Monday, March 31, 2014

Steve Baron: Bon Voyage Michael Laws

Quite by chance, I bumped into Michael Laws as he was packing his car to leave town for his new life in Timaru. Although we have communicated a number of times we had never met, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and had a short conversation. I could sense a certain amount of despondency about leaving and he voiced his pride and admiration for Wanganui, although raising apprehensions about the problems our city faces.

Being an outspoken public figure is never an easy role to pull off. The Mayoralty vote last year possibly reflected the public’s perception of Michael. Just under half the voters thought highly enough to vote for him while the rest probably wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole.

Steve Baron: A new Minister of Education

Who would ever want to be the Minister of Education? The very first Minister of Education was the MP for Rangitikei/Wanganui, John Ballance. Ballance was the Founder of the Wanganui Herald and held the Education portfolio under Premier Robert Stout for 18 months. Back in those days an MP was simply and truly the representative for that electorate—they were not aligned to a political party because back in those days political parties did not exist. Well at least not formally, but they were often grouped as loose factions when it came to voting on the issues of the day. It wasn’t until 1891 that the first political party, the Liberal Party, was formed under the leadership of Ballance and the party governed New Zealand until 1912.

We are now on to our 44th Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. Rumours around Parliament are that her job is now on the line—hanging by a thread. No real surprises there I guess, given the mortar fire she was under recently.

Matt Ridley from the UK: Technology creates jobs as much as it destroys them

Bill Gates voiced a thought in a speech last week that is increasingly troubling America’s technical elite — that technology is about to make many, many people redundant. Advances in software, he said, will reduce demand for jobs, substituting robots for drivers, waiters or nurses.

The last time that I was in Silicon Valley I found the tech-heads fretting about this in direct proportion to their optimism about technology. That is to say, the more excited they are that the “singularity” is near — the moment when computers become so clever at making themselves even cleverer that the process accelerates to infinity — the more worried they are that there will be mass unemployment as a result.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Karl du Fresne: Speculations on the unknowable

Charlotte Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, L’Wren Scott: three dynamic, talented, apparently well-loved people, dead in the prime of life, and all in the space of a few weeks.
Two, Dawson and Scott, took their own lives. Hoffman didn’t; he died with a heroin needle stuck in his arm. But he must have known that death was a likely consequence of his drug habit, and he took the risk anyway. So in a sense it was self-inflicted, even if he didn’t intend to die.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mike Butler: Here come the woodburner police

A plane equipped with a thermal tracking camera will patrol the skies over Hawke’s Bay during the chilly season when domestic fires may be lit, homing in on chimneys with strong heat images. This will be matched against a record of every compliant fire that has been installed since 2005 in Napier and Hastings, as well as regional council records of every loan or grant that has been given since the programme started in 2009.

Any homeowner thus found out will be pinged with an abatement notice. Infringement of an abatement notice will attract a $300 fine.

Frank Newman: Technology, exciting and scary for property investors

The world is benefiting from the fastest spinning revolution in the history of mankind. It’s affecting everything from the way we socialise to the way we shop, how we work, and where we live. The rate of change means presumptions about the future are becoming redundant faster and the business and investment life-cycle is becoming much shorter. 

Those who are able to pick the trends can make an unimaginable amount of money very quickly, while those who are blind to the changes will find the value of their investments eroded - and very quickly. Property investors can no longer rest assured that their investment is “as safe as houses”.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mike Butler: Why the property WOF is a crock

A closer look at the 31-point property rental warrant of fitness checklist that is being trialled gives the appearance that it has been put together by people unacquainted with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, who are ignorant of how tenants live in New Zealand buildings, and who fail to understand the implications of building code compliance.

Two pilot warrant of fitness trials for rental properties are presently under way. One is a government initiative involving 500 Housing New Zealand properties and the other involves a “consortium” of interests involving the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, ACC, NZ Green Building Council, and the University of Otago.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mike Butler: Koha alarm for treatyist govt

A Serious Fraud office inquiry into kohanga reo-related spending should ring alarm bells for a government committed to giving billions upon billions of state dollars and assets to private tribal entities for social services, housing, and as an “economic base”.

