Monday, August 27, 2007

What are F-16s good for?

Making your mates feel good?

A very clever friend has reminded me that, in the aftermath of the decision to scrap the air force strike wing, Labour commissioned Derek Quigley to undertake a review options "for New Zealand’s air combat capability assesses the value of that capability in meeting Government’s policy objectives in a fiscally sustainable manner"

The report includes this comment on the value of the F-16s:
  1. The Quigley Review of the F-16 lease agreed in part with the Whineray report, expressing the view that the need to maintain an air combat force seemed to be based on: demonstrating that New Zealand is serious about its own defence; sending a clear message that New Zealand is committed to broader regional and global security; and, importantly, having an operational capability that can be expanded should strategic circumstances deteriorate significantly at some point in the future.
  2. The Quigley review reported that it is questionable whether the New Zealand air combat force would be deployed in direct support of New Zealand Navy or Army contingents in an operational situation. In a submission to the review, the Navy expressed the view that RNZN ships would normally be deployed as part of a larger force with access to layers of defence and support. It saw the provision of air support in these circumstances coming from the air combat assets of a coalition rather than a dedicated New Zealand air combat component. The Army had a similar view about their operational circumstances. Notwithstanding this, both the Navy and Army require training support from the air combat force in order to achieve their operational readiness states.
  3. The air combat force equipped with the A-4 Skyhawk in its current state would be a marginal asset to any multinational coalition, and its operational utility will continue to decline. Should the Government wish to retain an air combat capability with some useful operational utility, then it would have to make a significant investment in new aircraft, more modern weapons, and improved combat systems.
  4. In the absence of a foreseeable military threat, it is unlikely a New Zealand government would use the air combat force to respond to a low level security challenge around New Zealand or the South Pacific.
  5. The air combat force plays a useful role in confidence building in the Asia-Pacific region through its involvement in FPDA activities and bilateral exercises. This is part of the architecture that helps maintain stability in the region. These activities also contribute to our foreign policy objectives. A New Zealand government, however, has not used the air combat force in response to a security challenge in the region for over 25 years. The outlook in Strategic Assessment 2000 makes it difficult to visualise a situation where a government might do so in the foreseeable future.
Emphasis added. For more of Quigley's views on NZ defence matters, check this paper out.

Mitchell on the ABs

This is a great story. Mitchell was, like those before him (Hart, Mains and Wylie and Hart) persona non grata after the 2003 semi-final loss. That he went off and built a team out of nothing (ok out of pots and pots of cash) and has now said he'll not seek another national head-coaching role says something about the bloke (he also advises the ARU against appointing Robbie Deans to head the Wallabies).

Defence matters

Many years ago, as an aspiring student politician, I know that, at some point or other, I said that defence funding should be scrapped to fully fund university education. I hadn't thought it through particularly.

I no longer think that NZ could do without defence funding. We need forces capable of protecting our economic zone and particularly our fisheries, we have regional responsibilities and broader responsibilities to our allies. I do not think however, that our responsibilities to our allies includes having an airforce strike wing and have argued this with David Farrar here.

NZ's military commitments are significant and valued but they are limited. NZ should not attempt to fund the kind of military assets needed to act unilaterally, it should continue to develop a military designed to collaborate in the kinds of UN-sanctioned actions in Afghanistan, East Timor, the Solomans, Bosnia etc.

Incidentally, I recently caught up with an acquaintance who's just returned from Iraq. We discussed Australia's engagement in Iraq compared with Afghanistan and also the difference between NZ and Australia's position. He was clear that there was little support within the troops for the Iraqi mission and that as much as possible, Australian forces avoided hot regions and unreasonable risks - this was a sanctioned strategy, not an ad hoc one. He had been to Afghanistan, and many other places besides, and was frustrated that the current political situation meant Australia's small commitment would not be reviewed until after the election...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Howard has nowhere to hide...

I love parliament. For the most part, it isn't all that important however there are events and issues that can only be adequately addressed in parliament. It is a unique forum; the rules and privileges are unparalleled. Unfortunately, so few make responsible use of it.

Lange was the greatest parliamentarian I ever saw first hand. Keating was probably his equal although I never saw him.

