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NewsWorthy - 17 November 2006


17 November 2006 - No. 93

Waterfront Stadium Shows Hubris

Hubris in Greek tragedy is excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods leading to nemesis.

In my email newsletter No. 92 five critical issues which surrounded the development of the waterfront stadium were identified. The passage of time has not diminished the importance of those issues; nor has the flow of information assuaged those of us who doubt the merit of the proposal.

That said, the National Party made it clear at the time of the bid for the Rugby World Cup that it would cooperate with the Government in staging a successful event, and that has not changed.

In Melbourne Cup terms there were two early leaders when the Government's proposals for the waterfront site were announced - the Prime Minister whose prejudice is well known and Fletcher Building which was chosen as the contractor for the work without a competitive tender process.

Fletchers were presented with a significant advantage which reflected in their share price reaching a record $10.20 on 14 November 2006. The stadium risk was to be carried by the taxpayer on a "cost reimbursable" basis.

We have seen the failure of such arrangements with substantial cost overruns (above estimates) in the Government's prison building programme. Small wonder that other builders were outraged by the process!

At this stage (subject to any stance which the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City Council might take) the dreams of the Prime Minister and Mr Mallard will remain evanescent. If the Government's vision of "transformation" is reflected in the waterfront stadium it falls well short of the aspirations of Aucklanders.

The police discretion to prosecute

We have seen in recent days another example where the police discretion to prosecute has been exercised in a way that affronts most right-thinking New Zealanders. An earlier example was referred to in my newsletter 62.

On Thursday 27 July 2006, Ricky Beckham burst into the premises of Small Arms International in Penrose armed with a machete and allegedly said "give me the guns or I will kill you". Greg Carvell shot Beckham in the stomach at close range with a handgun.

It seems a classic case of self-defence. The law is clear - you can use such force to defend yourself as is reasonable in the circumstances; up to and including deadly force.

Carvell is to be charged with possession of a firearm without lawful proper or sufficient purpose. That sounds strange. The events took place in a gunshop of which Carvell is a co-owner.

In these cases the Police should not prosecute when the facts are clear. It is reminiscent of the traditional military view that an officer should face court marshal to vindicate his honour - that of course ignores both the trauma of a prosecution and the significant costs in mounting a defence.

Unbridled Government

There are a plethora of political newsletters of varying quality. From the desk of Muriel Newman comes a tale worth wider circulation.

It was a Professor of History at the University of Singapore, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who first developed the law that explains the relentless growth in public sector bureaucracies. Parkinson's Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Through his extensive experience with the British Civil Service, Parkinson observed that in spite of the decline of Britain's "overseas empire", the number of employees at the Colonial Office continued to grow. That line of inquiry led to the finding that bureaucracies expand relentlessly at a rate of between five to seven percent a year "irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done".

He believed there were two key reasons for bureaucratic growth. The first is that officials do everything in their power to avoid rivals, employing multiple subordinates rather than equals or someone better, in order to retain their position in the hierarchy. Second, he believed that officials focus their efforts on making work for each other.

When we look at the present state of the public service, we can see that Parkinson's Law is alive and well. Back in 1999, when Labour was first elected, there were 29,000 public servants. Today there are more than 40,000.

The pay in the public service is not too shabby either. There are 2,651 public servants who earn over $100,000, their 32 Chief Executives earn between $200,000 and $500,000, and 13 other state employees, like the Commissioner for the Environment, earn over $200,000. The top earner was the former Commissioner of Police whose remuneration was between $680,000 and $690,000 a year.

Political Quote of the Week

"If you see a snake, just kill it - don't appoint a committee on snakes." -- H. Ross Perot - candidate for U.S. President in 1992 and 1996.

Dr Richard Worth

National Party MP


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