Allegations of the misuse of public funding by the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board’s subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga last October prompted an audit of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust’s financial controls over public funding by Ernst & Young.(1)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ron Smith: The Munich Moment

In a blog I wrote towards the end of the first year of his presidency (November, 2009), I asked the question, “Is Barak Obama destined to be the Neville Chamberlain of the Twenty-first century?”  It is now clear that the answer to this question is, “Yes!”  And Ukraine is his Czechoslovakia.  

On present trends and despite the huffing and puffing about ‘consequences’ and ‘lines being crossed’, it looks as if the world will acquiesce in Russia’s military occupation and annexation of Crimea.  I say ‘the world’ because Russia mustered precisely no votes in the Security Council debate on this matter beyond its own veto.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mike Butler: Readers oppose rental WOFs

A NZ Herald editorial last month titled "Warrants of fitness a must for all rental homes" which opined that “It is time to place some obligations on those offering homes for rent. Already, they benefit from tax breaks and untaxed capital gains” sparked 97 comments most of which were hostile to such WOFs. Many related the time and money spent cleaning up after tenants trashed the place, a number thought any rental property WOF should be on the tenant not the building, and one asked why, since people had lived in houses for 10,000 years, should there suddenly be a need for a rental WOF.

The objections are illuminating and entertaining. Read on:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Murray Sherwin: What can be done about regulation

Last week the Productivity Commission released its draft report  into regulatory institutions and practicesRegulation affects all New Zealanders every day. Hundreds of regulatory regimes and many thousands of officials and inspectors work in regulation. It’s an essential component of modern, successful societies. But when regulation is done badly it can cause more harm than good. Last week, the Productivity Commission released its draft report into regulatory institutions and practices. 

Nobody knows this better than businesses about the impact of regulation. That’s why the commission was so keen to talk to them about their experiences with regulators. We received 53 submissions and had 92 face-to-face meetings – including many with New Zealand’s largest and most-regulated firms. 

Barend Vlaardingerbroek from Lebanon: Russia – the phoenix rises

The king is dead. Long live the king! – Trad.

If ever an episode in history was easy to draft the script for, it was the accession of the newly independent state of Crimea to the Russian Federation. Did I hear someone say ‘annexation’? Not on your Nelly! 

First, there was a coup in Kiev and the president had to make a run for it, leaving behind an illegitimate ‘provisional government’, i.e. no Ukrainian government at all. Next, Russia exercised its well-established customary right of protective jurisdiction over its kith and kin in the Crimea. Next, over 90% of the people there signalled through a referendum that they wanted to return to the motherland from which they had been wrenched 60 years earlier. Where’s the problem?

Viv Forbes from Australia: Engineering the Emissions Target Depression

The Climate Change Authority wants Australians to cut their production of carbon dioxide to 19% below 2000 levels by the year 2020.

The climate boffins should employ a demographer before they set such unrealistic goals. The population of Australia in 2000 was about 19 million and it is now 23 million. By 2020 it will probably be over 25 million.

If Australia’s production of carbon dioxide was merely frozen at the 2000 level, that would require a 24% reduction per head of population by 2020. If we add to that a real reduction in total emissions of 19% by 2020, emissions per capita would need to fall by 39% in just 6 years. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Steve Baron: To vote or not to vote… that is the question

I’d like to tell you about Ben. I first met Ben at Victoria University when I attended there in 2012 as a mature post graduate student. Ben had just finished his undergraduate degree and was doing the same political science post graduate paper as me. Ben is an impressive young man with a sharp intellect. He’s not a flashy know-it-all character, just determined, down to earth and like most politically minded people he wants to make a difference. Ben’s all excited now the election date has been announced and he is encouraging all of his Facebook friends to get out and vote. Being a political party zealot (member), he naturally expected everyone to vote for ‘his’ political party!

Statistics show that 25% of New Zealanders didn’t bother to vote at the last election. I suspect there will be even more who don’t bother this year, as turnout rates drop almost every election. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lindsay Mitchell: Asian incomes rising rapidly

Prompted by the NZ Herald sob-series on Closing the Gaps I thought I'd take a look at Asian incomes. They are rising rapidly. In only 5 years they have gone from having the lowest median income to second highest.

