Third container ship aground off Tauranga

In an unprecedented trilogy of maritime accidents in the Bay of Plenty, a third Flag of Convenience container vessel has run aground just outside Tauranga Harbour. The Liberian registered MV National Party, rumoured to be carrying yellowcake uranium ore, grounded at 5.15pm this afternoon.

Maritime New Zealand has advised that it may be able to begin overseeing a salvage operation sometime in late 2014.

Transport Minister Stephen Joyce was unavailable for comment due to commitments to his other role as National Party Campaign Director. However, a spokesperson for the Minister released this statement on Mr Joyce’s behalf:

The ship’s on fire, she’s sinking fast,
There’s one man standing on the mast,
His arms are spread in the flames around his head
He’d better jump before the blast,
PM John Key is standing on the quay
He’s taking colour photographs.

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Caesar’s wife

A while ago I noted that it was strange that a whole heap of publicly funded organisations and SOEs were using a private lobbying company, Saunders Unsworth, to lobby the minister responsible for their sector.  Many of those organisations were education institutions including Massey University, Otago University, the metro polytechnics and Victoria University of Wellington.

Now, according to the Otago Daily Times, a senior lobbiest from that same agency has been awarded the chair of Education New Zealand, the crown agency which encourages international education.

The ODT notes:

He [Charles Finny] works for Saunders Unsworth, a government relations and public policy firm, where former National Party Cabinet minister Roger Sowry is a board member.

Mr Sowry is also the ministerially appointed chair of both Weltec and Whitireia Polytechnic.

So, we have public education institutions paying a private company so that they can speak to their own education minister.  And that private agency has some of its staff recently being offered key leadership positions in the education sector by the same minister. And the lobbying company has close links with the same political party as the minister making these appointments. It doesn’t engender a public sense of dispassionate propriety by all involved.

Telecom kiwishare gone by lunchtime

The Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill – that’s the one that is supposed to give us ultra-fast broadband – is being debated in Parliament today.  It has been to Select Committee, and submissions heard and considered.  But now IT and Communications Minister Steven Joyce has dumped a twelve page Supplementary Order Paper [PDF] to the Bill on Parliament.

The SOP won’t go anywhere near a Select Committee, and there will be no opportunity for public scrutiny or submissions.  One of the main impacts of the SOP will be to abolish the kiwishare.  This was a statutory obligation imposed upon the original privatisation of Telecom 20 years ago.  It restricted foreign ownership, and ensured free local calling.

Under the SOP, the restriction on foreign ownership will be gone.  The free local calling provision is supposedly protected.  But there will be a new and far less robust mechanism than the previous statutory requirements. The mechanism to do this will not be a special rights share, but according to the Ministry of Economic Development [PDF] will be:

…a combination of constitutional requirements on the company, a small parcel of ordinary shares held by the Government, and a Deed between the company and the Government.

So there will be no protection of free local calling in statute law.  The constitutional requirements and the Deed will be able to be reviewed by any future Government  without any reference to Parliament.  And if Don Brash and his Actoids are part of a future Government, you can bet the farm on free local calling being gone by lunchtime.

This is a disgraceful abrogation of democratic process.  If Steven Joyce wants to make changes as significant as this to a Bill that has already been reported back from a Select Committee, he should refer it back there for a further round of public submissions.

And wouldn’t the whole process of getting a decent broadband service across the country have been so much easier if we had never privatised Telecom in the first place?

Changing times

Aside

Remember the good old days when Steven Joyce was a shadowy hollow man who we were electing even though we knew nothing about him – because he never fronted the media or a public debate? These days it seems I can’t turn on the radio news without hearing him go into bat for the government’s latest dodgy policy.

Roll out the pork barrel

I’ve been puzzled ever since Transport Minister Steven Joyce announce the Government’s Roads of National Significance back in March as to why the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway was on the list.

The Puhoi-Wellsford motorway is far from a priority for the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. The existing road is only rarely congested. And with a price tag of $2.3 billion, the proposed motorway is enormously expensive.

The I read an opinion piece by Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald:

It will also do no harm to Mr Joyce’s reported desire to inherit Speaker Lockwood Smith’s Rodney electorate, through which the grand motorway will run.

And everything fell into place. Lockwood Smith is likely to retire at the next election. Steven Joyce, who lives in the Rodney electorate, wants to enhance his public standing by becoming an electorate MP. Rodney, his home electorate, would be the ideal place to stand.

And what better way to ensure he gets the National Party nomination for the electorate than give the movers and shakers there a brand spanking new motorway.

Pork barrel politics at its worst!

Meanwhile, I likely still won’t be able to catch a train between Henderson and New Lynn on a Sunday.