Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We'll Fight Them on the Beaches.

It appears I spoke too soon about things petering out between the Christchurch City Council and the Government over the Seabed and Foreshore Bill. The Council may not want to pick a fight but there's a group of Government MPs who're more than happy to oblige.

Today 6 Government MPs based in Canterbury (Ruth Dyson, Clayton Cosgrove, Lianne Dalziel, Tim Barnett, Mahara Okeroa, and Jim Anderton) put out a joint statement rubbishing the processes used by the Council in making its submission. Anderton was particularly strident saying it was a bit rich the Council was puporting to present a submission representing its ratepayers when it hadn't even gone to them to seek their opinion. Woeful seems to be the theme of this tit-for-tat dispute as that's how these MPs are describing the Council's processes. They were also very aggrieved that Councilor Dennis O'Rourke had leaked a draft of the Council's submission passing it off as policy (yes he is politicking madly!) Dalziel believed the Council had gone beyond its original intent. Okeroa reckons their focus is too narrow. Dyson says the matter should have at least gone to the full Council, and Cosgrove is venting his spleen at O'Rourke (in his words "Dennis the menace O'Rourke).

It's an unusual response as for the life of me I can't recall anything like this happening in recent history. Ruth Dyson seems to accept that as well. To an outsider it looks like an attack on the Council and it'd be fair to say the Council will be seeing it as such. I understand the Mayor Garry Moore was a little surprised when he learnt of it and is considering it an over-reaction on the part of the MPs. It's certainly playing into the hands of the National Party which is already labeling it, through local government spokesman Nick Smith, as a case of a paranoid Government using strong arm tactics to get its own way. Needless to say this is something the MPs emphatically deny. Apparently, in the words of Clayton Cosgrove, it's not an attack its a democratic process. So following that argument it's democratic for Government MP's to criticise a local Government body for observing its legal right to comment on proposed legislation that impacts on its operations.

You see this is what the Council has been doing. According to Mayor Garry Moore at least 30 council land areas would pass into the hands of the state should the Seabed and Foreshore Bill be passed. They're imagining the can of worms that could eventuate over the city's planned ocean outfall wastewater pipeline. How would that be affected if the Bill became law?

Other issues are the ones raised by the MPs about the Council not consulting with the community and allowing a sub-committee to handle the submission without allowing it to go to the full Council for approval. I'll deal with the consultation point first. The Government proposes new legislation all the time and in many cases (where it affects Council business) the City Council will make a submission. Do these MPs seriously expect the Council to consult with the entire community every time the Government proposes a new law? When would anyone find the time to do anything if we got into a perpetual merry-go-round of consultation? With regard to the submission not going to the full Council for approval, well that's a decision the Councilors made when they voted to give the sub-committee delegated authority to make the submission. Due process seems to have been obeyed ... hasn't it?

All in all it's a little bizarre to see a liberal council with strong Labour Party ties get lambasted by 5 Labour and 1 Progressive MP. You would have thought they could have sorted their differences through back channels without letting it spill over into what appears to be a very public spat. However that doesn't appear to have been an option, as Helen Clark was aware of the actions of her MPs before they made the release and didn't stop them from proceeding. National's Nick Smith reckons it's a deliberate strategy on the part of the Government to attack anyone who criticises the policy. For this to happen to a Council that's traditionally been Labour friendly doesn't contradict his theory. It certainly can't do the Government any favours in pushing the seabed and foreshore Bill.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Early Thursdays.

Before I get into the topic I'll get onto that update I promised regarding the Christchurch City Council and its opposition to the Seabed and Foreshore Bill. It all ended up a bit insipid really. The Council had its tail tucked firmly between its legs muttering that it didn't want to get into a "confrontation with Government" and what it was seeking "meaningful dialogue". Typical local government lolly-gagging really. Note to the CCC; if you don't want to get into a confrontation with the Government then perhaps you shouldn't describe its consultation as "woefully inadequate".

Now on to the fun stuff.

I heard an interesting story from a local copper the other day which just illustrates how the low income nature of Christchurch can affect the nightlife and determine what nights prove to be the busiest for the boys in blue. Yes Fridays and Saturdays are nights when they make a lot of arrests, no surprise there. But I was a little shocked to discover Wednesday night/Thursday morning is also a busy time ... especially in some of the city's more insalubrious establishments.

