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John Bishop's Communications Line - 5 Oct 2006

Communications Line
Issue number 37 of 5 October 2006

Corrosive and cancerous

Heard the phrase before? It was used by Governor James E McGreevey of New Jersey. In September 2004 he signed an executive order banning campaign contributions by vendors doing business with state agencies. New Jersey had been regularly plagued by corruption scandals. In what was known as ‘pay to play’, companies would make campaign donations and then contracts would be awarded to them – often without bidding.

Mr McGreevey called the practice “corrosive and cancerous,” and was widely reported as such. Ironically he personally had been given over $17m in campaign contributions. In another twist, issuing the executive order was one of his last acts as Governor. He stepped down part way through his term after revealing he was gay and admitting to an extra-marital affair. (Thanks to Lyndsay Mitchell’s website for starting me on this trail.)

Brady’s time is coming

I hope that Auditor General Kevin Brady is a calm man who sleeps well at night, because he is going to deliver a report that could make or break the legal legitimacy and/or the moral authority of the current government. I don’t know what he is going to say, his findings will be used by both sides to shore up their positions. I don’t know Mr. Brady personally, but I hope he is the kind of person that cannot be got at, that he can stand up to intense pressure and that he can perform his role as an independent scrutineer of expenditure.

His final report – due next week - is the public’s last hope of getting an independent, authoritative view on whether any of our political parties improperly or unlawfully spent money they were not entitled to spend. The police shamefully failed to do their duty when they found a prima facie case for prosecution on the overspending issue, but decided not to proceed. That case cannot now be pursued as it is out of time, although National is now seeking an apology from the police – an extraordinary call really. Mr Darnton of the Liberterianz is pursing a private action in the High Court to have the pledge card spending declared illegal, but without a decision as yet, the political impact is unknowable.

If Mr Brady lays before the House a report that lends credence to the claims by National that Labour cheated and bought the election, then what we have seen in Parliament so far will be as nothing for noise and finger pointing. If his evidence and conclusions are credible and withstand scrutiny then the moral authority of this government will be in serious question, and its allies may abandon it.

If on the other hand the report softens the criticisms and findings in the draft report and if in particular it does not require a response from the Speaker from the draft, then Labour will claim vindication, and assert that were the real cheats because they had the support of the Exclusive Brethren. Their mortal outrage (and relief) will be unbounded. Either way next week will be Brady’s time.

Success is Wonderful

What do Katmandu, 42 Below, Caffe L'Affare Simply Squeezed, Gulliver’s Travel, Peace Software, Rakon, Hirepool, Mooring Systems, Trade Me and Runway Reporter have in common? They are all entrepreneur driven New Zealand companies whose owners have sold to foreign buyers recently. We seem to be good at nurturing entrepreneurs who grow businesses, even world beating businesses, but then they bail. Their call I suppose, but when we are encouraged to feel pride in the success of fellow Kiwis, we make an emotional investment in them and their businesses. It’s only natural that we will feel disappointed and let down when the owners sell out.

On a wider point, how does this pattern of growing businesses from nothing and then selling to foreigners actually improve our wellbeing as a nation? Or is the enrichment of some of our best people enough in itself?

A further economic thought

The latest balance of payments figures are our worst ever as a nation. We haven’t paid our way in the world since 1973, when a chap called Bill Rowling was the Minister of Finance, and now we are down the gurgler for more than $15 billion last year. That’s 9.7% of our GDP. That’s like earning a dollar and spending a dollar ten. The balance we borrow.

