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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 22/4/2002

Monday, 22 April 2002

Labour's Poll Rating Falling

TV3 told its viewers last Monday that Labour is at 56% support and its popularity has been rising all year. In fact, the TV3 poll found just 37% would vote Labour. Labour's support has been falling all year. Why the discrepancy? The pollsters eliminate the "don't know" voters, and the remaining party votes are scaled up, to add up to 100%.

The TV3 poll's raw data shows the number of "don't know" voters has risen to 29% - an extraordinary phenomenon. The "don't knows" have risen from 14% in February 2000. This is also bad news for National, which didn't get 28% of the vote but just 21% - an all-time low.

Usually in election year the number of "don't knows" falls as the election gets closer. The TV3 poll, far from showing the election is a foregone conclusion, shows it is wide open. Selective reporting can slant the news. (See

Media Bias

State television last week decided it was not major news that the Prime Minister commissioned artists to do paintings and then signed them. It ran a brief story on Monday night's news, just before the sport, and another short item on Tuesday night.

In contrast, The Times of London put this story on the front page of its international section. Are state journalists in NZ better at determining news than The Times?

State TV news mercilessly pilloried Jenny Shipley when she was PM, for having entertained Kevin Roberts for dinner - but being an art forger is apparently not as newsworthy.

Richard Poole has Gone

Richard Poole, the young man who received instant fame in October 2000 with a full-page advertisement calling for changes in government policy to lure young Kiwis home, has himself joined the Brain Drain. This might be symbolic. Last month the Brain Drain started again.

Brain Drain

As the Letter predicted, the latest immigration figures show that in March the number of skilled people leaving NZ outnumbered those arriving. Last month, 1660 skilled people left and 1398 skilled people arrived, making a net outflow of 262.

The trend is a worry. After September 11, many Kiwis came home. Magazines such as Metro ran feature articles on the returning Kiwis.

The figures started to turn again in January. By February it was obvious. Since the election, almost 47,000 skilled Kiwis have left NZ permanently. That's more than the total student body of Otago, Canterbury and Victoria put together. The loss of our best and brightest people is the most serious issue facing the country.

The Bright Side

The American success in Afghanistan is restoring confidence in international tourism. NZ is seen as a safe destination. The Letter predicts that 2002 will be a great year for our tourist industry. The only problem is whether an under-capitalised, over-priced, nationalised Air NZ can meet the demand.

A Real Tax Cut

In January last year, Russia introduced a flat income tax of 13%. How is it working? The Hoover Institution reports the 13% tax has exceeded all expectations in terms of revenue. Real ruble revenues increased by 28% last year. The Russian economy is growing at 5.2%.

So why does National want to wait until 2006 before lowering company tax to 27 cents? A report from the Hoover Institution is at

Open Season on Mallard

News that Education Minister Trevor Mallard was last week spending his time telephoning corporate box-holders, to get them to break their contracts, has upset not only rugby followers but also teachers. Teachers, faced with increased workloads to introduce the NCEA, and stalled pay talks, are angry to learn how the Education Minister spends his time.

Greens in a Pickle

An NBR poll puts the National candidate 10% ahead of Jeanette Fitzsimons in Coromandel. The Coromandel poll has been criticised because it asked people how they would vote "given a choice between the Green candidate and National". It excluded Labour, the Alliance, ACT etc. A poll including all parties would be interesting. ACT's David Olsen is running a high-profile campaign in Coromandel.

But the NBR poll does show Fitzsimons will lose. A sitting MP, to win, needs to be ahead six months out from the election. The poll shows Coromandel is a centre-right seat.

The Greens have lost support since they refused to support our troops in Afghanistan, refused to denounce eco-terrorism and protested at Waitangi. On every university campus, ACT is now more popular than the Greens. Will the Greens be able to conserve themselves?

Sovereign Yachts - the Real Story

The scandal is simple. Four hectares of prime Auckland waterfront land, worth perhaps $10m, has been sold by the government for just $525,000.

How was it done? When government land is declared surplus, it must be offered to Maori. So Anderton's office came up with the idea of offering the Hobsonville land to its original owners, the Lukes. The Lukes were told there would be no sale unless Sovereign Yachts could use the land. So the Lukes sold their option to Sovereign Yachts.

Why was the price so low? The land was valued as surplus Defence land - ie with conditions attached, such as it had to be offered to Maori, etc - not as prime seaside land.

Government Ministers knew all the restrictions would be lifted when they ordered Defence - who protested - to sign the sale. The land was promptly put up as security for a loan of up to $6 million.

Sovereign yachts has a option on the rest of the Hobsonville base and is planning a prime residential development. ACT MPs don't allege that Bill Lloyd has done anything wrong. If a government makes a gift of $9.5m, who wouldn't accept it? There is more to come on this saga. (See


Didn't the Alliance used to be against the sale of state assets, at allegedly "fire sale" prices, to foreigners?

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