It works like this. Christchurch is a low income city and we have our fair share of beneficiaries. Their benefits get paid at midnight on Wednesday, but the automatic payments (eg fines etc) don't go out until 6 am Thursday morning. This means they have 6 hours to spend up large before it disappears, and apparently this is exactly what they do. The policeman told me the early hours of Thursday morning is one of the busiest times of the week for the city's prostitutes and bars (definitely not frequented by the Chardonnay set) do a roaring trade as well.

This point was rammed home in emphatic fashion when the beat section decided to do an early morning walk around on a Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago. The officers walked into an inner city bar, which my policeman friend described as one of the rougher joints in the inner city, and discovered around 300 people inside. This at 5.30 on a Thursday morning. Needless to say the officers back pedalled rapidly and made a hasty exit. "They would have been eaten alive" was the description I heard. Anyway they went back to the central police station and then (following the theory that there's safety in numbers) the entire night shift was called out to go back to the bar to make sure it, and its occupants, were on the straight and narrow.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

By-election By-Blow

As predicted it was a cakewalk for Tariana ... or as Paul Holmes describes her; "a confused tub of lard".

You can see the official result here. No-one got within cooee of her, not even the inestimable Peter Wakeman. Further reinforcement to the argument that the whole thing was a complete joke is that none of the other candidates even managed to get 200 votes.

And before I go ... a copy of the Christchurch City Council's submission on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill has been leaked. For a lefty Labour dominated authority they're pretty scathing and have effectively rubbished the Government's position. I'll post more details tomorrow once the Mayor, and other city officials, are prepared to talk. It seems they haven't seen the final draft of their own submission yet!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Who Bloody Cares?

So there's a by-election in the Maori seat of Te Tai Hauauru today. Is this a significant moment in NZ's political history? No, not really. The result's a foregone conclusion with former Labour rebel Tariana Turia assured to sweep to victory under the banner of the newly formed Maori Party. There's a bare half dozen candidates in the field and none are serious contenders as none of the major political parties are fielding a candidate.

This sorry excuse for a democratic process is part of the fall-out NZ is still suffering from the foreshore and seabed debate. I won't go into detail here as others can (and have) summed up the situation far more succinctly than I. Basically Turia had a fundamental disagreement with her Labour Party over its proposed legislation covering access and ownership of the country's seabed and foreshore. On a point of principle she walked out and forced this by-election. As she was always expected to win comfortably (her actions received rapturous support from her electorate and Tainui) the major parties didn't bother to contest the seat. Why waste the effort and money seems to have been the philosophy ... no point in battling a foregone conclusion.

The whole thing's been a damp squib with the foreshore and seabed issue barely mentioned in the weeks leading up to today's poll. Which is ironic considering it's what sparked the whole thing. The only issue that's been debated is the number of polling booths available. I guess the media felt they had to do something about the by-election, but even this has been a travesty of sorts.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week TVNZ quoted the Maori party and its complaints about there not being enough polling booths available. Last election there were around 400, this time just 100. "Our people won't be able to get to exercise their democratic right" was the cry from Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. The funny thing was the exact same complaint had been made two weeks previously by independent candidate Peter Wakeman but at the time (other than a brief bit on Newstalk ZB) nobody seemed to give a damn. Three days out from polling day though it was a different story. The major news rooms were falling over themselves covering the story but attributing it to a "new" concern made by the Maori Party. Newstalk ZB apparently forgot it had already run the story and did it all over again (I know radio is immediate, but I didn't know it also had short term memory impairment). One can only assume poor old Peter Wakeman must be feeling a little peeved. The one semi-decent idea he came up with ended up being hijacked and credited to someone else.

Is it just me, or do others find it a little trite that the only issue in this whole by-election has been an argument over access to polling booths?

