Saturday, September 29, 2007

Free Health Care

The first ever Hearing Expo is on this weekend at the Michael Fowler Centre. Come along if you'd like a free hearing test. I was on queue management yesterday, and was deeply impressed with who and how many turned up. The toddlers, the tweeners, the emos, the hoodies, the suits, the musos, the soccer mums, the receptionists, the crinklies. It was like the whole whanau had turned up. Good on them.

All got a stint with a qualified audiologist and received an audiogram. This could be further interpreted and advice given by even more audiologists. The service normally retails around $80. This weekend IT'S FREE. See you there, y'hear?

Friday, September 28, 2007

aBc Warriors

As Tom at WellUrban has kindly pointed out, the winner of the Intensity futurama for Wellington transport was not me. But it was. Not in the financial sense, but in the corny, syrupy way usually ascribed to Hollywood underdog movies. Nothing is more fun than trying to solve an impossible problem. You never know what you'll discover on the side.

Take, for example, the Throne of Wellington. It's high up near the top of the ridge above Government House. I discovered it one shitty morning when I was procrastinating on going to work. I was backtracking from Kilbirnie, in as near a straight line over Mt Vic towards the Basin Reserve in rain and a strong Nor'Wester head wind.

These days are great, as there's no-one else around and I can pretend I'm Bruno Lawrence in The Quiet Earth. That's the big difference between Orkland and Wellington. Sure, there are nice spots to sit and think up there, but there's two dozen other fucking people around trying to do the same thing. In Wellington, it is easy to be alone.

My shoes were soaked, it was near impossible to roll a smoke, and the spliff had almost worn off. I trudged down, eyes crying from the wind and there it was. The Throne of Wellington. It was a fallen stump hanging out over an expanse of gorse just below the ridge above Government House. Sitting up there, leaning into the wind and looking at over this beautiful land. Two seagulls sat hovering overhead, riding the currents for kicks. Nice.

But back to the competition. The 90-odd entries can be viewed at the State Insurance Building gallery until 5th October. It'll be good for a gander. For the record, I've posted my entry below:

The Link

This plan lifts the airport to city traffic out of commuter and suburban traffic. Doing so allows the smooth and uninterrupted flow of traffic between these two points, while: including an iconic entrance to the city from the new tunnel providing enhanced access to Wellington Hospital.

The Hinge

The new Link overbridge around the Basin Reserve will significantly lighten traffic flow on the ground, allowing vehicular traffic to use only the eastern half of the Basin border. Pedestrian and cycle traffic fits on widened footpaths or dedicated paths on the western side of the Basin, the street becoming a cul de sac for the student hostels and motel based there. The separation of motorised and non-motorized traffic minimises accidents while encouraging alternatives to vehicles.

Five Factors

1. Transport connections

New tunnel dedicated to airport and eastern suburb traffic allows existing Mt Victoria tunnel to become public transport and suburban route. Current bus tunnel becomes dedicated pedestrian and cycleway.

2. Adelaide Road
Medium density (3-4 storey) WCC public housing partly paid by government funding, to gradually replace existing housing stock. Existing footpath includes cycle lane.

3. Basin Reserve

Bypass flyover eliminates clutter, allowing separation of traffic flows at ground level.

4. Government House

Demolished or moved to make way for bypass. Head of State moves to Premier House in Thorndon, Prime Minister to Turnbull House in Parliamentary Precinct. Former Government House grounds become park to offset urban density of Adelaide Road intensification, possibly including allotments for growing vegetables.

5. Memorial Park

Cut and cover bypass tunnel, symbolising a momentary darkness to remember those for whom it is permanent.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A blurt at the J&E committee

Well, I did my blurt on the Electoral Finance Bill today. I sat in on the select committee from 2 to 4, watching video conference submissions, hearing audio conference submissions of wildly varying sound quality, as well as a handful of old-fashioned in-person submissions. One thing's certain, that there's a lot of concerned citizens out there; 585 written submissions and around a hundred orals. One dude drove down from Napier to give his first ever select committee oral submission in person. The people are pissed off.

Originally, I had planned to walk into parliament with duct tape over my mouth labelled Electoral Finance Bill. I had printed up a sign saying: "Gudday, my name is Will. I'm here for the J&E select committee, Room 4. Can you please tell me where to go? Ta." At the bottom was "Authorised by the Ministry of Freedom" and my home address. Thank Dagg I didn't. I'd have suffocated or hyperventilated or something. Also, David Benson-Pope had turned up. The man has suffered enough and my idea would have sent entirely the wrong message.

