Monday, 30 December 2013

Luminous Moments

Sir Paul
For Christmas my lovely wife got me a Kobo ereader, a pretty cool piece of technology. I have a habit of hauling lots of books around with me as I travel, so an ereader has become a must.

One of the first books I downloaded onto it was Luminous Moments by the late Sir Paul Callaghan. What a cracking read.

I don't think I've ever read a book that made me cry during its introduction, which is written by Sir Paul's daughter Catherine. She describes, in painful detail, Sir Paul's fight with cancer and his characteristic scientific approach to his own illness. The rest of the book is a collection of Sir Paul's own writings, blog posts and interviews.

For his own part Sir Paul describes his childhood in W(h)anganui, the trials and tribulations of being a father, and fatherhood in general. He describes his love of science and the complexities of magnetic resonance (which I didn't really get, to be honest. But now I can now safely claim that I know where to find out about magnetic resonance!), his major field of research along with 'nuclear orientation'.

Another area of Sir Paul's work was communicating to the general public about science. One of his many projects was a documentary on transforming New Zealand's economy to a knowledge-based one where "the talented want to live" (the whole documentary is online here). The book acknowledges this work and has an entertaining interview with Kim Hill on Pseudo-science, and whether it's dangerous or not.

Sadly, Sir Paul is no longer with us - something this book can only compound as it reveals another brilliant Kiwi mind  lost. Nonetheless it's still a cracking (and important) read, and a real bargain at less than $5.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Referendum: What the government will worry about

The preliminary results for the citizens initiated referendum on the government's mixed ownership model are out - predictably, two-thirds are against and one-third for; turn out was just under 44% of all voters. Also predictably, it's been claimed as a victory which should have the government worried.

The raw numbers are 895,322 against 432,950 for. This is why the government won't be worrying about the result: the 895,322 who felt motivated to vote against the government's policy is much less than the 1,009,850 who voted for the putative Labour-Greens-NZ First government at the 2011 general election. This shows the CIR didn't really convince anyone - those who voted No are most likely the core constituency of those who oppose asset sales anyway.

What the government will actually worry about is that the CIR represents the Greens and Labour working together. Speaking from personal experience, these referendum campaigns are invaluable for political campaigners. You make a lot of connections and gain knowledge about how to run a campaign - the essential stuff of winning a general election. At the same time, it underlines that Labour and the Greens are becoming inextricably tied. That should have many within Labour worried.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

There's plenty of oxygen on the moon

Borrowed from the NZ Herald
Colin Craig's most recent comments about the moon landing has got plenty of headlines.

Which is exactly the point. Craig is getting plenty of media attention and, more importantly, the reportage is being read by his potential voters as some sort of anti-Colin Craig campaign.

This is exactly the same trick that Winston Peters used to pull. Winston used to run his lines on immigration, the media would respond in kind with accusations of racism, and talkback would run hot. The idea that a significant portion of the media are against you plays very well with a significant block of the electorate - I would wager, a significant enough proportion to propel you into parliament.

So as the Prime Minister has said, this is about Craig "winding up" the media, for publicity. In doing so he's kept Winston out of the media for the week.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Colin or Winston?

Andrea Vance's interview with Colin Craig makes for fascinating reading. Main points of interest are:

  • Craig seems to be backing away from running in Upper Harbour, despite implying that he would on Thursday last week. It looks like Christine Rankin may now stand. Given that Paula Bennett is going to stand for National, that'll be one intriguing race to watch.
  • There's a lot of talk of Craig stealing NZ First's support base. Craig takes a swipe at Winston's age (probably not something that'll go down well with Winston's support base!).
  • The Conservatives do actually have some policies. Some are crazy (e.g. getting rid of all fluoride from water supply, presumably overruling local authorities) others sensible (e.g. a tax free threshold under $25k)
The big risk for National now is that the Conservatives and NZ First split the socially conservative, economically centrist vote between them and neither get back into Parliament. This is fairly easily solved though - by John Key stating for the third time* we can't work with Winston Peters, and that he can work with Colin Craig. 

*The truth is complete if only I've stated it thrice.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Poll dancing November 2013

David Farrar reports the results of the latest 3 News poll:

Party support:
  • National 46.3% (-3.2%)
  • Labour 32.2% (+1.2%)
  • Green 10.4% (-1.6%)
  • ACT 0.8% (+0.6%)
  • Maori 1.2% (-0.4%)
  • United Future 
  • Mana 1.3% (+1.1%)
  • NZ First 4.2% (+0.3%)
  • Conservative 2.8% (+1.7%)
This result would, assuming no electorate seat changes, result in a centre-right government led by National.

What if, though, the Maori Party was to lose its seats to Labour? To find out, I'll have to fire up ye mighty MMP calculator:


Party nameParty Votes wonParty seat entitlementNo. of electorate seats wonNo. of list MPsTotal MPs% of MPs
ACT New Zealand0.80%11010.83%
Green Party10.40%140141411.67%
Labour Party32.20%4225174235.00%
National Party46.30%6042186050.00%
United Future0.80%11010.83%

So, we'd still have a centre-right government. What if Act and United Future lost their seats to National though?


