Treasury is the dinner party guest who has an opinion on everything, whether they're asked for it or not. Incoming governments receive briefing papers from government departments, and though Treasury's advice was mostly predictable, some has been met with an awkward silence from the Government. Recommending adoption of the Labour Party's superannuation policy to raise the retirement age, as Audrey Young reports (Govt must address Super issue - Treasury), won't endear them to John Key, especially as he has explicitly rejected any rise while he is prime minister. Treasury also promotes changes to taxation on capital investment, which are broadly in line with Labour's capital gains tax policy.
The advice that has received the most vocal response is its advocacy of increasing class sizes - see Andrea Vance's Experts, MPs blast Treasury's advice on schools. NZEI, PPTA and Labour all question Treasury's educational expertise, and it's pretty clear that the advice is driven by a desire to save money. For polemical views of the advice, you can read Eric Crampton's very enthusiastic endorsement of the recommendations - see: Treasury! and The Standard's Treasury advocates own disbandment. The Standard says that a government looking to cut public sector costs should start at Treasury itself, which has had a 15% funding boost over the past two years, unlike nearly all other government departments, and also points out their recent economic forecasts have been fairly wide of the mark.
Heading into Waitangi weekend, issues of ethnicity and Maori politics dominate political news and analysis. Rawiri Taonui argues that if New Zealanders are going to become 'tenants in our own country' due to farms sales, then 'Maori would make good landlords' - see: Letting Maori share is best for NZ. He makes the case that the Government should and could have rejected the Shanghai Pengxin bid to purchase the Crafar farms. He cites numerous statements from National ministers about new regulations that would allow them to 'overrule the Overseas Investment Office recommendation for any number of reasons' - particularly that of 'concerns about "the undue aggregation of farmland by foreign investors".' Specifically, Taonui points to 'regulation 28 (i) can prevent "a single overseas person" controlling significant interests'. Furthermore, Taonui says that the Crafar farms should have been sold to the iwi-Michael Fay consortium on the basis that 'Article 205 allows the Government to override the agreement when necessity dictates "favourable treatment to Maori" in fulfilment of "obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi".
Similarly, Tahu Potiki's Press column today, Iwi keen but cautious on buying a slice of SOEs argues in favour of 'Maori or iwi owning a slice of New Zealand infrastructure assets'. He gives three reasons that iwi should become part owners of the SOEs: 1) it would be 'a natural extension of the Treaty-driven restorative process', giving 'a more equal partnership with the Crown', 2) those assets 'are perceived as very sound, intergenerational companies that make reliable returns', and 3) 'it further anchors iwi into an important stakeholder position within the community at large'.
Xenophobia in New Zealand is intelligently analysed in a lengthy guest post on Liberation by John Moore - see: Leftwing Xenophobia in New Zealand. Moore argues that the nationalist rhetoric used by Labour and Green politicians about the Crafar farm sale has nothing to do with progressive politics and everything to do with crude foreigner bashing, which the political left has a sordid history of championing in this country. Chris Trotter's column today explains why he supports the Crafar farm sale to Shanghai Pengxin - see: Our hands were tied over the Crafar farms sale. Trotter levels a charge of 'rank hypocrisy and populist opportunism' at Labour and David Shearer for their campaign against foreign investment.
The direction David Shearer is taking the Labour Party is becoming clearer as the new leader tours the country and gives some revealing interviews to the media. Ruth Laugesen writes up the most significant of these in the latest Listener magazine (The Man in the middle; not currently online). We learn that Shearer believes that Labour needs to focus on being much more 'fiscally responsible' and credible on economic matters (he says Labour was seen in the election as too loose with its spending promises), he hints that his thinking on welfare reform involves a greater stress on reciprocal responsibility for beneficiaries, and that he is open to withdrawing support for the extension of Working for Families to beneficiaries. Notably, there appears to be a reconsideration of the power dynamics within Labour, with an examination of the influence of 'identity politics' and union affiliates in candidate selection. There's a lengthy discussion of the power of unions within Labour, with Shearer professing the need for 'the union card vote to go'. Some of these issues are also apparent in Allison Rudd's Labour leader on a mission to 're-engage', especially Shearer's desire to shift Labour further away from being seen as a party for workers.
Also in this week's Listener, Jane Clifton examines David Shearer's unusual political operating style in The Long march. She says that Shearer's very low-key approach - in which he says virtually nothing and comments on very little - is both 'troubling some in Labour, and absolutely confounding the commentariat'. Clifton is undecided as to whether this is 'foolish or brilliant', but admits 'it's refreshing to have a big political player who isn't dementedly texting, blogging and quote-mongering'.
Mike MacLeod of the Draco Foundation writes an excellent opinion piece in the ODT today entitled Christchurch symptomatic of system. He makes the case that the political problems in Christchurch are 'representative of the local government sector as a whole', and he calls for significant systemic and legislative change. Suddenly it seems that local government politics is sexy again - but MacLeod says this is entirely due to the pathological nature of local politics: 'If the local government sector was a person they would be ponderous, socially-inept and morally bankrupt. They would be filthy rich and very lazy'.
Sam Sachdeva and Rachel Young (Marryatt unsuitable for city recovery, says MP) report that Labour MP Lianne Dalziel believes the answer to Christchurch's problems is for the CCC CEO to be sidelined by the appointment of another manager to run the council's quake response. The article also reports that although there are increasing calls for 'mid-term elections' in Christchurch, there is no known precedent for these in New Zealand's history.
Elsewhere in politics today, David Farrar blogs his latest very good electoral behaviour post: Minor Parties since 1954, which carries on from other recent posts on National v Labour from the beginning and Green candidates getting Green votes. David Beatson warns about proposals to remove the prohibitions on broadcast advertising on Sundays and some public holidays - see: Who wants more State support for more "commercially attractive" TV?.
Finally, a must-read item for today: Chris Barton's Who is speaking out on today's big issues?. This lengthy Business Herald feature examines the health of New Zealand's public intellectual environment, and bemoans the lack of academics participating in public debate. I'm very appreciative to be included on the list of independent 'expert analysts'.