Actually I'll add in a little more about Peter Wakeman as he's one of those eccentric types that constantly stands for election without any hope of ever being elected. His affiliations appear to be with the Labour Party but he's probably not stable enough for them. I suspect even the Greens would run a mile from him as he's probably even too off the wall for that bunch of yoghurt knitters. I guess the nastier types would call him a political loon but I think that's a little unfair. His ideas are often vague, his arguments disjointed, and policies non-existent but at least he has the conviction in his beliefs (and I haven't figured them out yet) to have a go. Peter's well known in Christchurch circles as a regular political candidate (he got 904 votes last time he ran for mayor in 1998 finishing about 36,400 behind the winner Garry Moore). He's also been a bugbear in the past to Air New Zealand accusing them of all sorts of shenanigans. This latter predilection may have something to do with his past career as an airline pilot. Peter seems to have had all sorts of fun with this by-election and much of it at the expense of TVNZ. From what I've heard he's taken several Broadcasting Standard Authority complaints against them. One involved Te Karere running the Maori Party's phone details in its items, and I think another was against One News for not giving the independent candidates the same sort of air time as what they were allowing Tariana Turia. And you know the funny thing is I think he actually may have got to them as he made it onto One News at least twice this week!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Power Plays.

Well's here's a surprise ... not! Meridian Energy is increasing the price of power. Again. Yes the lucky customers of that State Owned Enterprise (for overseas readers an SOE is Government owned but acts like a private company, confused?) will now have the privilege of paying more for their electricity. The price rise varies. Here in Canterbury it's around 10 percent, but for some North Island customers the rise could be double that.

Meridian's explanations for the increase are as follows:
1) The Maui gas field is running out so we're facing an energy shortage which mean power is going to cost more.
2) It's because of increased lines charges.

It's an interesting argument from Meridian considering it generates all its power from hydro lakes which, at last report, are full to capacity. It's puzzling to learn the gas shortage in the North Island somehow affects Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki's ability to provide power. Setting that aside there's another problem with Meridian's argument, the gas shortage isn't happening now. All the predictions are Maui will run out of gas in 2007-08 which suggests to me that they still have gas now. Why are we being billed in advance for a shortage that hasn't happened yet? Surely in a deregulated electricity market the laws of supply and demand would result in prices going up at the time when generating capacity is deficient. I'm no economist but this forward billing schtick that Meridian's pulling is more reminiscent of a planned economy, isn't it?

Lets have a look at Meridian's second argument that increased lines charges are driving the price increase. Yes it's true that in Canterbury lines company Orion did raise its lines charges by 1.1% earlier this year. However that was the first time it's been raised in five years so in real terms, over that period, lines charges have actually dropped about 3%. Coincidentally over that same five years energy generators and retailers, such as Meridian, have actually raised electricity prices by over 40%. It makes you think doesn't it?

Also let us consider a few past events that have affected the electricity industry and see how things stack up. It was over a year ago that the Maui Gas shortage was announced and that we were put on notice that the cost of power was going to increase. So what's different between the situation then, and the situation now?

1) Solid Energy has done a 10 year deal with Genesis to ensure the Huntly power plant has a regular supply of coal (good for power generation!)
2) In the past week or so a new generating station has been brought on line in Auckland (good for power generation!)
3) Investigations have revealed the Kupe gas fields are better than anticipated good for power generation!)
4) The Government's cut taxes and royalties to encourage more oil and gas exploration(good for power generation!)
5) Power generators are investing in wind technology(good for power generation!)

Looks to me if the situation now is better than what it was a year ago. Which begs the question; why raise the price? And of course we must remember Meridian took advantage of the situation last year and upped power prices by 15 percent. Could we accuse them of double dipping?

And what about all those ad's Meridian, Contact and Trustpower are running on TV at the moment. You know the ones that extol the virtues of power saving, that warn of the problems besetting the industry, and the ones that warn of price rises to come. They look pretty flash don't they? I bet they cost a buck or two and I bet that cost is being transferred straight onto our bills. Isn't it nice that we're paying more for our power and part of that price rise is probably being used to tell us the bad news in a 30 second Saatchi and Saatchi created wankfest.

Mind you you've got to appreciate the wonderful irony of the situation given the complete state of disarray our power infrastructure is apparently in. We're being billed more for a product we might not even get. Perhaps Meridian's been smarter than I thought ... they've factored in the power savings needed to maintain the integrity of our powerlines and have upped the price to maintain its profit margins. After all it'd be wrong if a State Owned Enterprise didn't return a healthy dividend to its masters in Government ... wouldn't it? (Actually does anyone remember when Meridian, or any other SOE power company, didn't make a profit)

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Pownceby: Boxer or Beat Up?

Soulan Pownceby boxes in Christchurch tonight and no doubt will be the centre of media attention. For those of you who don't know the story have a quick squizz here.