We have higher interest rates than the rest of the world to keep the money coming in. The Reserve Bank’s interest rate policy hides the effect of our overspending and insulates us from the consequences of our actions because it enables us to carry on borrowing as if there were no problem. I don’t wish to sound like some economic Cassandra, but this will all end in tears, unless we somehow change our ways

Regional Strategy: a five wheeled car

The criticism by the Chamber of Commerce of Wellington’s new regional strategy really riled those behind the initiative, and at the launch of the strategy last Friday I got a few pointed rejoinders about the story that had appeared that day. See http://www.johnbishop.co.nz/writer/articles/art290906.shtml

However the strategy hasn’t exactly been deluged with praise, as the pre-arranged feature piece in the DomPost the day after its release made clear. The launch was ignored by radio and television and the story in the community papers mocked the PR approach and was generally skeptical in tone. Because I am passionate about the cause of growth and the quality of life in my city and region, I did the journalistically incredible and actually read all the documents. Here is a critique. http://www.johnbishop.co.nz/writer/articles/art041006.shtml

I passed secrets to the Russians

About five o’clock on a wet and miserable night in 1983, then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon announced the new head of the SIS. He was a man called John Smith, ex the oil company BP. I duly filed a couple of paragraphs for the six o’clock TV News (no interviews were possible) and headed off to a do for the media at the Russian Embassy in Messines Road Karori. While talking to the chargé d’affaires in the foyer, Fraser Folster from private radio arrived. The chargé asked what was new, and Fraser replied that Muldoon had just announced a new head of the SIS. Oh, said the Russian, and what is his name? John Smith, Fraser replied. Ho, ho, ho, said the Russian, that is like Ivan Ivanovich, you are pulling my leg. No it’s true, I said and produced the press release from my pocket and handed it over. The chargé read it and then rushed away. Seconds later we heard the clattering of a teleprinter as Muldoon’s statement was transmitted to Moscow. Smith’s appointment was duly reported in the NZ media that evening and the following day, but Moscow got the news just seconds before the 6pm embargo on the statement expired.

Get it right BNZ

The BNZ has advised 13 000 of its customers that their accounts have been closed, much to the shock and surprise of almost all of the customers concerned. But don’t worry the bank is writing a letter to apologise for the distress caused. It’s all come about because of the settlement that the BNZ (and the other banks) reached with the Commerce Commission over inappropriate disclosure of charges for foreign exchange transactions. Customers get an apology and a refund.

My letter said that as my account was closed, would I like to donate the refund to a charity chosen by the Commerce Commission? Well actually no I wouldn’t, but I didn’t want my account closed either. So it’s hello BNZ Call Centre “…well actually we’ve been having quite a lot of calls about this. Oh how many? I asked innocently disguising my journalistic curiosity. “Apparently about thirteen thousand letters have gone out like yours,” the friendly staffer told me. I don’t know who got this wrong, but you’d think that in a court ordered settlement where you are admitting an error and refunding money because you’d overcharged in the first place, you’d be extra careful to get it right, wouldn’t you?

The Language of politics

Over in Pennsylvania there is an interesting contest brewing between Rick Santorum the incumbent Republican Senator and Bob Casey who is currently the State Treasurer. Why is this contest relevant? Because of the political language that is being used.

Casey, the challenger, has been leading Santorum, the incumbent, all year in the polls. Santorum is a loyal Bush man, the number three Republican in the Senate, and his seat is the number one target for the Democrats in their battle to recapture control of the Senate in mid term elections next month.

Santorum is well funded and is hitting Casey hard. One TV ad opens on a smoke filled room with a group of middle aged white guys sitting around a trestle table. The voiceover says “meet Bob Casey’s campaign team.” The men are all actors but the action freezes on several in turn while the voiceover tells of their background and of the size of their campaign contribution. It says several are under investigation, and as the camera pulls back to reveal that this is a large jail cell, the voiceover asks “Where does Bob Casey hold his campaign meetings?

In response Casey is running an interview clip with a woman captioned as wife and working mother who criticizes Santorum for a passage in a book he wrote that a family ought to be able to manage on one income. She invites him to help her family balance their budget on one income, noting that she can’t vote herself a pay rise.

The voiceover points out that Santorum has voted in favour of a pay rise for senators three times and against a rise in the minimum wage thirteen times, and that 98% of his votes have been with the Bush administration “voting even to privatize social security.”