The chart below shows the median income for individuals aged 15 and older.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gerry Eckhoff: Theft of Rural Land

Theft, by definition is a criminal act where property belonging to another is deceitfully taken without the owners consent and with the intention of depriving the owner of permanent possession and use. The various forms of theft have been given names such as robbery, burglary, embezzlement yet there is still no name given to the legal taking of private property without compensation.

The entitlement a rural land owner has to the reasonable use of their property is unchallenged by most, yet the environmental lobby deliberately seek to gain use rights away from the owner. The actual ownership of the land is never questioned as the rates (and usually the mortgage) must still be paid by the registered owner of the land in question. The legal right of use however of rural private property has been stealthily changed to allow those with a supposed “higher” use value (preservation) to acquire use rights at no cost to them and without compensation.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Frank Newman: End of low interest rates, the rise of iwi, and the floating of Genesis

As expected, the Governor of the Reserve Bank has increased interested rates by 0.25% and confirmed the era of historic low interest rates is coming to an end. He also reaffirmed the now commonly held view that interest rates will rise 2% over the next two years.

That sends a very clear message to households and property investors. When planning their finances they need to assume mortgage interest rates will very soon be around 7.5% to 8%. Fortunately this should come as no surprise to Property Plus readers and many would (should) have factored this into their calculations already or changed the mix of their loans to longer term fixed rates.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: Malaria, TB and Aids are in steady retreat

There’s a tendency among public officials and journalists, when they discuss disease, to dress good news up as bad. My favourite example was a BBC website headline from 2004 when mortality from the human form of mad-cow disease, which had been falling for two years, rose from 16 to 17 cases: “Figures show rise in vCJD deaths” wailed the headline. (The incidence fell to eight the next year and zero by 2012, unreported.) Talk about grasping at straws of pessimism.
Last week there was a neat example of how good news is no news in the world of public health. Newspapers widely reported a scientific paper, which argued that malaria might get worse in the future at high altitudes as a result of global warming allowing mosquitoes and parasites to survive in higher regions such as Ethiopia and Colombia. Breathlessly, the reports suggested an extra three million people a year might catch the disease.

Karl du Fresne: Bitten in the bum by the Human Rights Act

Surveys consistently show that New Zealand is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business. But I wonder if the researchers take into account the difficulties of sacking unsatisfactory employees, and the way the dice appear loaded against companies accused of wrongful dismissal.

Published reports suggest that any employer taken to the Employment Relations Authority by a disaffected ex-employee is on a hiding to nothing. No matter how outrageously the sacked worker has behaved, he or she is usually held to have been wronged because of some perceived procedural failure – often minor – by the employer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mike Butler: Is prepaid power more expensive?

A claim from Labour’s Energy spokesperson David Shearer that power companies are unfairly targeting the poorest New Zealanders by charging them the highest electricity rates turns out to be untrue. Shearer wrote: "New figures obtained by Labour show those on pre-pay electricity plans - paying electricity bills in advance - pay up to 60 per cent more than those paying a regular power bill".

Therefore today, property owners throughout New Zealand would have fielded calls from distraught tenants demanding that the pre-power meter should be removed.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Frank Newman: Rotorua Mayor abolishes impact development fees

Not surprisingly the proposal in the Auckland draft unitary plan requiring Auckland property owners to seek iwi approval to work on what is a vast area covering some 3600 sites of "value to mana whenua" has come under a lot of criticism, from private property owners. Most landowners can see the proposal for what it is: yet another money making scheme based on Maori privilege.

In reply to that attention the Maori Party put out a press release which included this comment from Co-leader Tariana Turia, “this is also a Treaty issue. It's about tangata whenua having a right to participate in decision making over our natural resources…

Mike Butler: Campbell Live PR job for Ngapuhi

TV3 presenter John Campbell told his audience last week that he felt slightly ashamed admitting that he didn't know much about Northland tribe Ngapuhi and their mega treaty payout expectations, so he grabbed his microphone and cameraman and went north to learn. Sadly, all he revealed little more than we already knew. Chief Ngapuhi claimant Sonny Tau was first to speak:
Campbell: How much land did Ngapuhi lose?