The scrum of MPs sat around the table, laptops a go-go. Toshiba is the choice of Parliamentary Services, but there were a few renegades with their own, noticeably Rodney's Vaio. When the strain of craning my brain to listen to the cracklier conference call submissions got too much, I'd wander back out into the crisp sou-easter that prowled the parliamentary forecourt for a smoke. Then back through the X-Ray machine, just to make sure I hadn't suddenly strapped a hammer to my chest while I was out there. It's a bit like those crazy Finnish people who sit in saunas then roll in the snow, but repeated ad nauseam. I don't see the thrill.

If you don't have the right letter on your sticker, Parliament can be a very unfriendly place. Between the public entrance and the select committee rooms, there's nary a drop of refreshments to be had, not so much as a Coke machine. I could have bought a souvenir plate but even that store was shut. Behind the MPs in Room 4, there's this tray of food and drink for their pleasure. Water, coffee, biscuits, fruit platters, sitting like Tantalus. An hour and a half into the proceedings, I'm called up to the chair. I've got five minutes and they're running behind time so please be concise.

A deep breath and... blurt. Third party nonsense bad enough, but the rort in favour of the party is breathtaking. Chief Electoral Officer being responsible for monitoring candidates and third parties, something that hasn't previously been their function. Meantime, the party is monitored by the Electoral Commission. Why are we using the UK and Canadian models, when their level of voter participation is about 20 percent worse than ours? Please pick a number at random between 1 and 158 and I'll rebut. Any questions?

Silence. I remember to start breathing again and realise my mouth has gone dry, like my mouth is stuffed with tampons. Rodney kindly asks a question. Good onya, Rodney. I return to my seat. Already, the L'Esprit de L'Escalier hits. Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger.

The vibe from all this is not good. A hypothetical Supplementary Order Paper was mentioned, talk of redefining not only electoral advertisement, but also third party. The report date for the J&E on the Electoral Finance Bill is set as 25 January 2008, nearly a month into when it is supposed to take effect. Either the regulated period is in for a big shift, or the J&E hearing was just a going-through-the-motions exercise. I fear the latter will prove true.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We Do What We're Polled

The J&E select committee have been very kind to me, giving a week's notice for my oral submission on the Electoral Finance Bill this Thursday. Some have not been so lucky, having only a day or two's notice. Now the aBc competition is out of the way, I've had a chance to continue researching my Thursday blurt.

Leaving aside all the third party nonsense for one moment, it is interesting what little loopholes are entrenched for existing parties. Take, for example, the definition of an electoral expense. Clause 59 of the Electoral Finance Bill echoes the Electoral Act's interpretation for candidates and parties:
Election expenses does not include the cost of any of the following:
(ii) the conduct of any survey or public opinion poll
I scrutineered for the Labour party in '87 before I was old enough to vote. I have used party databases from Labour, National and Act. Suffice it to say I have some inkling of what this exemption means. While the EFB wants to define everything except breathing as an election advertisement, parties are free to throw unlimited funds into polling of any description.

Databases of voter preferences are like gold to parties. They are more effective at niching one's message than the scatter shot approach of pamphleteering. As The Century of Self documentary demonstrates, if one can focus group the swinging voters and find something to yank their chains, the election is yours. Push-polling is not an election expense. Yeah Right. Kill the Bill.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Welcome to the NZFBI. Now bend over.

Serious fraud is no longer considered that serious. There is no longer a need to have a dedicated white collar unit to help ensure the NZ business environment is kept clear of fraud. There are more important things than ensuring NZ's business environment remains under observation. Besides, white collar is so last century.

The new
Organised Crime Agency (OCA) will combine the very best elements of CSI and, probably X-Files, if the new unit's remit is anything to go by:
“The very nature of organised crime means that it is dynamic and moves quickly between activities and levels,” she said. “Organised crime spans the width of the criminal activity spectrum.

“This activity includes cyber crime, identity theft and identity fraud, money laundering, extortion, blackmail, fraud and drug manufacturing, distribution and trafficking. Organised crime can also encompass paedophilia networks and politically motivated criminal activity.”
So, fraud has been diluted into a search for kiddy-fiddlers, BZP-runners and " ‘outlaw motorcycle’ groups" as well. Tim Selwyn, step away from the axe.

