Women at the top

For the Far Eastern Economic Review

“It’s a boy!” cooed the Dominion’s headline reporting the appointment of Terence Arnold as Solicitor-General on September 8. That this was thought remarkable tells the story of women’s monopolisation of the four top administrative and legal posts in New Zealand.

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Now stealthily we’re changing the constitution

In Melbourne rich countries’ kids “non-violently” stop people gathering to talk about free trade. In Wellington Jenny Shipley leads her party into opposition to a free trade agreement. What is going on?

Mrs Shipley argues that she is not opposing the Singapore-New Zealand “closer economic partnership” (CEP) agreement, just its special treatment for Maori. But if her party, however sorely provoked by Helen Clark, persists in this political posturing, that opposition will amount to opposition to the CEP.

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The ethnic factor in Clark’s equation

Tariana Turia is right. Colonisation of Maori devastated a culture, an economy and a power system.

To understand why she is right, imagine that 7 or 8 million Chinese arrive and impose the Mandarin language, a different set of laws and way of doing business and a political system that marginalises us and follow that up, if we resist, by military confiscation of swathes of farmland, factories and offices – plus a bonus of deadly new diseases.

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The economic rationale for the ERA

How do you get a high-wage economy? Not by going along with employers paying low wages, says the government. We should take this seriously because that is the economic rationale for the Employment Relations Act (ERA).

The ERA is actually a piece of social policy. While parties of the right see workplace relations primarily as a business cost, that is, as economic policy, parties of the left see workplace relations as primarily a social equity issue of individual and household sustenance.

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Welcome to the kiwifruit republic

Want to hear another, true, horror story about our low dollar? Last week a man had his credit card at first refused in China because it had the words “New Zealand” on it.

Once upon a time we thought of China as coolies in poverty. Now the Chinese think of us as unbankable.

How did we get to this “kiwifruit republic” state?

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Of ships and planes and land attacks

National is trying to eliminate some differences with Labour so it can better compete. It is also trying to sharpen some differences with Labour so it can better compete.

Divergence, it seems, is the better part of valour.

Nowhere is divergence more evident than in National’s muddle over Maori. Jenny Shipley, political child of placid mid-century provincialism, intoned slogans to her party’s conference on Saturday of the sort likely to whip white unease into a froth of ethnic resentment. Bill English, not long out of short pants when the Treaty of Waitangi renaissance began and seeking centrist reconciliation, says National must have Maori support to win long term and is heading out to marae and Maori “nation-building” hui.

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Can National remake itself for the 2000s?

Three years ago, when the National party last gathered in conference at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Christchurch as it will this weekend, leadership change was in the air. Jenny Shipley was stalking Jim Bolger.

He fell to her knife two months later, judged by his MPs as not enough a “nineties” man, which was an irony since it had been his wont to proclaim the nineties as the “golden decade”.

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Take your partners for the foxtrot

This government is big on “partnership”. It wants one with local government, with business, with Maori – with nearly everyone who will play.

Steve Maharey even has a very PC committee beavering away to develop a “framework” to govern its partnerships with non-government organisations and the voluntary sector.

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A leftward lean towards free trade

Is free trade dead? Not yet. A new World Trade Organisation trade liberalisation round may be (temporarily?) stalled. But bilateral and regional initiatives abound – and that’s a bother for us.

New Zealand is small and distant. It scarcely registers on foreign capitals’ radars. Why should Korea, still less the United States, bother with us if they can talk turkey with Japan?

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Fixing up the public service

The Labour party swooped into office on the wings of anger at golden handshakes and public service profligacy. First it focused on values, ethics and standards. Now it is down the harder stuff.

Three big management issues face it:

how to get public servants out of their “silos” and cooperating across portfolios on priority programmes;
how to lift capability;
how to get more order into the higgledy-piggledy halfway-house agencies known as Crown entities.
The “silos” issue has bothered politicians since Jim Bolger in 1990 revived the web of interdepartmental officials committees that frayed during the revolutionary 1980s.

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