Editorial: 150 years of guarding the public interest

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Earlier in the year we farewelled Sir Paul Holmes. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Earlier in the year we farewelled Sir Paul Holmes. Photo / Glenn Taylor

So how did we see events in 2013? Five issues of public interest dominated the news and attracted our attention repeatedly in this column - the housing bubble, spying and privacy, the asset sales programme, Auckland's Unitary Plan and the Auckland mayoralty.

As ever, it was a year strongly anchored by politics and money, but with the added element, this time, of ... sex.

The daily "leader" or editorial comment in the Herald has always been regarded as the view of the paper, unsigned because it arises from debates among senior editors which consider stances adopted on public issues over many years, and standing beyond personal or party politics.

Among this year's leaders we farewelled our columnist and friend Paul Holmes, the peerless Nelson Mandela and the quiet mana of Parekura Horomia.

On November 13 we talked a lot about ourselves, marking the Herald's 150th birthday in this column and reprinting the original leader from 1863 with its celebratory follow-ups in 1913 and 1963.

We renewed a simple pledge made 50 years ago to identify ourselves in a "real and intimate fashion with the community we serve".

From January, when we declared the campaign to force a referendum on the Government's part-sale of state assets a farce, we argued that the vote would discredit citizens-initiated referendums. "We've voted already," we said, given the result of the 2011 general election. At year's end, the inevitable referendum result was delivered and ignored for that reason.

This column supported the Supreme Court judgment on waterways, clearing the way for the sale of Mighty River Power. We urged the part-sale of holdings in the state power companies to free money for other investment, strengthen the sharemarket as an investment option away from housing, and bring stronger market disciplines to their management. But we opposed the subsidy to the Tiwai Pt smelter to clear the Meridian sale and criticised the Government for pursuing it with only one of those principles being met. It is doubtful now if the proceeds of the Genesis sale will be big enough to justify its selldown. In April, we advocated selling some state shares in Air New Zealand earlier than originally planned, a deal done later in the year.

Efforts to contain the rise in house prices and guard against excessive household indebtedness were vigorously debated all year. Over six editorials we questioned new Labour and National policies for improving housing affordability, but welcomed the Reserve Bank's controls on loan-to-value ratios in mortgage lending.

A major element of the Auckland Unitary Plan was the intensification of housing within tighter urban limits. The heights and ubiquity of new multi-level homes led to strong opposition in the city. We supported the broad plan, but criticised the communication of it and the rigidity of new urban limits.

The new Government Communications Security Bureau law, sparked by the Kim Dotcom mess and acutely controversial in light of the United States National Security Agency communications interceptions, was one we argued in June and July needed more stringent oversight than it ended up providing. It should certainly have been of more concern to New Zealanders than limits on snapper catches.

And having backed Auckland Mayor Len Brown for winning over the Government on the city rail loop, for having won re-election with a handy vote, and to stay in office despite an affair, the Herald - and the city's - conclusion that he was unable to lead produced two strong editorials this month calling for him to go.

One being headlined on the front page was novel, but for more than 150 years our leader column has spoken out in what we see as the public interest.

- NZ Herald

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