Saturday, July 30, 2005

Holmes last night

I had the opportunity to debate Young National President Jamie Simpson on Holmes last night.

We mainly covered the student loans announcement and Brash's flip-flopping over Iraq. It was a quick, ram your points in as forcefully as possible five minute discussion, so we didn't get into anything too indepth! Anyway I felt it went reasonably well, and Jamie resorted to mumbling something about Labour sending SAS troops to Iraq at the close, which is completely untrue of course!

The crew were very friendly, as was Paul who had some interesting views on the state of the National Party campaign. He was baffled for instance that Gerry Brownlee is so invisible given that he is one of the very few genuine heavy hitters that National have on their front bench. I suppose the strategy has been to put Brash and Key up front as a "leadership team", but I suspect that with things unravelling a bit now, we may see some of the more experienced hands come to the fore some more.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Poll Surge

Three recent polls show a significant swing in support to Labour. These polls are the first released since the announcement of the election, and don't on the whole take into account the full effect of any changes in support due to the student loans announcement earlier this week.

Importantly, the combined National/NZ First vote (in my view the only possible alignment of Parties that can see National reach the treasury benches) has fallen by around 8%

I suspect that these results have a lot to do with the renewed focus on international issues such as the Iraq war, and increasing irritation with Brash's flip-flopping on when he will release National's centre-piece tax policy, and what it will contain.

In contrast to this Labour has now released three of our key pledge card commitments, and they have all met with public approval. Ultimately the election will be won or lost on leadership, and good policies.

Although these results are a good sign that people are contrasting the leadership and policies of the two Parties, three polls don't make an election and I'm still of the view that this will be an extremely tight election. We will have to campaign hard for every vote right up until polling day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

GE Maize

What is it with Maize crops, do they just get grown in election years or something?

Todays story that a large consignment of maize in the upper North Island has tested positively for GE contamination is a concern, but shows that the system is working.

The "corngate" story in 2002 was a major factor in the general election of that year, but I think it unlikely that this new episode will effect the political climate in any discernable way. Importantly, the absolute public hysteria about the issue at that time is simply not there now. Why? Because three years on the apocolytic scenarios painted by some campaigners in 2002 have not eventuated.

Our regulations mean that for any GE organism to be released into the environment, it must be shown to be safe. These strict controls have meant that GE organisms have been kept in the lab, and our strict testing procedures have picked up glitches like this one.

All in all, I think that the public and political mood on this issue has settled down, and people are now far more willing to engage in a rational, scientific discussion about the risks of GE.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Historic movement on student debt

"If implemented, Labour's tertiary student support policy, including the introduction of no interest on loans while borrowers are in New Zealand, would be the most significant blow to the $7 billion debt monster since the student loan scheme was introduced in 1992." NZUSA Press Release.

Wow. Praise for Labour's tertiary education policies from NZUSA has been as rare as lesbian unionists at John Tamihere campaign fundraisers. Todays policy announcement will see all interest on student loans scrapped for graduates who remain in New Zealand. Access to student allowances will also continue to rise, meaning that people will need to take on less debt in the first place. This is a huge step in the right direction.

You can use the debt calculator on the Labour site to work out how much you might save under the policy. I entered in the figures for a friend of mine with post-graduate qualifications who has a $50 000 loan, and is on a $55 000 salary. Under the policy he will pay off his loan 7 years quicker, saving $47 000.

I like the policy because it cleverly ties together a solution to the problem of growing student debt with a positive step to encourage young people to keep their skills and talents here in New Zealand.

This policy will form part of Labour's pledge card along with the already announced rates rebate policy. I'm extremely pleased that the campaign is now moving on to positively outlining Labour's vision for the future.

Monday, July 25, 2005

It's September 17

Well, no surprises there. September 17 is in line with the PM's earlier statements that the government will go full term, and gives voters a good long run in to polling day.

Funnily enough, given all the carping about the date, I think that with 8 weeks notice, more advance warning has been given for this election than any in recent memory.

Anyway, I think that it's good for the date to be announced so that the phoney war can be brought to an end. With a formal campaign period commencing, all parties are going to have to start laying down exactly where they want to take the country, and voters will have adequate time to scrutinise the options.

