Wednesday, December 07, 2005

John Armstrong: Benson-Pope hung out to dry by colleagues

Humiliation was heaped upon David Benson-Pope in such embarrassing quantity yesterday that having a tennis ball stuffed in his mouth might have seemed preferable.

It is one thing for a Cabinet minister to be put through the parliamentary wringer by the Opposition.

It is far more galling to be hung out to dry by one's colleagues in such a public forum.

However, sympathy for Mr Benson-Pope had clearly evaporated even within his own party after Labour MPs became aware that they, too, were the victims of the highly favourable spin he put on the police report into allegations he assaulted pupils while teaching in Dunedin in the 1980s.

That resulted in a string of apologies, which Mr Benson-Pope's colleagues were not slow in making on his behalf and which were topped off by a dressing-down from the Prime Minister.

"The matter could have been handled better," muttered Helen Clark through gritted teeth after National's Don Brash suggested Mr Benson-Pope had deliberately misrepresented the police report to back his insistence that the incidents that sparked the allegations had never happened.

A week ago, word in the Beehive was the report was so favourable to Mr Benson-Pope that he would be able to use it to hit back at Act's Rodney Hide and National's Judith Collins, the MPs who raised the jamming of a tennis ball in a pupil's mouth.

But Monday's release of the report exposed the gap between Mr Benson-Pope's spin and the actual police findings, forcing Labour to adopt the only sensible course of action.

Normally Helen Clark indulges in a pointed game of one-upmanship with Dr Brash in Parliament. She did not even bother yesterday. Knowing she was on a hiding to nothing, she instead acknowledged her minister's mistakes, to try to take the wind out of the Opposition's sails.

Apart from telling off Mr Benson-Pope, she announced she was dealing with the way his office misled the media in leaking the police report to the Herald on Sunday by referring his press secretary, Pete Coleman, to his employers, the Ministerial Services unit, for possible discipline.

That embarrassment was compounded by Phil Goff, speaking on behalf of absent Police Minister Annette King, telling the House that Mr Benson-Pope agreed he had been wrong to describe police language as "bozo-ish" and had conveyed his regrets to Dunedin police.

Sitting through all this was a strained-looking Mr Benson-Pope, his voice quivering nervously when his turn came to face the barrage of Opposition questions.

He admitted he had privately authorised the leaking of the police report after publicly saying its release was in the hands of the police - something which had not been "the wisest course of action".

However, Mr Hide and Mrs Collins were only warming up for the big question: did he stand by his statement that the assault allegations were ridiculous in light of the police report saying nine of his former pupils confirmed a tennis ball was in one student's mouth?

This time there was no categorical denial. The minister instead replied he was "one of a group of 19 people who did not recall the incidents or believe they did not happen".

It was a small, but significant softening in his stance - but one he should have made long ago, given his memory of events has been so much at odds with the memories of some of those he taught.

He has avoided prosecution. He should avoid a privileges committee inquest. He has fronted in Parliament. He should be over the worst.

What matters now is whether the credibility of one of Labour's usually more-effective operators will repair, or whether it is damaged for good.

Sideswipe



By Ana Samways

Sideswipe gift recommendation 2: The Phobile (see above) ... All the convenience of mobile phonage with all the clunkiness of a land line. Attaching an old-school handset to a modern mobile ... how post-modern. (Source: firebox.com)

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Following yesterday's Sideswipe about a real estate agent who visited an elderly woman in hospital, a reader named Rosie overheard this conversation between a group of well-dressed businessmen in Newmarket's 277. "You must give her a really good incentive to move," one business man said. "If she says she has nowhere to move, you arrange for her to get a place; always overcome every obstacle that they throw up." Another in the group added: "And if all else fails a couple of guys in balaclavas can call ... I know of a guy who got a great waterfront property in Wellington that way."

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Christmas spirit: Last Sunday an unidentified local resident spent several hours at Grey Lynn Park relaying turf (ready-lawn) that had been ripped up by vandals. If she hadn't done this it would have died. Thank you whoever you are, from Auckland City Council.