The tone of these attack ads is vicious, and the veracity of some of the statements is questionable. They simply would not be permitted in NZ. It puts the hyperbolic rhetoric of our own politicians into perspective – not that I wish by comparison to endorse the American practices.

See Hillary Run

A cursory glance at her website suggests she is already in full campaign mode for the Presidency, although to be fair she does have a Senate race in New York to win in a few weeks. In that she leads her Republican challenger John Spencer by 2:1 in the polls. The other polls on her website depict her as the preferred choice among Democrats as their Presidential candidate. She leads Al Gore and John Kerry by margins of one and half to two in state after state.

Jerry Falwell is delighted. She is the Democratic Party candidate the Christians and the Republicans would most like to have as she is the most polarizing and almost certainly the easiest to demonize. And the animus is reciprocated. One reason she wants to be the candidate (and the President) is to revenge herself of the consistent attacks on her (and Bill) from the various right wing groups over the last thirty years.

Re-fighting the past

Richard Prebble’s The Letter is back and is almost as provocative and interesting as it was in it heyday. Preb’s been writing a book on his days as an MP and Minister, so no doubt many of the issues about the 1984-90 Labour Government will be canvassed yet again. It is remarkable how that period in our political history still so strongly resonates with the players that each of them feels compelled to tell their version of events. Perhaps that is not surprising given the impact of the changes made at the time.

Where politically active people now stand and how they wish to be seen is often determined by how they regard the policies of those years. Were they necessary medicine which ended many forms of privilege as the Douglas group claims? Or where they a callous and brutal savaging of the New Zealand way of life which was carried out too fast and without enough consideration of people, as the current Labour leadership often proclaims? 1984-90 were defining years and the protagonists then are still fighting the battles today, as if, somehow, the outcome of their contemporary struggle could change the past.

Solution for Auckland

If Auckland were a secondary school the government would have appointed a commissioner by now to run the place. If Auckland were a company with lots of shareholders, then either the receivers would be on the job, or it would be in statutory management. Why? Because nothing ever gets decided.

One of the things I learnt at university from a couple of power theorists called Bachrach and Baratz was not to ask who is in charge? The right question to ask was “is anyone in charge?’ The answer in Auckland’s case is no, there is no one in charge. So here’s an idea. If Auckland’s most significant problem is that no one is in charge and if that is why nothing ever gets done, then surely the solution is to change the governance arrangements so that binding decisions get made and implemented.

Here’s an idea. First Parliament then passes the Auckland Governance Act, which creates just three cities and give them new names: Albany, which runs from Devonport north to Warkworth; Mangere which runs from Helensville south and east and then south again as far as Mercer; and Orakei which is the CBD and the suburbs across from Westmere to St Heliers and south to Mount Eden and Mount Albert, but minus East Tamaki and Ellerslie (which join Mercer). This fundamentally changes the balance of power in the region. Under the Auckland Governance Act, small committee of the mayors of the three new cities with a government appointed chair is created. The committee has a duty to consult, but it has full power to act. It takes all the cash out of the Auckland Regional Services Trust. That plus the funds of the previous councils, some massive government grants and a regional petrol tax will enable it to get on with building roads, power lines and installing broadband. Unfortunately a dysfunctional Auckland region is a cost to the rest of us, and that means we do have an interest in seeing the place work.

Mediawatch Medal

It’s unusual to get an award from a media programme that monitors and criticizes other media, but last Sunday Colin Peacock awarded me and the technical team on Jim Mora’s Afternoon programme on National Radio, the “Mediawatch Medal for Pressing on Regardless”. I was airing my views on Jim’s show when the gremlins got into the broadcast and I heard myself repeating as the on air tape went into continuous loop accompanied by electronic squeaks and then some inane filler music. I stopped talking and started again a minute or so later when my microphone light lit up. This seemed to please Peacock. The last time I got a plaudit like that was from Juliet Hensley, then the TV Critic for the Evening Post, who described me in a column as “unusually gracious and charming for a television journalist.”The best backhander I ever received.

