At RNZ: How did we get here?

I was asked by Radio NZ to give my thoughts on the rather dramatic political events of yesterday – which I certainly was not expecting! Here’s a taste:

… those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, and Labour has spent nearly a decade doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The prevailing myth of Labour Party strategy since Clark has been that we (for I can’t deny I am, indeed, a Labour Party Insider) must “look like a party ready to govern”. And this has translated to buying into the proper, grown-up, governmental ways of doing things – promising endless reviews or well-costed schemes.

It doesn’t inspire people. It doesn’t feel like a real alternative. The proof of the pudding is in the polls.

Here’s the link to the whole thing.

QOTD: Max Rashbrooke on public vs private sector

Max Rashbrooke at the excellent Good Society, on the contrasting behaviours of Radio NZ and Uber during the recent quake:

… apart from the ludicrous presumption that tonnes of people would be frivolously using Uber in the middle of the night during a massive earthquake, price is a terrible way to allocate resources because it discriminates against the poor, and because ability to pay is no guaranteed reflection of need.

What would have sorted things out very clearly is a classic public sector process: finding out people’s circumstances, assessing their need based on their overall situation not the size of their wallet, and allocating resources (rides) accordingly. Of course Uber doesn’t do that because it’s not a public service. But that brings us round again to what performs well, especially during tough times – and that, unsurprisingly, is both the public sector’s spirit and its processes.

And while we’re questioning the “efficiency” of the market:

Brent Edwards takes a bow

It seems thoroughly unfair that hot on the heels of losing Dita de Boni from our political commentariat, we’re saying goodbye to Brent Edwards as political editor at Radio New Zealand.

the craft crying

But it’s not all bad news – he’s moving to the position of director of news gathering at Radio NZ. He and Mary Wilson, who’s moving to director of news programming, should make one hell of a team.

So here’s his sign-off. It should probably be required reading for #nzpol nerds.

… with ministerial press secretaries and political advisers on their case, public servants increasingly appear to consider the political implications of anything they do, including when it comes to releasing what should be publicly available information.

Couple that with the rise of political spin, a practice adopted widely around the world, and politicians’ natural aversion to speaking in a straightforward manner it is little wonder the political debate has become less and less relevant.

Politics has become a profession and now politicians are judged by how they practise their profession.

While that might be good for politics, it is not necessarily good for democracy.

Hiding the government’s failure on poverty

Three weeks ago I snarked John Key’s sudden desire to take serious action on child poverty.

Now, thanks to Radio New Zealand, we know that not only has Treasury been tailoring its advice to meet National’s prejudices, and not only has National got no real intention of changing the way it’s doing things, but they also really, really don’t want to be honest about it.

Radio New Zealand made the request for copies of the officials’ advice in May last year but the documents were only released early this month after repeated complaints to the Ombudsmen’s Office.

John Key has conceded the Government often delays information releases when it is in its political interests to do so. Delaying the release of this advice appears to confirm the Government is sensitive to debate about child poverty.

Before Mr Key became Prime Minister he talked about a growing underclass in New Zealand and his determination to reverse that trend. Information in the documents suggests the Government is yet to make any real impact on the problem.

Next week the Governor-General delivers the Speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament and this will outline the Government’s broad programme for the next three years.

Just what will it say about lifting children out of poverty?

My guess is it’ll be more of the same: the usual right-wing hand-waving about creating jobs and “incentives” to work – which in practice means sitting back and doing nothing except make it harder and harder for people to actually access vital support when there simply aren’t jobs for them to move into.

John Key’s focus groups are telling him people care about inequality, so he has to go through the motions of caring. But he’s already rejected the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Group on poverty and leads a government which is doing its damnedest to drive down wages and kick people off benefits. Expect a lot of big talk and no real action for another three years.

Brent Edwards on political media

I can’t believe I didn’t see this fantastic interview with Brent Edwards on The Pantograph Punch earlier!

As political editor of Radio NZ he has some pretty pointed things to say about dirty politics – and how it’s not really a new phenomenon:

As a young reporter at that time, I was pretty appalled by the manipulation you saw going on. If we look at the Cameron Slater stuff and the way stuff gets dropped, it hasn’t changed. I’ve always struggled to try and break through that really, that kind of manipulation of the news that goes on. The example I saw was with the Labour government of the time, and Mike Moore becoming Prime Minister. One of Mike Moore’s senior advisers would come around the press gallery and drop material that was undermining Geoffrey Palmer, but of course this was all off the record. And those stories were run and it built up this momentum and this sense that Geoffrey Palmer’s Prime Ministership was really weak. Mike Moore would be asked about it on record, and would say ‘I don’t know anything about that, it’s terrible’. The journalists doing those stories knew the source of the information, and on the basis of protecting your source, which is a well-established journalistic fact… but in my view those stories should have been done differently. I’ve always taken this approach, and to be honest I don’t get a lot of leaks, and that’s because I have a very good look at who is going to be providing me the information and what’s the political motivation for doing that. I’m not interested in being played by politicians. That still goes on, and it’s always a sense of disquiet I’ve had about our political process and our coverage of it.

And I love what he says about political leaks:

Often when stories appear of that nature where it’s because of a leak, actually the biggest political story is who leaked it and why? And yet we never ever get told that because, fair enough, the journalist who’s got the story isn’t going to reveal their source, but in a lot of the stories we see that is in fact the big question. Who leaked this and why? There’s almost always a political motivation at play.

That’s a big part of the dirty politics/leaks issue which I don’t think gets enough airtime (pardon the pun). There are plenty of times when keeping a source’s identity secret is really important for the truth to get out – but on the other hand, that kind of critical “why am I being given this information at this moment” approach is vital.