What special powers will this unit have?
"The creation of cross-agency strategic and tactical intelligence collection and assessment, consistent with the Organised Crime Strategy. This could include the provision of watch lists and standardisation of intelligence storage and dissemination."
The OCA will have their fingers in a number of pies including the GCSB and IRD. In short, the OCA is a government body of unprecedented power. What oversight will ensure that these powers are not abused? Where's the kryptonite?
"The Officials Committee on Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC), which includes representatives from the wider Government community, will provide strategic oversight, coordination and advice to support the OCA’s management and operations.

“The Independent Police Conduct Authority will also have oversight of the OCA in the same way it has oversight of NZ Police. The recently-completed Law Commission report on Search and Surveillance Powers will provide the framework for assigning any such powers to the OCA.”
"Chief Executives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Defence Force, Ministry of Defence and NZSIS, GCSB, NZ Police, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, Treasury and others as and when necessary. The Chief Executive of DPMC (Maarten Wevers) chairs the group."
Seems like a hell of a lot of people taking drug running way too seriously. And where are the judges and lawyers to represent the people versus the state?

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is a new name for the old boys from the Police Complaints Authority. Here's the punchline:
"[T]he Authority [can] have up to five members. The expanded membership will allow wider representation and strengthen confidence in its independence."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sit and fart in the duck

An hilarious phonetic sub-titling of a Flemish children's TV song:

Particularly hilarious as not only am I fourth-generation Flemish, but also it gives a good idea what it's like for a half-deaf listening to a conversation (We don't hear what you say. We hear a sum over dictionaries relating to all similar vocal tones).

Hat Tip BoingBoing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rearranging the china cabinet

Spring is upon us and Helen Clark is preparing to dust out her executive. DPF has done a good job making recommendations. Not bad for a Nat! However, armed with the trusty transTasman Guide to MPs 2006, there a few points I'd like to add:

Cullen - Loses Finance, gets Health. Also throw him Economic Development to utilise the knowledge gleaned from Finance.

Goff - Finance, obviously.

Maharey - Demote but keep in cabinet. Education is going to get hammered between now and the election, and the wounded Maharey is on his way out to Massey pastures. Education needs someone to give a shit.

King - the old man said that while Annette was competent enough, she would never amount to very much. King has proven him wrong. Give her Education.

Mallard - Deserves to be sin-binned for a while. He should lose Economic Development. Give him Corrections instead. The man needs to focus his finite talents. Let him be grateful for keeping the rest of his portfolios, and hope for a carrot if Labour wins the election.

Hodgson - Hmmm... tricky... DPF says Social Development. Good call.

Cunliffe - Give him Trade and Defence.

O'Connor - His latest gaffe more of a "D'Oh!" than a sackable offence. If it's a small world for a Nat's partner, it's a small world for a private secretary's hubby too. Stays in cabinet but out of Corrections.

Cosgrove - Give him more, but what? DPF says Justice, I say Immigration. Why not both?

Parker - Attorney General. Again. Maybe Economic Development if Cullen is preoccupied.

Dyson - In spite of a big of some comments received that she is useless, I have gut feeling that she could do more with more. Local Government maybe?

Dalziel - Same as Dyson. Civil Defence? Maybe throw an Associate Minister of something in there too.

Mahuta - Give her Environment and Conservation.

Laban - Big mana for the Mana MP. Give her Pacific Affairs. Housing too?

Duynhoven - What to do with Dutch Harry? Would he be missed?

Burton & Barker - If they were in Star Trek, they would be wearing red vests.

Tizard - Why is she still in cabinet? Clark needs someone to pass the ammo, not hold her handbag.

Carter - Another waste of space. Has had plenty of chances but a non-performer.

So, four or five gaps in the executive to fill. Who deserves a seat at the table?

Barnett - Now Tim isn't running for Christchurch local government, does he want something more or is he happy being Senior Whip?

Hughes - As transTasman observes, he is nearly old enough for promotion. That was last year. Give him something unfuck-upable like Transport Safety to get his trainer wheels.

Chauvel - DPF is taking the piss. From what I observe, Charles has got it. He just hasn't earned it yet. Still, if Tizard can be a minister, it's an insult not to throw Chauvel a bone. Minister of Courts, Law Commission and Associate Justice.