Hoardings up

The dangers of hoardings erection should not be underestimated Posted by Picasa

This horrific wound is evidence of a busy weekend of hoardings erection around the electorate.

A team of willing blokes braved the elements to begin putting up or network of signs this weekend, and we were all suitably rusty for the first one or two, resulting in the utterance of many loud expletives as hammers met flesh. This blood blister swelled up to quite appalling proportions.

Hoardings are one of those funny aspects of a campaign that are very important, but only to a point. It's veryessential to have a good network, but once you have that it is questionable how much advantage is to be gained from each extra site you find.

In spite of this, you find yourself scrutinising every corner site in the electorate for its suitability as you drive around!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bad Boy Baron

This is quite funny.

Local independent Steve Baron has been plastering his billboards all over Pakuranga this week, and has gotten in some trouble for placing them on public land, which Manukau City Council bylaws forbid.

There are a couple of pearlers in here:

“The only reason the older parties haven’t put their signs up yet is they are not capable of thinking outside of the square,” he said. "I guess they will be waiting until next weekend which is technically two months before any election could happen.”
- Yes, we fuddy duddy "older parties" truly are so hide bound that we are obeying the law by not putting our billboards up in a "technically" illegal period.

“My signs are on private property. Everybody has been really happy with them,” he said. "There were a few issues to begin with because it was hard to tell the boundaries on some properties, but we sorted those out.”
- That's right, private property like attached to the Pakuranga/Panmure bridge, and on Stockade Hill, the biggest public reserve in Howick containing the local war memorial. Tough boundary issues obviously.


Tertiary Tango

The recent changes announced to tertiary education funding are a good move.

By shifting funding from the low quality bums on seats courses that have proliferated in the tertiary sector over the past ten years, to high quality practical qualifications, the government has taken a decisive step away from the failed competitive model of the 1990s towards creating a system that is truly geared towards the needs of students and the community.

Given the systemically low funding that was doled out during the 1990s, and the imposition of a market model, it is in some respects difficult to blame many tertiary institutions for focussing on quantity over quality. For a number, that was the only way to survive the funding squeeze.

The government has been wanting to address this issue for a long time and has taken a number of steps such as placing a cap on the number of EFTS enrolments that institutions may take, reducing funding for "free" courses, and most significantly by setting up the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to oversee the sector and ensure that funding is producing quality outcomes. It would have to be said that the recent changes are something of a recognition that TEC has not necessarily had the administrative teeth to really re-shape the sector along the lines that the government envisages.

Anyway, these changes are positive and should over time really encourage the development of a sector that is responsive to sommunity and industry needs. Rather than punish institutions as Bill English seems to be suggesting, the government is putting real investment in place to ensure that institutions focus on relevant, high quality (more expensive) courses as opposed to the infamous twilght golf example. In particular I was pleased to see that the new fund will be used to encourage an expansion of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme.

These are complex policy issues, and there is still a long way to go, but this in my view is good progress.

* I guess I should note by way of disclaimer that I am a Council member of Manukau Institute of Technology.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Head to head with Maurice #1

Maurice and I had our first one to one clash of the campaign at a meeting of the Howick Residents and Ratepayers over the weekend.

The meeting was the R&Rs AGM, and we were both asked to speak on transport policy once the formailities were over. I turned up at the very beginning of the meeting and was extremely impressed by the work of the group. Led by a bloke called Russ Wylie who is well into his 80s, Howick R&R have been incredibly active lobbying on a wide range of issues around transport, rates, urban planning, and much else besides.

The debate itself went well. I was first up and put a fairly simple case - that Labour has a proven record of investment in transport, and that National's rhetoric does not live up to their miserable record during the 1990s, or square with what they are promising in a whole host of other areas.

Maurice in response was brilliantly off the planet, claiming for instance, that the 80% increase in transport funding over 6 years under Labour was indicative only of inflation, and stating that work on State Highway 20 was not going to begin for years. This was in spite of the fact that in my speech I had specifically referred to a press release issued the previous day confirming that the bulldozers are moving in in September!