Party nameParty Votes wonParty seat entitlementNo. of electorate seats wonNo. of list MPsTotal MPs % of MPs
Green Party10.40%140141411.57%
Labour Party32.20%4222204234.71%
Māori Party1.20%2303*2.48%
National Party46.30%6043176049.59%
Totals91.40%1206952121 100.00%

...the Maori Party would hold the balance of power.

Or perhaps, as some have suggested, National could do a deal with the Conservatives and give them a seat:


Party nameParty Votes wonParty seat entitlementNo. of electorate seats wonNo. of list MPsTotal MPs % of MPs
ACT New Zealand0.80%11010.83%
Conservative Party2.80%31232.48%
Green Party10.40%130131310.74%
Labour Party32.20%4022184033.06%
Māori Party1.20%2303*2.48%
National Party46.30%5841175847.93%
United Future0.80%11010.83%
Totals95.80%1207051121 100.00%

...again, we've got a centre-right government, most likely National + Conservatives and support from UF, Act and Maori parties.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

How John Key can win a third term

Colin Craig was on TVNZ's Q+A this morning, and was complimented for his improved performance by members of the panel. I don't buy it.

But as I've said here a number of times, if John Key wants a third term, National needs allies. Act is stuffed, regardless of whether John Banks can successfully defend the charges against him. Peter Dunne's UnitedFuture are too small to break out of Ohariu. Whether the Maori Party can survive without Tariana and Pita is an open question (IMHO their seats will go back to Labour). Most National supporters remember the 1996-1998 coalition disaster and couldn't stomach another NZ First coalition.

Colin Craig, while being a troglodyte social conservative, is still John Key's best bet for a third term.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Party primaries II

Fresh from their horrendous defeat at this year's federal election, Australia's Labor Party has held an election for their new leader, which Bill Shorten has won. He did with the support of the party's caucus, 63.95% of whom voted for Shorten, while his support among the ALP's 30,426 voting members was 40.08%, giving Shorten a total of 52.02%. The members and caucus have a 50:50 split in terms of choosing the leader.

Once again, a party within the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy has undertaken an election of its leader which included its membership. Even though the party membership's vote only counted for half of the votes (and ultimately didn't substantively affect the result), the important point is that prior to this leadership election they weren't involved. By its very name, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government will be remembered for its continual leadership instability.

As The Australian notes, the new rules mean 60% of the caucus must vote against the sitting leader, and then go to a leadership election again involving the party membership. This means the leader of the party (and hence the PM, once the ALP eventually get back to the Treasury benches) has security of tenure, unless they're very destructive.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Party primaries

So, Labour's held its first leadership election under its new rules. I won't comment on the result, other than to say the most challenging aspect is the differential between caucus and the party membership's vote (compare that to the result of the British Labour Party's leadership election in 2010, which following exhaustive ballots found a clear winner from all three segments). But I do think it was an important step for the first major New Zealand party to directly elect its leader (ACT was technically the first, with the election of Rodney Hide in 2004).

What's obvious from Labour's result is that having multiple segments of the party voting can highlight issues that parties generally don't want highlighted. Compare this segmentation with the last elections for the leader of the Conservative Party in the UK. It was a clear result thanks to only having members of the party voting (then there's the crazy system Canada's Conservative Party uses - each electorate organisation gets 100 points to vote with, which were proportionately allocated depending on how members in the electorate voted). Crazy or not, the principle of one member one vote is observed by both parties.

Sadly, this principle has yet to make it to our own National Party. As Toby Manhire notes in The New Zealand Herald:
If I were a member of the National Party, I'd be wondering: how come I don't get to vote on the leader of my party? Take it from Judith Collins: while excoriating Labour's "foolish exhibition of faked friendship" this week, she also observed that "political parties should always be about their members".
Toby then cites Canadian research pointing to the fact that parties tend not to change the rules unless they've suffered a major electoral defeat. But it doesn't have to be this way - now's the time for National to decide the rules. It would be a great contrast with Labour's rules, and would energise the membership base (I seem to remember a TV One report that Labour's membership had been boosted substantially by the election). It's time for party primaries.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Middle NZ paying for everyone else?

Brian Bruce has a new doco on its way, this time claiming that "middle New Zealand" is paying for everyone else. While I don't argue with Brian's main contention - that there is a growing gap between the richest and poorest New Zealanders - the contention that middle New Zealand is paying for everyone else is wrong.

This is because we've got a progressive income tax system which means the more you earn, the more tax you pay. As a result, the overwhelming majority of the income tax take comes from the "top 10%" of households. Here's Finance Minister Bill English explaining this fact in 2011:
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our tax and transfer system is highly redistributive, and the number of people paying income tax is surprisingly small. The lowest-income 43 percent of households currently receive more in income support than they pay in income tax. The 1.3 million households with incomes under $110,000 a year collectively pay no net tax—that is, their total income support payments match their combined income tax. The top 10 percent of households contribute over 70 percent of income tax, net of transfers—over 70 percent of income tax, net of transfers. This system is highly redistributive and we believe it is fair.
Now, we could argue that the wealthy have a large proportion of their income which is untaxed due to New Zealand not having a capital gains tax, for example. But that's not what Brian is saying. He says the wealthy get away with $5 billion in tax evasion. In fact, this is the total figure for all New Zealanders - from a study by Victoria University academic Dr Lisa Marriot - and is mainly due to the so-called "shadow economy" - i.e. people doing cash jobs. Hardly the wealthy forcing costs on middle New Zealand (if anything, mates rates are probably more common among those of us who are actually mates with tradies).