Communications Line

Issue number 37 of 5 October 2006
Corrosive and cancerous

Heard the phrase before? It was used by Governor James E McGreevey of New Jersey back in 2004. In September of that year he signed an executive order banning campaign contributions by vendors that were doing business with state agencies. New Jersey had been regularly plagued by corruption scandals. In what was known as ‘pay to play’, companies would make campaign donations and then contracts would be awarded to them – often without bidding.

Mr McGreevey called the practice “corrosive and cancerous,” and was widely reported as such. Ironically he personally had been given over $17m in campaign contributions. In another twist, issuing the executive order was one of his last acts as Governor. He stepped down part way through his term after revealing he was gay and admitting to an extra-marital affair. (Thanks to Lyndsay Mitchell’s website for starting me on this trail.)

Brady’s time is coming

I hope that Auditor General Kevin Brady is a calm man who sleeps well at night, because he is going to deliver a report that could make or break the legal legitimacy and/or the moral authority of the current government. I don’t know what he is going to say, his findings will be used by both sides to shore up their positions. I don’t know Mr. Brady personally, but I hope he is the kind of person that cannot be got at, that he can stand up to intense pressure and that he can perform his role as an independent scrutineer of expenditure.

His final report – due next week - is the public’s last hope of getting an independent, authoritative view on whether any of our political parties improperly or unlawfully spent money they were not entitled to spend. The police shamefully failed to do their duty when they found a prima facie case for prosecution on the overspending issue, but decided not to proceed. That case cannot now be pursued as it is out of time, although National is now seeking an apology from the police – an extraordinary call really. Mr Darnton of the Liberterianz is pursing a private action in the High Court to have the pledge card spending declared illegal, but without a decision as yet, the political impact is unknowable.

If Mr Brady lays before the House a report that lends credence to the claims by National that Labour cheated and bought the election, then what we have seen in Parliament so far will be as nothing for noise and finger pointing. If his evidence and conclusions are credible and withstand scrutiny then the moral authority of this government will be in serious question, and its allies may abandon it.

If on the other hand the report softens the criticisms and findings in the draft report and if in particular it does not require a response from the Speaker from the draft, then Labour will claim vindication, and assert that were the real cheats because they had the support of the Exclusive Brethren. Their mortal outrage (and relief) will be unbounded. Either way next week will be Brady’s time.

Success is Wonderful

What do Katmandu, 42 Below, Caffe L'Affare Simply Squeezed, Gulliver’s Travel, Peace Software, Rakon, Hirepool, Mooring Systems, Trade Me and Runway Reporter have in common? They are all entrepreneur driven New Zealand companies whose owners have sold to foreign buyers recently. We seem to be good at nurturing entrepreneurs who grow businesses, even world beating businesses, but then they bail. Their call I suppose, but when we are encouraged to feel pride in the success of fellow Kiwis, we make an emotional investment in them and their businesses. It’s only natural that we will feel disappointed and let down when the owners sell out.

On a wider point, how does this pattern of growing businesses from nothing and then selling to foreigners actually improve our wellbeing as a nation? Or is the enrichment of some of our best people enough in itself?

A further economic thought

The latest balance of payments figures are our worst ever as a nation. We haven’t paid our way in the world since 1973, when a chap called Bill Rowling was the Minister of Finance, and now we are down the gurgler for more than $15 billion last year. That’s 9.7% of our GDP. That’s like earning a dollar and spending a dollar ten. The balance we borrow. We have higher interest rates than the rest of the world to keep the money coming in. The Reserve Bank’s interest rate policy hides the effect of our overspending and insulates us from the consequences of our actions because it enables us to carry on borrowing as if there were no problem. I don’t wish to sound like some economic Cassandra, but this will all end in tears, unless we somehow change our ways