Jones - Shane has a fine balancing act ahead. Avoid the Curse of JT on one hand, but keep himself busy on the other. If he can assure genuine objectivity, give him Treaty Negotiations. Dagg knows, the position has been missing someone with balls for a long time.

Street - Give Maryan Women's Affairs. It's right up her alley. Maybe Ethnic Affairs too.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pissing on the electorate fence

Below is a draft of my submission for the EFB:


Kill this Bill. Throw this poorly Sellotaped, arrogantly presented, viciously swift, merciless and dangerous Bill in the rubbish and start again. Nail down the worst excesses of electoral abuse that occurred last election, the ones which necessitated retrospective legislation to excuse. For any more radical ideas, go the hustings with them and seek a mandate from the people.

Main Points

  1. Where did this Bill come from? Certainly not the public. The closest this Bill came to public engagement was at the Electoral Symposium held in June at Victoria University, where various party hacks talked at the crowd. Consultation has been conducted under a cone of silence between support parties. Parliament does not have a mandate to propose any regulatory regime on alleged 'third parties'. The public have not demanded it.
  2. The public response to retrospective legislation over election spending has been much less ethereal. The public understand that UnitedFuture and New Zealand First have outstanding debts to the taxpayer even after the rules were temporally re-written, and that these two parties support this doggerel Bill. The public will react accordingly at the next election.
  3. The academics have not demanded this Bill. The Electoral Commission report to the Justice and Electoral Committee on the 2005 election only mentions third parties in passing, and only as a radical option once political parties submit to extensive disclosure requirements and limits on donations. Lacking any check and balance on the political parties, the Electoral Finance Bill cannot justify its draconian stifling of non-party political expression. Any Bill that so radically alters the democratic landscape should be led by open, transparent and wide consultation, explanation and debate, followed by a mandate to ensure legitimacy.
  4. The definition of 'election advertisement' is way too nebulous to be taken seriously. Such a definition is so unenforceable, it begs to be ignored.
  5. While the Electoral Finance Bill creates a severe and compliance-heavy regime for 'third parties' to follow, the rules on parties and candidates remain largely status quo. If anything, this Bill gives more loopholes for parties to exploit, even as it stands on the throat of public expression. The incumbent party on the government benches are particularly well-placed, as absolutely no controls are placed on government advertising.
  6. The course is weighed heavily in favour of parties for anonymous donations as well. While $20,000 is the laundry limit for parties, 'third parties' are limited to a puny $500. I believe that this should be turned around. $500 limit for party and candidate anonymous donations, $20,000 for 'third parties'.
  7. 'Third party' financial agents are solely authorised and responsible for any alleged 'election advertisement'. Party activity, on the other hand, may be authorised by the financial agent or "the party" Section 80(a)(i). The party is authorised but the party is not responsible. One more bad law in favour of the party.
  8. The notion that one third of our lives are to be considered a "regulated period" of speech is a repugnant thing. If any part of the EFB crystallises the wrong, wrong, wrongness of this whole Bill, it is this. While three months is the standard unit of time to accord an electoral period, and is used in the case of by-elections in this Bill, the last four weeks is the real season. Until election day is set in legislation, at not at the whim of the incumbent, leave it alone.
  9. As former Speaker Doug Kidd said at the Electoral Symposium: "Trust the People."


I strongly and respectfully advise the Justice and Electoral Committee to recommend to Parliament that this Bill not proceed. Thank you.

Ninety-one Non-Blondes

500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art, brought to you by onegoodmove. Redheads feature prominently.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Return of The Panda

When I was eight, I was playing silly buggers up in Tauranga. I tripped on my Superman cape, fell off the porch and broke my arm. The old man comes along and, once the tears have subsided a bit, asks me what I want him to do. He explains that we can do nothing. The pain will linger for a while, a big bruise will come up and eventually the arm will mend itself. It won't be exactly how it was, and many years from now it may play up again.

Or, he could take me to the hospital. People who have a lot of experience in fixing broken bones could make the pain go away. They could look inside my arm with a machine, and set the arm in plaster for a few weeks so the bone mends as best as possible. I asked Dad to take me to the hospital and I got plastered.

Mike Moore has some experience in recognising when something has snapped in the Labour administration. Fortunately, he is at a safe distance, ensconced on an Aussie campus that puts Victoria University to shame. Interested and disinterested at once, he can write his truth with impunity. Moore is always a Labour man. He cares what happens to it.

