Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: February 22

Murray McCully. Photo / Supplied
Murray McCully. Photo / Supplied

Phil Goff may be justified in feeling a bit unlucky. As James Henderson points out, Labour relentlessly campaigned on asset sales and economic sovereignty during the election, and now it seems to be having real impact on National and John Key's popularity - three months too late - see: Crowd-sourcin': asset sales question. While National should have expected to have to defend the asset sales policy, it has been blindsided by the Crafar Farms controversy. John Hartevelt, in his article More complex questions on Crafar, outlines the choices the Government faces, and none of them look particularly appealing. He says 'Politics, the law and economics have collided spectacularly and with each passing day the Key Government is suffering'. With the rival bidders openly attacking each others' credibility in the media (see: TVNZ's Pengxin slams Fay's 'phantom' Crafar bid http://bit.ly/wPoiWI and Adam Bennett's Fay consortium challenges rival Crafar bidder's know-how) and the Michael Fay consortium already pursuing further legal action, Fran O'Sullivan says that the Crafar farms saga set to run and run.

The must-read item today about foreign investment is Brian Rudman's Foreign buyers a modern reality, in which he bemoans the 'Xenophobia poisoning debate over overseas ownership', and says that both National and Labour are pandering to such irrationalism despite their support for the free trade treaty with China. Clearly, Rudman hints, many New Zealanders suffer from a dispiriting racism on this issue.

Although technically a separate matter, the asset sales are linked with foreign investment in the public mind, even more so when the issue of potential overseas purchase of the partially privatised companies has to be faced. TV3's Reid Research Poll clearly shows the Government is not winning the argument. 62% disagree with the policy - slightly higher than a poll on the same topic a year ago - see: Duncan Garner's Poll shows asset sales unpopular. It doesn't seem as if more debate will rescue the Government. Only 4 out of 200 people supported the policy at a public debate in Dunedin last night (down from 6 at the beginning of the meeting, and one of them was a National MP) - see: David Loughrey's NZ asset sales prove debatable. State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall says it will take a couple more years for people to be convinced of the benefits. That's cutting it fine for the next election and may be based more on wishful thinking than on any realistic assessment of the politics.

Opponents of the policy are taking a targeted approach to stop the sales. The policy only has a one-seat margin in the House, and they are picking Peter Dunne as the weak link. The Standard has details of a 'citizens select committee' in Ohariu, designed to put pressure on Dunne, with rallies, public meetings, oral submissions and a final report to be presented to Parliament - see: Asset sales: No Dunne deal.

Even if Dunne retires at the next election, he may be wary of his final political legacy being the MP who allowed prime public assets to be privatised against overwhelming public opinion. Dunne did campaign on supporting the policy and signed up to it in his coalition agreement, but with the ground constantly shifting under the policy, National will have to be careful they don't give him cause to do an about-face. That will be particularly true if so-called 'Mum and Dad investors' look likely to end up at the back of the queue behind institutional and overseas investors.

Yesterday Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons criticised attacks on foreign chartered fishing vessels, who have been accused of treating their workers like slaves as they fish in New Zealand waters. Morgan and Simmons argued the difficulty in differentiating between these boats and foreign factories around the world in which similar conditions apply. A commenter on the article yesterday pointed out that many of the vessels are chartered and run under the New Zealand flag and so should come under direct oversight even if they are outside our 12 mile limit. The Ministerial report on the issue is due on Friday but a report by American journalist Benjamin Skinner may have a more immediate impact as it has prompted US retail giants Walmart and Safeway to investigate their New Zealand fish supply chain - see: Hana Garrett-Walker's NZ fish investigated after report into labour on boats in Kiwi waters. It would be a sad commentary on the fishing industry if only commercial pressure was able to achieve improvement rather than the well documented and researched investigations clearly showing horrific employment practices. The Waikato Times criticises fishing companies who say the fish would remain uncaught without the low wages, pointing out that there are many industries who could claim they need an exemption for the same reason and that it is 'not negotiable' - see: Tackling seafaring slavery.

The MFAT restructure together with the curious case of Murray McCully's email leaks (see: Patrick Gower's MP's email hacked for military secrets) raises a number of questions. Audrey Young provides very good overall coverage of the issue in MP gives insider tips on diplomatic cuts. The most critical coverage comes from freelance investigative journalist Keith Ng in his Public Address blog post, Secret military lulz. He raises doubts that the email leaks are coming from foreign sources, as does Danyl Mclauchlin. Both posts speculate that the hacking may have occurred at a local level, perhaps by insiders. For complete details of the leaks to date, see the blog post by The Jackal, entitled Murray McCully's leaked emails.

The restructure of MFAT appears to be substantial - see Tracy Watkins and Kate Chapman's Foreign Affairs ministry jobs face chop. In the article, former diplomat Terence O'Brien says the agency shouldn't face the same sort of restructure that other government departments have been through, and that 'Diplomacy is not like business and, what is more, it is a profession'. Meanwhile Defence Force restructuring, according to a report by Hank Schouten, means that Defence staff eye leaving as morale falls.

In other interesting reads today, Morgan Godfery writes about Shane Jones' attack on iwi leaders in his blog post, Wedge politics and Maori, Eric Crampton appraises the idea of asset sales in Christchurch (Idiotic? Perhaps not; http://bit.ly/xM9mQk), and a new book on union history is reviewed (Unions in Common Cause: The New Zealand Federation of Labour 1937-88). Finally, for those of you who like to know who is sitting next to who in the debating chamber, you can now download an up-to-date seating plan of the House here (PDF).

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 27 Nov 2014 09:32:28 Processing Time: 328ms