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The good, the bad and the ugly – NBR's plays of the week

Niko Kloeten
Fri, 22 Oct 2010


Labour shoots itself in the foot

By embracing a newfound “Fortress New Zealand” mentality and vowing to “eat the rich,” Labour may have energised its supporters but it has probably killed its chances of winning the next election.

And this is good news for New Zealand because, while National is far from ideal, Labour’s morphing into New Zealand First shows that it would be much more damaging.

At the party’s conference this week Labour leader Phil Goff announced a raft of regressive policies, such as restricting land sales to foreigners and increasing the top tax rate.

NBR readers panned the proposed policies, particularly the suggestion of a tax hike on higher earners.

Commenter lastmanstanding said for those on the right Mr Goff “is a gift that keeps on giving. We must encourage and gee him on. Keep on talking higher taxes Phil and watch election 2011, 2014 and 2017-plus all slip from the Socialists’ grasp.

“Fact is Gen X and Y ain’t dumb enough to believe taxing the rich is the way. They want to be rich not poor and they sure as hell don’t want to pay troughers like Phil and Co high taxes.”

A failed prescription

During its most recent stint in power Labour constantly referred to the “failed policies of the 1990s” but now they seem to want to go back and repeat the failed policies of the 1970s instead.

As a small country on the backside of the world New Zealand simply cannot afford to put up the shutters to trade and overseas investment, whether in our land or our businesses.

It also cannot afford to place a high tax burden on those most likely and most able to move offshore if they feel hard done by.

It goes without saying that taxing 33% of something brings in more revenue than taxing 39% of nothing.

Without these high-earning individuals New Zealand would have no chance of paying for its massive and ever-expanding welfare state.

Another point Labour seems to fail to grasp is that it is not “the rich” that are hurt by high top tax rates but middle-class professionals who don’t have the benefit of clever tax lawyers.

It was the abandonment of Labour by middle-class voters that helped National win the last election and these voters are unlikely to be attracted by the prospect of entering a time warp.

Unions leave a trail of destruction

It hasn’t been a good week for the reputation of unions in New Zealand either, with a series of actions that have left them in need of a judicious public relations overhaul.

An actors’ union boycott resulted in production of The Hobbit possibly moving offshore; disruptive strike action by teachers and radiographers has done little to enhance their reputations, too.

However, it is the dispute over The Hobbit that has created the most tension, with film workers fighting back against this attack on their careers and livelihoods.

Actors’ Equity committee member Robyn Malcolm and other actors were accosted by angry film workers as they left a restaurant after dining with Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly and other unionists.

And a planned union march was cancelled when a rival protest led by Weta Workshop employees headed into downtown Wellington.

Smelling a rat
NBR’s stories about the film dispute attracted a flood of comments, with some questioning the union motives and others lamenting the damage they have done.

One commenter, Chris, said, "Peter J, Weta et al have done a brilliant job for NZ, created work, wealth, security, jobs, fantastic reputation for 'destination NZ' and a bunch of unionists have managed to destroy it in a matter of weeks.“There is no such thing as a free lunch, you can't just demand more, better this, better that, you have to earn it. There is no point in having the best contract if no one will hire you.”

But one commenter, ‘Who cares’, wasn’t worried, saying there is no New Zealand film industry.

“There is however a NZ taxpayer funded work benefit scheme for people who can not face having to work for a living and don't want to travel to or measure up in the hotbeds of the industry.”

The secondary teachers’ industrial action has been somewhat overshadowed by the drama over The Hobbit, but  the teachers' union is living in cloud cuckoo land with Actors’ Equity.

It's ludicrous to demand 4% annual pay increases, when the government is borrowing $250 million a week, the country is in an economic slump and teachers already get paid far more than the average wage with great job security and no performance pay.

The government could learn from the film industry here – sack them all and re-hire them as independent contractors.

SFO’s draconian tactics

The Serious Fraud Office’s brazen attempt to get the NBR to do its job for it is a warning against complacency over freedom of the press.

As explained in today’s editorial, The National Business Review will in the future refuse to hand over any confidential information to the Serious Fraud Office.

NBR editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson said the paper had resolved to take this stance following the SFO’s demands this week for an editorial file and warnings failure to co-operate could lead to penalties including jail and heavy fines.

The file related to an investigation by NBR reporter Matt Nippert into South Canterbury Finance and the ownership situation of the Hyatt hotel in Auckland. 

Mr Gibson has called on SFO Minister Judith Collins to urgently amend legislation empowering the SFO’s rights of seizure of media dossiers.

He also asked that the minister issue an immediate instruction to the SFO not to invoke its powers of search and seizure against any newspaper or electronic media.

“The draconian powers of the SFO are intended to prevent obstruction or destruction of evidence relevant to investigations into serious crimes,” Mr Gibson said. “They should not be used to intimidate investigative reporting.”

Opinion divided

The NBR’s standoff with the SFO attracted plenty of comment on its website, with a wide range of opinions on this unprecedented event.

I Am Not An Economist wrote, “By saying that serving the notice on the NBR was just part of standard practice Adam Feeley missed the point and the point is that the NBR is not being investigated for fraud.

“It is standard practice to serve notice on people or companies that are being investigated for fraud to produce documents related to an investigation but not to serve notice on the media who are just informing the public of the truth."

But others were supportive of the SFO, arguing it would be better for everyone if the NBR just handed everything over.

Southerner wrote, “The greater good is served by the SFO having the teeth and willingness to get information quickly in order to identify and prosecute (or not) suspected fraud.

“Even now they are relatively benign compared to more professionally regulated markets overseas.”

Southerner’s attitude is a dangerous one because “the greater good” is an excuse used by violent states to justify violating people’s individual rights and freedoms.

NBR is not an arm of the state and has no responsibility to help it in its investigations, particularly if it risks exposing the anonymous sources that are crucial to uncovering corruption and scandal.

The SFO has a history of botched investigations and prosecutions and this latest incident won’t do its reputation any good.

Niko Kloeten
Fri, 22 Oct 2010
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The good, the bad and the ugly – NBR's plays of the week