Gordon Campbell on Alfred Ngaro’s standover tactics

When someone like Alfred Ngaro is being paid circa $350,000 a year (in salary and perks) you’d think he wouldn’t have to learn on the job about the basic moral rules of his role. Evidently not though, so here goes. Mr Ngaro, the money you were threatening to withhold from any organisation headed by Labour candidate Willie Jackson for his daring to criticise the government on the campaign trail… it isn’t your money. It doesn’t belong to the National Party, either. It belongs to taxpayers, who expect it to be distributed to competent providers of social services in the sector that Ngaro administers, regardless of their political stripe. Political obedience to the National Party isn’t supposed to be the criterion that Ngaro can demand before dispensing said moneys. But evidently, that’s his default setting:

“We are not happy about people taking with one hand and throwing with the other,” Ngaro said. “If you get up on the campaign trail and start bagging us then all the things you are doing are off the table. They will not happen.”

There’s a Cabinet manual that outlaws the sort of Mafioso tactics that Ngaro was advocating. Subsequently, Ngaro didn’t apologise to the person he threatened – Jackson – or to the public, whose money he was threatening to co-opt for political purposes. Instead, Ngaro has apologized to his consiglieres (eg Finance Minister Steven Joyce) and to the capo di capo (aka PM Bill English) of the National Party, for embarrassing da bosses.

Not that Ngaro will be swimming with the fishes any time soon. Cabinet Ministers (eg Nick Smith now, Hekia Parata beforehand) are judged to be too big to fail. Once a Cabinet Minister has become” made” they cannot be taken out by pressures exerted by outsiders. The family closes ranks:

Senior Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce relates that Ngaro has since apologised for the comments to Prime Minister Bill English, deputy prime minister Paula Bennett. “He knows he overstepped the mark,” Joyce said. “He didn’t mean to, he got carried away.”

To which one can only say: if this was a minimum wage job (rather than a $350,000 a year Cabinet post) Ngaro would be out on his ear. He would have failed the 90 day test. Secondly, we know what “experience” really means. It means learning on the job that the same goal of ideological compliance can be achieved by restructuring the delivery process, and cloaking it in business jargon. For example, Ngaro could learn some quite useful terms from studying this sort of exercise.

In time, Ngaro will pick up the bureaucratic language whereby the government’s foot soldiers in the NGO sector get rewarded, and its problematic critics get weeded out. Threats then become unnecessary.

Trump Watch

The other guy who regards his job as an opportunity to settle scores with government critics (or anyone else who pisses him off) is, of course… the current President of the United States. Last week’s firing of FBI director James Comey has taken Trump for the first time, into the realm of an impeachable offence.

That’s assuming the Republican Party – once so willing to pursue impeachment over trivialities like Whitewater and Benghazi – was willing to treat the current blatant obstructions of justice (over the Russia links probe) as a serious matter. It was particularly striking that the same Attorney General Jeff Sessions who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia probe was central to advocating the firing of Comey over Comey’s pursuit of the Russia probe. So it goes. More White House firings may be afoot this week. Although, as this article indicates, the constant threats of firing someone – or everyone – may be just Trump’s way of letting off steam when he’s not out there whacking golf balls.

With North Korea testing a long range missile over the weekend– successfully this time – the odds on Trump also letting off steam by steam by using the US military to attack someone must also have shortened.

Labour and Labor

Over the weekend, Labour leader Andrew Little floated the idea of gradually removing – over the course of five years – the mechanisms that currently gifts property speculators with a tax write off for any losses they incur in the course of driving up house prices. Across the Tasman, Labor is being more old school: they’re planning a “soak the rich” tax cut by proposing a slight lift to the top marginal tax rate to 49.5%, despite the current rate of 49 % already being among the highest in the OECD. In other words, the Aussie state is formally taking nearly half the income of those earning over $180,000 a year, or at 2.2 times the average Aussie wage. The Alfred Ngaros of Australian commerce are not happy about this. Nor is former Labor treasurer Paul Keating, in the (paywalled) Australian Financial Review.

Mind you, the conservative Coalition government of Malcolm Turnbull is continuing to advocate a steep 47.5% top tax rate. The Coalition also used last week’s federal Budget to raise the Medicare levy (which is imposed on all but the lowest paid) from 2 % to 2.5% – which will fully fund Australia’s popular but expensive National Disability Insurance Scheme, whose resources will reportedly swell from $3 billion this year, to $20 billion by 2020.

What I’m getting at is that for the blatant imperfections of the Australian political system, they seem more willing to confront the longer-term problems facing the country, and seem prepared to take the political heat from doing so. By contrast, our two major parties have all but converged on economic policy, and with party branding being done via token initiatives.

Dreams In Total Darkness

In a week that has seen the return of everyone from Fleet Foxes to Miley Cyrus, here’s an appropriate track from the National… The first single from their new album Sleep Well, Beast is called “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” and you might be forgiven for thinking that Nick Cave has stepped into the vocal shoes of Matt Berninger. Bryan Devendorf’s drumming provides the fragile melody with the propulsion it needs.

And in case you missed it, here’s the wacky video for the new Fleet Foxes single “Fools Errand”.