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Insights 24: 6 July 2018
Latest interview: Sam Warburton talks to Radio NZ about the Auckland fuel tax
 
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Upcoming Wellington event: Philippe Legrain on how our open world is under threat

Housing howler
Sam Warburton | Research Fellow | sam.warburton@nzinitiative.org.nz
Journalists have a hard job. As well as being underpaid, they are constantly copping an earful from frustrated or confused readers, trolls, and even economists.

By and large they do a superb job: often on years’-long stories such as the meth testing debacle and the failings of Housing New Zealand.

Like all of us, they sometimes get things wrong.

The good ones correct their errors. The bad ones move to talkback radio.

But what about when the error correction is also wrong?

The Herald made a huge-if-true claim that non-residents were buying, not 3 percent of houses as Statistics New Zealand recently said, but 21 percent.

If true, this would not only have implications for housing policy, but for the credibility of the government agency we should trust the most. Heads at Statistics New Zealand would roll more than their rolling-averages.

The story was shared widely by other journalists and politcal spin doctors, and among anti-immigration parts of social media.

What the Herald had done was count New Zealand residents as, bizarrely, non-residents.

The Herald had taken the 3 percent of non-residents and added the up to 18 percent of houses purchased by people, or trusts and businesses representing people, who are non-citizens but resident in New Zealand.

These are people you know. A recruit at your workplace recently arrived from overseas. Or an aunty of yours; in New Zealand longer than you have been alive, but never having got her citizenship because she has no desire to ever run for Parliament.

I emailed the reporter. The next day the Herald’s story was somewhat corrected, but contained a new allegation: that Statistics New Zealand had claimed that non-citizens (so, including residents) only accounted for 3 percent of house purchases, and that the true number was up to 21 percent.

While unlikely, it’s mathematically possible that the true number of non-citizens buying houses is as high as 21 percent, but Statistics New Zealand never claimed otherwise. Statistics New Zealand reported that 3 percent of purchases were by people overseas.

The initial story sullied the reputation of Statistics New Zealand and stoked prejudice against foreigners. The new story still sullied its reputation, but now drove a wedge between citizens and residents. Both were wrong factually and morally.

Insights does not have readership that the Herald does, but I hope this goes some way to correcting the harm.


A postcard from France
Roger Partridge | Chairman | roger.partridge@nzinitiative.org.nz
While New Zealand is in political Neverland, I am taking refuge in rural France. Just an hour north of the vineyards of Bordeaux, it is no great hardship. Yet it provides a perfect opportunity to compare Kiwi and Gallic approaches to some common challenges. And I am not talking about on the vineyard or the rugby field but in public policy.

With our government’s proposals for European-style fair pay agreements, there is no better place to start than labour law.

You need not travel to Europe to hear of France’s dire industrial relations. But it is more real witnessing the effects of them first-hand.

Trains in France are disrupted due to rail strikes. Industrial action started in March and is still ongoing. French railway workers are protesting plans to modernise the state rail company and to open the French railway network to competition.

Travel by air is also disrupted. A fortnight ago, hundreds of flights were cancelled because of strike action by air traffic controllers. In France, though, this is hardly news. Between 2004 and 2016, French air traffic controllers were on strike for 254 days.

And late last month, Air France unions announced new strike days - only to call them off because Air France has no CEO, so there is no one with whom they can negotiate. (The previous CEO resigned when unions rejected a pay increase aimed at bringing an end to an earlier strike.)

With all this industrial action, you might think that French labour markets were running hot, creating pressure from workers for higher wages. The reality could not be more different. Employment in France is in the doldrums. Unemployment sits at 9.7%, and youth unemployment is staggering, with one-in-four 18-24-year-olds out of work.

A primary cause of French unemployment is the labour markets themselves. Industrial relations in France are dominated by union negotiated, industry-wide awards. And they have proved exceptionally inefficient, hampering the productivity and competitiveness of French businesses and dampening the French economy.

Not surprisingly, among French President Emmanuel Macron’s highest priorities is reforming labour laws. His goal is to simplify negotiations between employers and potential employees by limiting trade union influence over them.

Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what our Labour-led government is planning with fair pay agreements.

It is a pity Prime Minister Ardern was not relying on public transport when she met President Macron in Paris in April.  It would have been a valuable French lesson.


Film subsidies worth it?
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst | joel.hernandez@nzinitiative.org.nz
After missing my chance to meet Scarlett Johansson last year, I was distraught and confused over the weekend as I read the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) findings and conclusion on film subsidies in New Zealand.
 
In three reviews commissioned by MBIE, the reports concluded that without the film subsidies (New Zealand Screen Production Grants), the New Zealand film industry would disappear.
 
I was distraught because my chances of meeting Scar-Jo would fall to almost zero without the grants and I was confused because the three reviews reported that it was difficult to know how much New Zealand really benefited from the multi-million-dollar grants.
 
I thought the benefits were obvious, we have a giant Gollum sculpture in Wellington Airport to prove it. Not only do we have a Gollum, but we also have Gandalf the Grey riding a flying eagle and Smaug the dragon lurking in Wellington Airport too.
 
The benefits of international filming in New Zealand go on.
 
Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Hobbiton every year spending millions of dollars in Matamata and central Waikato. We already knew New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes attracted tourists, who knew hairy Hobbit feet did too!
 
Thousands more visit Weta Workshop in Miramar to get a glimpse into the studio that created the award-winning costumes for Blade Runner, King Kong, and Lord of the Rings. If you’re lucky you might even find Peter Jackson dressed as Rocketeer at Roxy Cinema just down the road.
 
In my opinion, the reports completely missed the most important benefit of international filming in New Zealand. That is, it increases my chances of meeting celebrities.
 
If MBIE gave out more grants, we could have grabbed Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s latest blockbuster, Skyscraper. The Sky Tower would have been the perfect location for me to accidently run into The Rock.
 
If Mamma Mia 2 were filmed on Stewart Island, it wouldn’t have been totally unreasonable for me to run into Meryl Streep while bird watching.
 
It also wouldn’t have been a stretch to film Disney’s Christopher Robin in Redwood Forest either. I could have met Ewan McGregor and Winnie the Pooh while mountain biking over a long weekend.

I suspect MBIE will continue to subsidize international filming in New Zealand, at least in the short term, so my chances of meeting George Clooney are still alive for now.
 
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