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Until the policy was changed in October, cafeterias in the 18 schools of the North Penn School District (northwest of Philadelphia) had supplied as eating utensils plastic cutlery that was washed after each meal and reused, even though students had long expressed disgust at spoons and knives riddled with bite marks and had taken to eating foods like yoghurt and apple sauce with their hands. (The district admitted that this saved only $15,000 a year.) (Source: News of the Weird)

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Hip Hop star Nelly (It's Getting Hot in Here) splashed out US$10,000 on toys for underprivileged children - after reportedly feeling guilty for spending the same amount on strippers and booze during a wild night out. According to the New York Post, the day after their strip club binge, toys and games were delivered personally to needy kids at an unknown location. Nelly revealed his extraordinary act of generosity to fans at the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Awards benefit concert in New York.

Editorial: Experiment needs to win respect

The country has waited nearly a year and half for the report of the Audit Office inquiry into Te Wananga o Aotearoa. It may wait a while longer for a measure of confidence that a bold experiment in education is being managed to the proper standards of public finance. The report presented to Parliament yesterday concludes, "There has been no misappropriation of money, nor fraud and no nepotism" though it identifies conflicts of interest and inappropriate uses of taxpayers' funds.

The office criticises contracts worth tens of millions of dollars given to companies owned by or employing 17 close relatives of the chief executive, Rongo Wetere, and finds the institution lacked sufficient checks on international travel and credit card use. It was given no documentation detailing, for example, why Dr Wetere made a $73,000 trip to Cuba in 2002.

The office says the institution made poor financial decisions, such as the 2003 purchase of Hamilton's Glenview Tavern, which has cost the Wananga $14.4 million though it was recently valued at $10 million.

Dr Wetere, who took the extraordinary step of releasing the Audit Office report on Monday, the day before it was to be tabled in the House, blithely admits that "mistakes were made". These, he says, have been corrected and he has no intention of stepping down. He attributes the management faults to the institution's rapid growth over the past five years.

Rapid growth it certainly had. Founded as a small, second-chance education service in Te Awamutu, it expanded in five years to be the largest tertiary institute in the country with 63,000 enrolled students. Most were on part-time or short courses and more than 12,000 never went near a lecture room. They were sent audio and video tapes on work skills and given free cellphones to keep in touch with tutors who would also visit them at home.

The theory was (and is) that tertiary education could be taken to people who could not or would not otherwise get it. The country's three wananga are credited with lifting Maori participation in tertiary education from below the national average to 23 per cent of Maori aged 15 and over, which is nearly double the proportion of Pakeha in tertiary studies.

But the largest, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, has expanded far beyond its Maori education brief - Maori comprise only half its enrolments this year - and its budget has ballooned from $4 million to almost $240 million in five years.

There is enough in the Audit Office findings to support the Act Party's frequent accusations that the wananga was operating in a "culture of extravagance and waste".

All that has changed, says the council of the wananga, which has installed a new executive and reassessed courses for their value. The constant criticism had its effect on enrolments this year and the institution was practically insolvent, needing a $20 million Government bail-out. The Government has taken steps to check the institution's spending, to reduce its scale and have it concentrate on services to Maori.

But Dr Wetere is fighting to keep his position and until that issue is resolved by the Employment Tribunal the wananga's future seems in the balance. He has several times made it evident he would sooner see the institution go down than surrender to greater Crown control.

To Maori such as Dr Wetere, the wananga has a degree of autonomy sanctioned by the Treaty of Waitangi. But it relies on public funds and therefore has to assure Parliament and the country it is putting the money to proper use. The Audit Office report confirms how far it has fallen short of ordinary standards and how much it must do to gain public respect.

Fran O'Sullivan: Oops ... he's hit a bollard

It's that time of the year when little children put up the tinsel and dream about all the presents they'll get from Father Christmas.

But I'm finding it hard to dispel a different sort of picture.

The vision of Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard glued fast to the seat of a runaway car that won't respond to his repeated attempts to put the brakes on.

On the side of the road is Finance Minister Michael Cullen not sure whether to keep his Santa suit on and distribute all those cunning election bribes he promised during the campaign or throw the bag away and try to help Bollard arrest the runaway car.

Word around the corridors of power is that the Government's economic toughies are preparing for a hard landing scenario some time in the New Year.

Sceptics will observe that is not the type of scenario that either Cullen or even National's John Key were banging on about just a few weeks ago when they were slugging it out on the campaign trail.

There's since been a re-reckoning, as any amount of verbiage over the last few weeks from Bollard and Cullen alike attests.

Cullen deservedly earned a reputation as a tough fiscal manager in the first five years of the Clark Government.