So I don't hold out much hope for Brian's documentary. The gap between rich and poor is a problem, don't get me wrong - but mainly because the rich are getting richer faster than the poor are.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Balance of trade

We've got a balance of trade surplus. This is great news. In Q4 2012 we imported $3.5 billion worth of stuff and exported $3.9 billion.

The problem we have isn't the trade of physical stuff, it's the trade of invisibles. We borrow too much and pay too much in interest.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Poll dancing

The latest Colmar Brunton poll on David Farrar's Curia blog shows the government's in a good space at the moment, thanks to a 5% bump for National. Labour has slid two points while the Greens slid one. This appears to be all down to John Key's popularity as preferred Prime Minister increasing 5%.

On these numbers, National would be on 62 seats, which plus Act and United Future with 1 each gives them a majority of 1. Should the Maori Party survive or at least retain its 3 seats, the John Key led bloc will have a majority of 4.

Of course MMP politics isn't always this simple. David Farrar's numbers assume everyone retains their seats. My guess is that Act will lose its seat at the next election, with the National candidate taking it, while Peter Dunne may survive in Ohariu. As mentioned above, the current ructions in the Maori Party could see all three of their seats lost to Labour. And that's where it gets interesting. If Labour wins back all of the Maori seats (bar Hone's), there won't be the overhang their currently is.

Using the handy MMP calculator from the Electoral Commission's website, if the Maori Party loses all its seats, there will be no overhang and parliament will revert to 120 seats. This means National could govern alone, with 63 seats. Ironically, the death of the Maori Party at the polls could very well deliver Key his third term.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Why I'm not giving up

Alf Grumble responds to my comments in today's New Zealand Herald, asking why I don't just pack it in and give up on the issues I care about. After all, the first attempt at getting a referendum on the flag failed to attract enough signatures.

It's pretty simple really. I'm a New Zealander. I don't give up just because things are hard.

But more specifically, the 2005 referendum attempt wasn't "mine." I only played a bit part. I was studying at the time and gave what spare time I could (and probably a bit more than I should've) - Will de Cleene was the Wellington co-ordinator for the campaign and did most of the hard work. I simply collected signatures. The fact we got 100,000 signatures without any real organisation (apart from a solitary paid organiser, Iona Pannett) was actually a good achievement.

I'm sure both Will and myself will attest our biggest problem was that we didn't have the sort of network needed to bring about a referendum - the sort of network that enabled the petitions on smacking and asset sales to be converted into referendums.

Unfortunately from Alf, it looks like next time it might just be a lot easier:

Monday, 14 January 2013

Scenes from the decline of western civilisation

Ian Wishart posts an extensive review cut and paste exercise on Mark Steyn's book After America: Get Ready for Armageddon(!). The book is the usual Mark Steyn fair of misused statistics and ridiculous assertions, wrapped in his own brand of angry paleo-conservativism. To be fair to Steyn, he is a good and witty writer. But that's where his skills end.

There are so many things I could write about how ridiculous this book is, but numerous others have already done so. Something that stood out to me was Steyn's continual attempts to make comparisons between the glorious past and the horrid present. One such example is his attempt to show the decline in chivalry in disaster situations - citing the number of women and children who survived the sinking of the RMS Titantic and then stating:
“Eight decades after the Titanic, a German-built ferry en route from Estonia to Sweden sank in the Baltic Sea. Of the 1051 passengers, only 139 lived to tell the tale. But the distribution of the survivors was very different from that of the Titanic. Women and children first? No female under fifteen or over sixty-five made it. Only five percent of all women passengers lived. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Forty-three percent of men aged 20 to 24 made it.” 
It's curious that Steyn doesn't mention the name of the "German-built ferry" that sank in the Baltic Sea. I've actually seen a documentary about it some years ago and the mention on Wishart's site twigged my memory, and after a few minutes Googling I discovered the ferry was in fact the MS Estonia, which sank in the Baltic Sea on 28 September 1994.

This disaster fits the bill for what Steyn is on about. Read through the details of the sinking of the Estonia though,  and you'll quickly see why Steyn neglected to mention the name of the ship: the two disasters are incomparable because of the amount of time it took each ship to sink. The Titanic took over two and a half hours to sink. The Estonia took less than half an hour. Perhaps more importantly, the Titanic was in calm but icy conditions when it ran into the iceberg. The Estonia was in the middle of a storm.

It's clear that this comparison is simply wrong. While there are probably many other instances of the decline in chivalry that could be cited, Steyn decided to choose the worst possible. You really have to wonder about the standard of his other comparisons are. I'd guess pretty low.