This clip, from around 1995 (I think), shows Keating at his best - Howard has nothing. Sadly, there's no one in federal Labor today that could come close to Keating's intensity or intelligence.

hat tip: browncardigan

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Under the Milky Way

Which is the best version? Original? Or the Strawpeople cover (can't find this online)

Immigration Minister wrong

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Andrew's cancellation of Haneef's visa quashed by High Court. Expect an appeal.

Labour Party candidate

A good friend of mine, Grant Robertson, has been nominated as the Labour candidate for Wellington Central. It's likely to be a sought after nomination not least of all because the sitting MP, Marian Hobbs, has done a great job around the electorate as well as leading a team who rebuilt the local party structure. I hope Grant is successful at gaining the nomination and goes on to win the seat. He's a talented, honest and bloody funny bloke who'd make a huge contribution to the NZ Parliament and Labour Caucus.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Strippers Rattle Rudd

Kev's in trouble. How much is hard to tell but news that he visited a New York strip club will surprise many. Kev's a good Christian bloke, so much so that for a time some of his colleagues thought him too much of a prude to lead Labor. Now he's revealed as a bit of bloke who necks a few too many and then ogles the local ladies - well once anyway.

I suspect the fact that he visited a strip bar won't hurt him much, but that he was on official taxpayer business at the time might - Cossie's already making jibes that he'd be far to busy to take such indulgences... plus there's a hint that Kev got a bit too close to some of the dancers...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Children's literacy

I really like the childcare service backin15-junior attends. The childcare workers are caring, diligent, thoughtful, enthusiastic and genuine. More importantly, backin15-junior loves the place. We pay pretty close attention to backin15-junior's development but also don't obsess. We read the reports of the day every day and enjoy the newsletters and updates. All of this preliminary comment is necessary so that the following isn't mis-interpreted.

On the latest newsletter, the literacy program included this little gem!
"Children are developing an understanding of the concept of writing from left to write as well as identifying the letters in their name"

George Gregan

I've looked around in the past for some good footage of Gregan sledging Kelleher at the end of the 2003 quarter final but I've never found it until now (on Nathan Rarere's blog, part of It's here - further reminder of how close we've come and why we can take nothing for granted.


Sydney is obsessed with the property market which makes it all the more strange that it is so incredibly poorly served by real estate agents. Real estate agents are heterogeneous group; many are lazy, unenthusiastic fools whose continued employment is a function of the low entry standards while others make a matzah through diligence and professionalism. My latest experience is unfortunately with the first, and sadly largest, group.

A place, seen only ten days ago, appealed greatly and we clearly indicated our interest by notifying the agent we'd likely bid, obtaining the contract and asking all sorts of questions. We also specifically requested that the agent keep us informed in the event that the vendor received an offer. A week passed during which we made some plans to have building inspections done and talked with our lawyer - we were all ready to make an offer after seeing the place again when we realised it was no longer being advertised. A quick call to the lazy-ass agent confirmed that the place was under offer. Annoyed with his failure to advise us as agreed, but somewhat resigned to missing out, we sent a carefully worded but clearly shitty email to him advising him that he'd both failed in his commitments to us and probably cost his vendor by not seeking our bid.

Jolted out of his stupor, the agent called later in the day to clarify that the deal wasn't closed and that he'd present our offer to the vendor. Gazump? We offered about one percent more but held little hope - in fact I wondered if the agent wasn't simply covering his arse having been caught napping - sure enough, 24 hours later, the vendor accepted the original offer and we missed out. No gazump.

Moral of the story. You can't trust real estate agents - there's a few who're smart business people but the majority are lazy, unethical and interested only in their immediate commission check. That this group remains in business astounds me but is probably a reflection of the generally low professional standards and the dynamism of the Sydney property market. At the risk of sounding like a regulator, I'd significantly increase the barriers to entry and encourage the professional association to develop training and credentials that led to some market differentiation.

Or what about a variation on ratemyteacher? ratemyagent?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How long's a piece of string...

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have published some economic modeling as part of their scaremongering against Labor. They had to do it really, the Lib's credibility is shot to pieces by continual rate rises giving the lie to their promise to keep interest rates at "record lows". But it's value is very limited - it'll get plenty of media attention and allows them to erect banners around the country claiming that 316,000 jobs are at risk but it's frankly ridiculous.