The guts of the story is Pownceby was recently selected to represent NZ at the Athens Olympics. On the day he was selected One News (that's TVNZ) led their 6pm bulletin with the fact he'd been convicted for the manslaughter of his five month year old daughter back in the mid 1990s. The angle was, given Pownceby's past should he be allowed to represent his country? On the face of it, it was a fair story.

But something the public didn't know. TVNZ had been well aware of Pownceby's past for some time (at least 4 weeks) as he'd already confessed his part in the TVNZ documentary "Road to Athens". It seems strange that One News chose to wait until Pownceby's selection was confirmed before running the story. I would have thought it would have been just as valid when he was still just a candidate for the Olympic Squad? Or was it a case of One News wanting to make as big a splash as possible?

A day or so later Pownceby appeared in an "exclusive" on Tonight on TV1. Having already done one soul baring confession on the "Road To Athens" documentary he was forced to do it again. This time after he'd been put through the mill by TV, newspaper and radio. Naturally the guy was a mess and was virtually destroyed live on air. Nice one TVNZ. You manufactured the hype and the frenzy, then took the opportunity to finish the guy off in what can only be described as a cynical and callous manner.

Now before people start labeling me as a Pownceby apologist, let me make it abundantly clear I'm not. The crime he was convicted of was absolutely terrible and he deserved to be punished for it. However the vast majority of people who've been moralising over Pownceby's past probably have little idea, or any, of the details that led to his manslaughter conviction. One thing I've learnt from sitting through Court trials is circumstances aren't always so black and white and unless you've heard both sides of the case it's better not to rush to quick judgments. I didn't sit through Pownceby's case, I haven't seen transcripts of the trial, I also don't know the full details of the assault convictions he received after he got out of jail. So I can't really tell if he's a bad person or if he's genuinely reformed.

Finally for those who are up in arms about the whole thing it might pay to remember some of our most public figures have checkered pasts. Cabinet Minister Ruth Dyson has a drink driving conviction ... she's still a Cabinet Minister. NZ First MP Ron Mark had a sexual relationship with a 15 year old girl back when he was in the Army ... he's still an MP. Paul Holmes (TVNZ and TRN) made racist comments about the secretary general of the UN ... he's still a broadcaster. The list goes on.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Just a Little More.

Two posts in one day! I know this is unusual but I thought I'd give an update on a few things I raised a few posts ago.

The PR person charged with making an obscene phone call pleaded not guilty. An interim name suppression is still in place so his/her identity can't be revealed. However a recording of the call in question is apparently raising mirth at the offices of The Press.

More drama for local body representatives! One (and again I can't say who because of a Court suppression order) has been before the Court on charges of threatening to kill. But before you get carried away this is a private prosecution, not a police one, and there's a fair chance it'll come to nothing.

And one for the sports fans. This is a really good blog if you're a Kiwi sports fan. Check it out.

The Glory of Local Government

I realise, given how most people have absolutely no interest in city council or district council business, the title of this post probably has many of you fleeing screaming but permit me this rant.

This week the Christchurch City Council set its budget for the next financial year. We're talking a sum total of several hundred million dollars worth of ratepayer money so it's fair enough to say the decisions our councilors had to make were reasonably weighty and serious.

Had you been there you might have been excused if you thought you'd somehow been whisked off into some weird parallel universe where the elected officials had somehow been magically replaced by a group of adolescent teenagers in the throes of hormonal turmoil. Their behavior was nothing short of appalling.

To be fair this is an election year so some tub thumping was to be expected. However it was the political rifts that became the focus of the 10 hour meeting (imagine having to sit through all that .... never mind home detention for criminals, send them to council meetings I say!). A bit of background is probably in order here so I'll give a brief explanation. The Christchurch City Council has been dominated in the recent past by the 2021 party which has strong affiliations with the Labour Party and other left wing parties. This year it's had a bit of a melt-down courtesy of a major downsizing of the Council by the Local Government Commission. Where there were 25 there will soon be 12 (depending on the outcome of a pending legal challenge), so things have become a bit fractious. A couple of months ago Councilors Dennis O'Rourke, Megan Evans, and Ingrid Stonhill quit 2021 and made sure they fired a few shots across the bows of the mayor, Garry Moore, as they left. The defections caused a bit of a fuss as they timed their announcement to the media for immediately after a caucus meeting (ie they somehow neglected to mention the fact they were leaving at the meeting but managed to release it to the press 20 minutes after the said meeting had finished). Since then there's been a bit of sniping but at the budget meeting on Wednesday the gloves were off.