Tau: We lost by dubious means 2.1-million acres of land
Firstly, why did Campbell and Tau use the word “lose”? The word "lose" means "be deprived of or cease to have or retain". Both Campbell and Tau used the words “lose” or “lost” in the sense that the Maori Anglican minister used it in a sermon on Waitangi Day last year. He said: “The missionaries taught us to pray and when we opened our eyes all our land was gone”. Campbell and Tau should be a bit more honest and say Ngapuhi sold most land in the area claimed as Ngapuhi tribal district.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: E-cigarettes deserve encouragement as a lesser evil

Sweden’s reputation for solving policy problems, from education to banking, is all the rage. The Swedes are also ahead of the rest of Europe in tackling smoking. They have by far the fewest smokers per head of population of all EU countries. Lung cancer mortality in Swedish men over 35 is less than half the British rate.

Have they done it by being more zealous in ostracising, educating and shaming smokers in that paternalistic Scandinavian way? No — they did it through innovation and competition. In the 1980s Swedes developed a tobacco product called snus, which you put under your upper lip. You get the nicotine but not the tar. Snus is the most popular and effective way of quitting smoking in Sweden (and Norway).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Karl du Fresne: Are we really witnessing the last days of newspapers?

Back in the 1990s when I was working for Wellington’s now-defunct Evening Post, we experienced a series of printing press breakdowns which meant the paper was repeatedly late coming out. I recall an unusual sight as I drove home late in the afternoons. Along the streets leading to my house, people were standing at their gates gazing along the footpath to see whether the paper was on its way. It was striking to see how keenly people anticipated their paper each day and how discombobulated they were when it didn’t arrive on time.  

I thought of this recently as I read a book on the state of the New Zealand and Australian newspaper industries. Stop Press: The Last Days of Newspapers was written by New Zealand journalist Rachel Buchanan, who has worked for papers on both sides of the Tasman. It’s a pessimistic title – some would say unduly so. But there’s no doubt newspapers are going through a period of unprecedented upheaval and no one quite knows where or how it’s going to end.

Gerry Eckhoff: Representative Democracy

On the 14th of February 2014 the Chair of the Otago Regional Council (ORC) announced that representative democracy at the ORC was officially dead. Discussion on topical issues that impact on the Otago region must not be held in open debate.

Indeed the Chair had a legal opinion which was presented prior to the council meeting, to inform councillors that it would be “unlawful” for the council to debate a notice of motion supporting (in principle) the exploration for oil and gas off the Otago coast. This highly contestable legal opinion was swallowed whole by most councillors despite my assertion that we 12 councillors could all present a different legal opinion which was after all just that – someone’s opinion.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mike Butler: Deal divides Blenheim community

A High Court ruling a week ago over Blenheim land that was compulsorily purchased by the government under the Public Works Act from a settler family that is to be sold to a tribe as part of a treaty settlement shows how the treaty settlements process divides a community.

The Fairhall family who began farming in Woodbourne in 1885 had a large part of their land taken to build RNZAF Base Woodbourne in 1939, and another part in 1947.

Mike Butler: The big land-loss lie

"The big lie" is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Labour Leader David Cunliffe’s new right-hand man, head-kicker-in-chief Matt McCarten, is not above using the big lie technique when talking about treaty settlements. He wrote this commenting on the Ngapuhi suggestion that $600-million would settle their claims:
Senior members of the Iwi Group asked for $600 million to settle Ngapuhi claims - that was careless. Ngapuhi seemed to pluck this figure out of the air with the only justification that their iwi is much bigger than Ngai Tahu and Tainui, who got $170 million. This plays into prejudices these settlements are more about iwi bosses raking in money rather than legitimate compensation for historical theft. In reply, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson's "pigs might fly" smackdown revealed a cavalier contempt to the process and disrespect to Ngapuhi.

Mike Butler: Labour's lurch to the Left

Matt McCarten, described as a hard-Left political head-kicker, is Labour leader David Cunliffe’s right-hand man, a move that illustrates the party’s lurch to the Left. What does a Left-ward lurch look like? Look no further than McCarten’s prescription for last year’s Budget:
1. Abolish 15 per cent GST. Replace with 1 per cent financial transaction tax as recommended by the New Zealand Bankers Association. Same money.
2. Abolish PAYE on wages and salaries. Replace it with a wealth tax and a capital gains tax when shares, businesses, land and property are sold. People are taxed when they’re cashing up, not when they are making it.