All in all I was pleased with the response, and impressed by the questions that were asked by the audience. It should be the first of many such encounters.

It's all on the line Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Civil Society in Pakuranga

It's been a busy week both at work, and on the campaign trail - hence the scarcity of blog entries.

The campaign is moving up a notch this month, and we are moving on from strictly "on the ground" campaigning, and we're now beginning to get out and about meeting the people and groups that make up Pakuranga's civil society.

On Tuesday night I spoke at the Howick Rotary, and this went very well. It was an extremely pleasant evening and I couldn't have asked for better hosts. On arrival I was immediately led to the bar by my guide for the evening and shouted a beer, and this was followed up by a hearty roast dinner - a fellah couldn't really ask for much more on a cold Tuesday night. Around 50 people were in attendance from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Anyway, we then proceeded to my speech, which focussed on the differences between running a purisst free-market economic policy, and an economic policy that emphasises the need for co-operation, collaboration, and planning. It wasn't a party-political speech, and some interesting discussion followed. A big thanks to Howick Rotary for the opportunity to speak.

This Saturday it is Howick Residents and Ratepayers where I will be speaking on Labour's transport policy up against Maurice - the first head to head clash of the campaign!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Broken bloody bells

Lots of doorknocking over the weekend, and a pretty good response...

But, and I know this is a minor detail, there were an enormous number of broken doorbells. Seriously, it would have been about a 50:50 working to broken ratio.

Plainly there is a serious skills shortage in the doorbell repair industry.

Sad backlash

I have been saddened by the attacks on a number of Mosque's in apparent retaliation to the London bombings.

While I understand people's anger at the perpetrators of the attack (we like many kiwis have a number of friends in London), it is patently wrong to round on people in our own community who have nothing to do with international terrorism. In my experience, New Zealands Moslem community is peaceful and law abiding, and in fact its leadership works closely with other faiths to foster understanding and tolerance.

New Zealand is a relative haven of tolerance in an increasingly polarised world, and I sinerely hope that this kind of reaction doesn't become more widespread.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Infrastructure Investment

This speaks for itself really.

A record $21 billion in capital spending on transport over the next ten years. This is exactly the sort of money that would be gobbled up by the tax cuts that the right are irresponsibly touting at the moment.

The great American economist J.Galbraith talked about this kind of situation in the late 1950s when, in spite of a great deal of "private prosperity", he observed great "public squalor" as essential economic and social infrastructure became increasingly run down.

Our hard won surpluses can be frittered away on the electoral bribe of tax cuts, which probably won't even add up to all that much for your average working family, or we can invest in the economic infrastructure that is the basis of future prosperity. In business it's called investing in "plant", and any firm that doesn't adequately invest in plant over the long-term is setting itself up to fail.

National's record in the 1990s was to do just that, and in Auckland we are now suffering because of the "public squalor" that resulted. This government is now spending 10 times more on transport in Auckland that National was in 1999.

Labour is the only Party fighting this election that is actually prepared to invest in New Zealands long term economic prosperity.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Cheaper Healthcare for Young NZers

Improvements to primary healthcare have been one of the governments biggest achievements IMHO.

Todays rollout of cheaper healthcare for 18-24 year olds enrolled in a Primary Health Organisation (PHO) is another step towards delivering affordable, accessible, and integrated healthcare for all New Zealanders.

Already, all people in low socio economic areas as well as under 18s and over 65s (anywhere)enrolled in a PHO, benefit from increased funding which has reduced doctors fees and prescription charges. The next step will be to deliver increased funding to 45-64 year olds, and then finally to 25-44 year olds (apparently we're the healthiest of the lot).

The figures in the above link show that 12636 18-24 year olds will benefit in the Counties Manukau DHB which covers Pakuranga. Given that most other parts of Counties Manukau will already be covered by increased funding due to their lowere socio-economic status, my guess is that a very large portion of that 12636 probably reside in Pakuranga. That's good news for locals.

What is National's commitment to maintaining PHO's and cheaper primary healthcare? Seriously, does anyone know - their Health spokesperson is basically invisible.