Labour could limp along to the election, sit bruised in opposition for years, and have their broken tactics flung back at them when we need their credibility the most. Listen to the professionals, guys. And never pick a fight with The Panda.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The grass is cheaper than the tobacco?

Health wonks are looking at raising the price of tobacco to $25 a packet withing 10 years, according to a Medical Association seminar on tobacco taxation later today. While making cannabis cost-effective in comparison, the wonks haven't calculated in the dramatic increase in robberies that will result from such an extortionate price increase. I suppose the doctors would prefer people to be addicted to anti-depressants instead of the evil tobacco.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Man Of Our Times

Let's face it, Lange was a clown. Sometimes this was good. His showmanship and timing made the post-cabinet press conferences the best show in town for journalists. Sometimes this was bad. His need to be everybody's friend meant conflicts were resolved poorly. The Buchanan visit was an early example. Above all, Lange's love of the limelight was very useful. The clown made the perfect diversion. Cabinet kept Lange busy with speaking engagements, high media visibility stuff. This left the executive collective to concentrate on running government.

It worked for a while. The nuclear-free issue provided Lange with a subject he could sink his wit into, and an audience ready to listen. For two years, everything was sweet. While Lange chugged away abusing American Jesus Freaks with non sequiturs, consultation papers flew in and out of the Beehive. Laws were passed, things got done.

Tragedy struck in 1985, when David Lange's brain died. Joe Walding, the British High Commissioner, has passed on. Lacking Joe's sage counsel, Lange had nowhere to turn. He had alienated the Left bloc MPs, couldn't keep up with the economic jargon of those on the Right.
Lange turned to Margaret Pope and, as everyone knows, it went downhill from there. The clown wanted to be taken seriously.

So what's all this got to do with the price of iPods? Two things last week sparked a thought. Mike Moore's guerrilla noun attack on Clark for one. Muldoon! Octopus! Fridge magnet! Although Helen Clark is not Muldoon, she may share his some of his fate. Surrounded by a fearful, strung out, burnt-out caucus. The Electoral Finance Act (Clause 13o) will come into effect if writ day is after 1st March 2008, thereby leaving a snap election a distinct strategy to minimise the Labour party's electoral rout. All one has to do is wait for a Marilyn Waring to turn up.

Helen Clark may have also done her job too well. Having successfully killed off most of the Right wing of the Labour party, she may very well be guaranteeing her party a very long time on the opposition benches until a new equilibrium comes along.

And secondly, Colin James' quiet insistence on Key's stance on a New Zealand Head of State:

Key is of the post-independence generation. His generation takes independence as an unremarkable given.

Key's generation, even if not Key himself, is more culturally Pacific than Clark's but also more confidently able to reconnect with the British/European side of its heritage after the necessary distancing during the independence decades. Its members are more educated than the independence generation and more footloose, especially to bigger outlier Australia outside the front door.

Those who choose to stay here still live in an outlier country, as have all generations going back 10 centuries, and globalisation of capital, money and people, if anything, accentuates that outlier quality. And symbols of colony linger. Clark's generation did belatedly repatriate the highest court four years ago but it has bequeathed to Key's generation an English Queen as head of state, a flag with Britain's flag on it, a name that ties us to a flat bit of northern Europe and a national anthem that prays for God to save us instead of standing tall on our own feet. We are still a wingless, flightless bird.

How will Key the returned expatriate, still playing catchup to some of the cultural changes, deal with all that? His external policy essentially mimics Clark's, with some fine-tuning. Some in his party are plotting legislation to disestablish the monarchy on Queen Elizabeth's death. There are attempts in his party at new thinking on the aspirations of iwi and hapu to bring the two indigenisations into synch.

The thought is this: If National are looking for a populist issue on par with Lange's anti-nuclear stance, Key could do far worse than outbid Labour in the National Identity stakes and seek a Kiwi Head of State. Sure, it's not as sexy as No Nukes, but try opposing the policy. The Greens would go for it. Whatever monarchists still lurk in the shrubbery can bugger off to NZ First, thereby throwing Winston Peters a bone and giving National another minor party to talk to after the election.

But why wait for QEII to die? Surely there'd be more to gain by formalising an amicable split between Her Royal Highness and this outlier nation? Can someone please get hold of Simon Walker and put some feelers out. Otherwise we'll be sharing the peace pipe with Charles and how would that look?