over asset sales' - see Armstrong's Never mind ideology, it's all about winning.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* It looks as if minimum alcohol pricing won't have the numbers in parliament (see TVNZ's Labour's minimum booze price plan 'elitist' - Dunne) but Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation says You're wrong about booze pricing, Prime Minister.
* The Christchurch City Council should at least look at the option of asset sales to fund the rebuild says the local Employers' Chamber of Commerce (see Lois Cairns' Council asset sales backed to pay bill) but Mayor Bob Parker doesn't sound keen. Canterbury University economist Eric Crampton endorses the call for competitive publicly owned businesses to be sold but adds that 'cutting back on planned expenditures on a new stadium in excess of the insurance payout makes an awful lot more sense than either debt or asset sales' - see: More on asset sales.
* Figures from Trade Me back up the anecdotal evidence of a rental shortage and steep rent increases in Christchurch - see Sam Sachdeva's Renters' queue grows as houses snapped up in quake-hit city.
* Business leaders want our brain drain across the Tasman to go right to the top says Fran O'Sullivan - see: PM's visit capitalises on Aussie jealousy.
* Trade deals inevitably involve a loss of sovereignty admits our Trade Minister (see Audrey Young's We'll lose under trade deal, says Groser), but that goes for the countries we are making the deals with as well: 'we needed to control their sovereign right to do whatever suited their fancy.' Which is exactly why 135 legislators from all 50 US states say giving rights to investors to sue governments has no place in the TPP.
* Phil Twyford takes a shot at the Greens for opposing the inclusion of 'urban development' values in the Resource Management Act - see: When being green doesn't mean stopping stuff.
* Finally, the refusal to allow our frigates to dock with other navies during exercises has been portrayed as a snub, but it seems our sailors won't be complaining too much - see: Michael Field's Pearl Harbour ban turns into boon for NZ sailors.