Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: February 10

Key's RadioLive broadcast last year has been referred by the Electoral Commission to the police for possible prosecution. Photo / Greg Bowker
Key's RadioLive broadcast last year has been referred by the Electoral Commission to the police for possible prosecution. Photo / Greg Bowker

MPs can often be heard complaining about the amount of travel they do, but figures released yesterday show their enthusiasm for travel greatly increased during the run up to November's election. Parliamentary travel budgets are a resource that parties can easily exploit for electioneering, and the latest figures are very revealing - see: Claire Trevett's $1.24m spike in MPs' travel costs and Andrea Vance's MPs' travel bills leap during election. Both journalists point to the significant increase in spending during the period that coincided with the last two months of the election campaign. According to Trevett's calculations, 'domestic travel and accommodation costs of MPs and ministers totalled $3.7 million from October to December - 51 per cent higher than for the same quarter in 2010'. The upshot is that politicians were out madly campaigning and using public funds to do so.

Is this a legitimate use of taxpayer money? Vance suggests not, citing the prohibition from Parliament's Speaker on 'using their taxpayer-funded travel perk for electioneering'. She also quotes ex-Labour leader Phil Goff, who says that it's difficult to separate legitimate parliamentary activity from electioneering. While this is true - to some extent - such arguments do not justify the incredibly lax rules on MP use of public funds, nor the exemption that the politicians have given themselves from the Official Information Act, which means the public isn't allowed to see the detail about how the funds are spent.

As I argued back in 2006 in the Herald, this all amounts to an unhealthy system of subsidised political activity - see: Backdoor funding affects democracy. It's not commonly known that millions of dollars of parliamentary funding is the main source of income for parliamentary political parties on which they have come to rely for their partisan electoral activities.

Police investigation of John Key's RadioLive show is also occupying the attention of politicos, even though the details of the case are relatively difficult to comprehend - see, for example, RadioLive in gun, PM ducks censure. The best overall coverage of the issue is from legal expert Graeme Edgeler, who very clearly explains the main points, while arguing why RadioLive's breach of the law might not be deemed serious.

Labour and Winston Peters, however, disagree about the seriousness and are having a field day. But there seems to be a contradiction in Labour's position - do they regard the RadioLive show as illegal in itself or is their main complaint that Phil Goff wasn't invited to host his own show? And though Winston Peters is calling for further scrutiny of John Key by the police, David Farrar points out that Peters was guilty of the same offence in 2008 - see: Will anyone call him on his hypocrisy?.

The Electoral Commission has also found another breach of law - see: TVNZ election day coverage referred to police. Although the Commission has provided very little detail of the case, it seems that TV1's 6pm news on election day included a live-cross to a reporter who said something that might have influenced voting behaviour prior to the close of the polling booths at 7pm.

In Christchurch the politics behind the recent spate of name-calling are emerging, namely the question of where the Council will find the $1 billion it needs for its infrastructure rebuild. Radio NZ reports that Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button says asset sales will have to be considered - see: Asset sales on the agenda in Christchurch. Today's Press editorial (not currently online) points out that, although dividends in the next three years will be much reduced, ratepayers have benefited greatly from ownership of the local power company Orion, Lyttelton Port and Christchurch Airport. Although Gerry Brownlee rejects suggestions that CERA is trying to dictate to the Council, John Hartevelt reports that the Minister is publicly expressing his disapproval about power price rises, rates increases and increased borrowing - see: Brownlee turns up heat on council over rebuild.

National may be having second thoughts about its Treaty consultation roadshow over the asset sales. If the aim was to placate Maori or to identify a compromise position, the results so far can only be seen as a failure. Instead the hui have provided a daily platform for protest and the strong public impression that Maori are opposed, not only to removing the Treaty obligations, but to the entire asset sales programme - see Laurel Stowell's Anger boils over at hui on asset sales.

David Beatson says that Pakeha as well as Maori should read the consultation document for the hui, as it shows the 'Mum and Dad investors' who were supposed to be the main target of the sell-off, may well be at the back of the queue - see: Where are Mum and Dad's shares?. He says the paper also shows the 10% share cap may not apply to some corporate entities who hold shares on behalf of others and that while the Crown may retain 51% ownership, the proposal appears to give away all other rights of control that it currently enjoys under the SOE Act.

Gordon Campbell has a lengthy and thought-provoking analysis of New Zealand's precarious economic position in the world - see: Why State Capitalism Is Beating The Free Market. He quotes extensively from a recent article in The Economist that reports state-led market economies such as China, Russia and Brazil are 'fast becoming a global rival to the old models of liberal, free market capitalism.' He points out that New Zealand's economic infrastructure was built with heavy state involvement and that the rapid change of strategy in the 1980s has, by most measures, failed to deliver.

Finally, in a promising development, there is some deeper analysis of unemployment figures with journalists looking beyond the headlines about unemployment dropping. In this case, the detail shows that the actual number of hours worked has decreased and that new job growth has been of the part-time, casualised variety - see: James Weir's Jobs rise at expense of fulltimers.

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.

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