Regional Strategy: a five wheeled car

The criticism by the Chamber of Commerce of Wellington’s new regional strategy really riled those behind the initiative, and at the launch of the strategy last Friday I got a few pointed rejoinders about the story that had appeared that day. See http://www.johnbishop.co.nz/writer/articles/art290906.shtml

However the strategy hasn’t exactly been deluged with praise, as the pre-arranged feature piece in the DomPost the day after its release made clear. The launch was ignored by radio and television and the story in the community papers mocked the PR approach and was generally skeptical in tone. Because I am passionate about the cause of growth and the quality of life in my city and region, I did the journalistically incredible and actually read all the documents. Here is a critique. http://www.johnbishop.co.nz/writer/articles/art041006.shtml

Re-fighting the past

Richard Prebble’s The Letter is back and is almost as provocative and interesting as it was in it heyday. Preb’s been writing a book on his days as an MP and Minister, so no doubt many of the issues about the 1984-90 Labour Government will be canvassed yet again. It is remarkable how that period in our political history still so strongly resonates with the players that each of them feels compelled to tell their version of events. Perhaps that is not surprising given the impact of the changes made at the time.

Where politically active people now stand and how they wish to be seen is often determined by how they regard the policies of those years. Were they necessary medicine which ended many forms of privilege as the Douglas group claims? Or where they a callous and brutal savaging of the New Zealand way of life which was carried out too fast and without enough consideration of people, as the current Labour leadership often proclaims? 1984-90 were defining years and the protagonists then are still fighting the battles today, as if, somehow, the outcome of their contemporary struggle could change the past.

Solution for Auckland

If Auckland were a secondary school the government would have appointed a commissioner by now to run the place. If Auckland were a company with lots of shareholders, then either the receivers would be on the job, or it would be in statutory management. Why? Because nothing ever gets decided.

One of the things I learnt at university from a couple of power theorists called Bachrach and Baratz was not to ask who is in charge? The right question to ask was “is anyone in charge?’ The answer in Auckland’s case is no, there is no one in charge. So here’s an idea. If Auckland’s most significant problem is that no one is in charge and if that is why nothing ever gets done, then surely the solution is to change the governance arrangements so that binding decisions get made and implemented.

Here’s an idea. First Parliament then passes the Auckland Governance Act, which creates just three cities and give them new names: Albany, which runs from Devonport north to Warkworth; Mangere which runs from Helensville south and east and then south again as far as Mercer; and Orakei which is the CBD and the suburbs across from Westmere to St Heliers and south to Mount Eden and Mount Albert, but minus East Tamaki and Ellerslie (which join Mercer). This fundamentally changes the balance of power in the region. Under the Auckland Governance Act, small committee of the mayors of the three new cities with a government appointed chair is created. The committee has a duty to consult, but it has full power to act. It takes all the cash out of the Auckland Regional Services Trust. That plus the funds of the previous councils, some massive government grants and a regional petrol tax will enable it to get on with building roads, power lines and installing broadband. Unfortunately a dysfunctional Auckland region is a cost to the rest of us, and that means we do have an interest in seeing the place work.

Mediawatch Medal

It’s unusual to get an award from a media programme that monitors and criticizes other media, but last Sunday Colin Peacock awarded me and the technical team on Jim Mora’s Afternoon programme on National Radio, the “Mediawatch Medal for Pressing on Regardless”. I was airing my views on Jim’s show when the gremlins got into the broadcast and I heard myself repeating as the on air tape went into continuous loop accompanied by electronic squeaks and then some inane filler music. I stopped talking and started again a minute or so later when my microphone light lit up. It seemed to please Mr Peacock. The last time I got a plaudit like that was from Juliet Hensley, then the TV Critic for the Evening Post, who described me in a column as “unusually gracious and charming for a television journalist.” The best backhander I ever received.

--

John Bishop is a speaker, writer, trainer and facilitator. He also practises public relations, writes speeches and works as an MC and as a social and political commentator. See www.johnbishop.co.nz

ENDS

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