The study, conducted by Econtech, is premised on comparing a continuation of the Coalition's IR laws with a complete roll-back of all industry reform since 1993 - including the Keating-led Labor government's Industrial Relations Reform Act - this is a false premise and it totally undermines the value of the report. No party, certainly not Labor, propose a restoration of the archaic and inflexibility of the '80s so what is the point of this exercise?

Professional economists clearly do not have sufficiently high professional standards. If they did, they'd attempt a more meaningful exercise and examine the anticipated economic effects of Labor's proposed IR reforms compared with the Coalition's.

I'm not a professional economist, but have worked with them including on a project that estimated the economic value added by TAFE NSW, and I am fully aware of the way in which deprival econometric modeling is done - but I also know that the limit to this approach is the validity of the underlying assumptions. In this instance, the assumptions bare no relation to reality.

Living the reflection

I live a lot in my head and not always so much in the world. It's noisy frankly and I could make a bit more of an effort to re-balance however I suspect I'm too set in my ways.

I never intended, however, that my blog would be provide an outlet for my thinking about me or about things that really matter - though occasionally it has - mainly because I don't have the courage to be that honest.

Interestingly though, the blogs that I particularly enjoy are either those where I get to share-a-rant or those that give real insight into others' world. In the latter category, for those few readers I have, can I recommend a fellow antipodean, Krimsonlake and an American, Heather Armstrong's Dooce. Go read them now.

Stationery porn

That's an "e" not an "a" BTW.

Commonwealth/State politics involves a fair bit of set-piece drama. The Commonwealth's principal tactic is straight out brinkmanship whereas the States employ a little more tactical variation (though nevertheless still trot out "states rights" which is a polite way of saying "see you in court"). It'll be interesting to see how the current standoff over control of the Murray-Darling basin resolves itself.

Coming from Aotearoa, a unicameral and unitary state, I'm ambivalent about federal systems. One the one hand, they provide for, potentially, more direct and responsive government - particularly if you live in Perth or Darwin. On the other hand, there's duplication, inefficiency and inevitable conflict.

Some work I'm doing falls neatly into the "new federalism" debate - the catch-all phrase to describe the current jostle between the federal Liberal/National Coalition and the Labor-States - and means regular appearances at national sub-sub-Committees of the Council of Australian Governments.

Two things strike me about these committees. First, the level of professionalism is particularly high despite the rancor and tension of Australian politics generally and election time specifically. Secondly, the no-expenses spared cornucopia of stationery. My carefully and lovingly developed folder was stationery nirvana - imagine Bill Gates kids' allowance for their school's stationery day - I had three different colours of paper, two different types of divider and three different types of little sticky labels - plastic not paper - each of which had had printed on them the title of the paper to which they referred. It was a thing of beauty that took two people two days to compile for each of the half dozen officials attending the meeting.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Kerry O'Brien 3, Cossie 1

Good interviewers are a rare breed. Too many wilt under serious pressure, particularly from politicians, or become shrill and repetitive. O'Brien however is supremely confident and calm. His interview with Costello last night could easily have degenerated - he point blank asked Costello how the electorate could be expected to distinguish truth from lies in Liberal party advertising - but for O'Brien's experience.

If you were scoring the interview, the opening gave you an indication of events to come:
O'BRIEN, Peter Costello, nine straight interest rate increases in the last six years. Five rate increases since the last election. I thought we were supposed to trust you to keep interest rates at a record low?

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: Well, let's put it in context. 19 interest rate cuts and 15 interest rate rises, so the fact of the matter is that interest rates are lower today than when the Government was elected, and in those 11 years, not only have interest rates come down, but we've had 11 years of continuous growth and 2.1 million more jobs added. So, the fact that you could actually have interest rates lower today than they were before this period of expansion commenced, and before 2.1 million jobs have added, shows you how far the economy has come.
Well matched, one all I'd say, however O'Brien's questioning wasn't about whether or not Cossie and co. were good economic managers, it was whether or not they were honest - honest about both the faults of Labor and their own abilities. Remember last election's scaremongering about Labor's ability to keep rates down?