Dennis O'Rourke made the first play by suddenly revealing at the last moment a sweeping range of economies that could save over two and a half million dollars and cut a projected rates rise from 3.59% down to 2%. He wanted to debate it there and then. The Mayor and city manager immediately got into a huddle and then said no this couldn't be done, it'd be inappropriate so O'Rourke would just have to debate his points at the right times during the meeting. O'Rourke lived up to his Irish ancestry, claimed his democratic rights were being trampled on, and threatened to take the Council to Court. At this point the media were pricking up their ears at the thought that finally there might be something vaguely interesting to report. An adjournment was called and attempts were made to soothe ruffled feathers over a cup of tea and a biscuit. With a live report of the shenanigans going out on the local radio station it very much appeared if the Council was trying to get things smoothed over before they looked like complete idiots. The Council's spin doctor Bryn Somerville was noted for his swiftness (very swift considering he's recently had both hips replaced) in approaching the press bench and "advising" what angles they should be covering. So too was the Mayor.

Anyway a compromise was reached, the legal threats were withdrawn and away they went. But it wasn't pleasant. The 2021 hierarchy, most notably Mayor Moore and Councilor Alister James, made full capital of having a go at councilor O'Rourke at every opportunity. Their line being that O'Rourke's cost saving ideas were no more than a blatant election year sham. Given some of the areas O'Rourke wanted to trim were projects he'd supported and voted in favor of when he was a 2021 member, they may just have had a point. Even more so when one recalls O'Rourke only scraped in by 100 votes at the last election! So there was a lot of screaming, shouting and gavel banging going on. The budget was really a mere sideline.

In fact things ended pretty badly as the political bunfight hit a crescendo. Part of the problem was the way the meeting had been scheduled. Normally standing orders restrict the duration of a meeting to 8 hours and it can only be extended if a majority council vote is passed. In the past this has meant the Council could adjourn and resume the meeting next day if necessary. Unfortunately some genius had scheduled the meeting for the last day of the financial year meaning it all had to wrapped up in one sitting. Well after 10 hours blood sugar levels were inversely proportional to the rising tempers. Councilor Alpers claimed the meeting was illegal (as an extension vote had been missed by a minute or so). He and others were fed up with the exchanges between Councilors James and O'Rourke. At least one was heard to describe the meeting as "crap", and another say she was leaving as she "wasn't putting up with this shit any longer".

Aren't you proud of your elected representatives Christchurch?

For the record this is what the Council achieved in its 10 hour meeting:
1) No money saved (in fact they added an extra $30,000 of costs to the budget).
2) Nude swimming areas ruled out on New Brighton Beach (heaven forfend!)
3) Resolved the Regional Council should match the 10 grand it was setting aside to deal with stray cats (this actually got a 10 minute debate)
4) Decided to spend 53 million dollars on building themselves new offices (strangely this wasn't debated at all)
5) Gave another 3 million dollars for boating facilities in a harbor it doesn't even administer (that's on top of another three million they set aside 3 years ago)
6) Set aside 11 million dollars for a rowing lake (though nobody's sure exactly where it's going to be built)
7) Managed, by the skin of their teeth, not to investigate instituting a shade policy for residents (the Council's going to save you from skin cancer!)
8) Completely reversed the way they charge rates for people living in a residential situation in rural zones (this despite only just recently voting the original method in. Some, particularly Councilor Helen Broughton had trouble recalling this)

Unanswered questions:
1) Why did Councilor Ingrid Stonhill leave so early?
2) Why was the Mayor winking at the media bench?
3) Why does Councilor Pat "I'm not racist" Harrow always raise the issue of either Maori representation, or funding for Maori issues at every annual plan meeting? (could it be he doesn't like them?)
4) Is Councilor Sally Buck mentally challenged? (I mean walking back into the chamber, after disappearing God knows where, and asking what she was voting on, and how she should vote doesn't instill a lot of confidence in her abilities)

1) The end of the bloody thing.
2) The fact that next year there'll only be 12 of the buggers left so hopefully it should only be half as long!