I relieved by this questioning, relieved that the government are being held to account for their ridiculous claims. I'll concede they're managing the economy well enough, but spare us all the omnipotent crap. Which is why I particularly enjoyed this exchange from later in the interview:
KERRY O'BRIEN: As it's risen nine times in six years, the Prime Minister today distanced himself from the Liberal Party promise at the last election to keep interest rates at "record lows". Do you also disassociate yourself from that Liberal Party promise at the last election to keep interest rates at record lows?

PETER COSTELLO: Well Kerry, I have no doubt that a vote for the Coalition at the last election was a vote for lower interest rates and a vote for Labor and Latham.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Costello, Mr Costello this is a very simple proposition I'm putting to you, a very simple proposition. Can we trust your promises or not?

PETER COSTELLO: Of course you can because Kerry...

KERRY O'BRIEN: The promise was record low interest rates.

PETER COSTELLO: Ok, you've asked your question, now let me give you the answer. The last election you could have voted for Labor led by Mark Latham or the Coalition led by John Howard and Peter Costello. The fact is if you wanted to vote for lower interest rates, you voted for the Coalition, Costello and Howard. I don't think even Kevin Rudd in his wildest imagination would have said that a vote for the Labor Party and Mark Latham would have had us in the situation we're in now. That's what they we're saying. Mark Latham for Prime Minister and the Labor Party. The vote for the Coalition was the vote for low interest rates, it's proven by comparing the historical record, and it's proven by comparing Australia's position in relation to growth in other countries.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you've left out the word "record low interest rates" Mr Costello, which was what was promised at the last election. So when we see Liberal Party ads making all sorts of claims during this next election campaign, how do we know which ones to believe and which ones not to believe?
Well said that man! Two - one O'Brien.

And finally, O'Brien challenges Cossie to explain the benefit of tax cuts - five in five successive budgets - which merely offset the rising cost of debt? Five tax cuts, but seven rate rises? Cossie's answer is very poor - the tax cuts have not put the government into debt. But Cossie, that's not the point, your books might balance, but do those of the working families on whose good favour you rely for re-election? Three - one O'Brien by my count.

Full transcript and video here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

But how does it know?

Years ago, ten or more, there was an advert for a type of chilly-bin that took the piss out of Australians for being stupid. I don't recall the full script however it included a claim that the chilly-bin kept food warm or cool... the Australian, sitting astride the chilly bin, looked confused... "but how does it know?".

How does my iPod know? Know when I'm most susceptible to the calls of home? Walking back home today, my iPod queued-up the Muttonbirds You Will Return (where the f**k is McGlashan getting strong strong coffee from, not bloody Sydney mate) followed by Dave Dobbyn's Loyal... I almost cried... but then, as if to ensure I understood, Greg Johnson's Don't Wait Another Day and Shihad's Home Again... I shit-you-not!

I'm particularly susceptible because Mrs backin15 and I are once again looking to buy and, quite apart from the fear associated with Sydney-sized debt, I'm struggling with where I want to be? NZ or Australia? Home or this foreign land I quite like?

Either way, I'm not watching any significant Rugby World Cup games with Australians. It's not like they're unpleasant or particularly unreasonable... it's just that I may wish to be and I don't want to feel in any way restricted if, for example, I need to question George Smith's technique, moral fibre or parentage. I also want to be surrounded by fellow kiwis, rugby tragics and hopeless optimists. I want to feel the camaraderie and warmth of fellow devotees and need to know that they too experienced the devastation of '91, '95, '99 and 2003. I don't want to have to hear how good Gregan, Larkham, Giteau are. I don't care if Sharpe's a top bloke or that Staniforth's a try magnet. I want to be enveloped by blackness, by flattened vowels and a shared belief in Richie McCaw's virtue. I don't even want to have a token Australian to mock and bait. I want to drink DB, eat Rashuns and Pixie Caramels and hear only Keith Quinn, Murray Mexted and Grant Fox calling the game.

And at the end, when we've won and William Webb Ellis is held aloft and we are all drunk on relief and exaltation, I want to to be hear...
Ringa pakia
Uma tiraha!
Turi whatia!
Hope whai ake!
Waewae takahia kia kino!