But right now his reputation as fiscal Scrooge - the guy who ramped up his Budgets so there was little left for any potential competitor to spend on getting control of the Treasury benches without having to cut Government spending dramatically and (horrors) even borrow a bit - is seriously under threat.

Even Bollard, without naming names, is hinting that the Government (read Cullen) is increasingly looking like a fiscal spendthrift as the election bribes come home to roost.

Bollard may have statutory independence. But he is not really in the position to administer a good bollocking.

Quite why Cullen felt people would be bothered by the Government borrowing to give them tax cuts to fund their own debt I have never been able to fathom.

All he has done is create yet more Kiwi bludgers by expanding Work for Families.

He's locked into a corner on tax cuts but, if he does not move, this could be his last throw of the dice.

Trouble for Bollard is that some informed folks are suggesting that runaway car is really a metaphor for a central bank whose singular raison d'etre - using high interest rates to clobber inflation - is becoming suspect.

I've no pretensions to being a monetary policy expert.

But after years of watching the RB in action, it's not difficult to detect when the market has got the measure of the gamekeeper. Ask Don Brash.

After years of pushing against the market tide, the former Reserve Bank Governor finally fessed-up to the fact that central bank policies at one stage became dangerously out of sync, nearly tipping the economy into full-out recession. These are not the words Brash used but the effect was the same.

The present Reserve Bank Governor has been dishing out quite a lot of stick at pesky consumers for loading up on mortgage debt to buy houses (a sensible measure when property price inflation was and arguably still is riding high) and maxing the credit cards.

But ramping up interest rates has proved to be a blunt instrument to deal to Kiwis intent on a Christmas spendup.

All Bollard is doing is dishing out an interest rates bonanza - great for net savers and offshore investors in Government bonds but ruinous because of the way the hot money inflow is also pushing up the currency.

This real-world effect runs counter to central bank ideology which says offshore investors will take fright at our large balance of payments deficit, repatriate funds in favour of another more stable destination and dump the currency.

But the self-righting effect which was drummed into all economic journalists when the New Zealand dollar was floated two decades ago does not work quite like that.

Those offshore investors have taken the logical view that any currency drop will be more than offset by the real interest rate dividend they will make betting against the bank.

If Bollard and we are not careful they will continue to up the ante against the bank until interest rates get seriously stratospheric and ultimately cripple mortgage holders and exporters alike.

In the mid-1980s, interest soared well above 20 per cent, further exacerbating our difficulties as people simply capitalised debt and helped send New Zealand into a serious post-crash recession.

Will Bollard do any better?

My contention is that under his current policy settings it remains logical for consumers to continue to splurge on imported products while the exchange rate is high.

But the smart money - just like it did last time we went through this in the late 1990s - will use the opportunity to truck cash out and invest it in Australia or further afield, to quarantine reserves from the ultimate crash (when it comes).

But there's another solution worth considering.

Now that the New Zealand dollar is close to parity against the Australian dollar, it might be an opportune time to launch a common currency.

The Reserve Bank of Australia could then administer monetary policy and we might get a more sane outcome than the present destructive path our runaway bank is embarked on.

Brian Rudman: Ratepayers give lie to politicians' stinginess claims

The people of Greater Auckland are much more fair-minded than their politicians when it comes to the funding of regional facilities.

For years, regional councillors and local politicians from the satellite cities have turned a deaf ear to pleas from Auckland City that the financial load for institutions as diverse as the Auckland Zoo, Aotea Centre and Auckland Philharmonia be spread more equitably.

Privately they tell Auckland City they would help if they could, but sorry, their ratepayers would never stand for it.

But a May survey of 600 residents of Greater Auckland suggests this excuse is pure bollocks. Respondents were given a list of 15 regional facilities and asked whether they should be regionally funded (either by local councils working jointly or by a single organisation), or funded by the council where the service is based. The only one that didn't get majority support for regional funding was North Shore Stadium, and even it had 46.4 per cent backing for Auckland-wide funding.

Top scoring was the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, with 96 per cent for regional funding, with Surf Lifesaving close behind on 92 per cent. Auckland Art Gallery scored 75 per cent, Auckland Philharmonia 76 per cent, Opera New Zealand 81 per cent, Auckland Festival 71 per cent, Auckland Theatre Company 65 per cent and Ericsson Stadium second to bottom on 60 per cent.

Ironically Ericsson Stadium is one regional facility the ARC does run.

Aucklanders are even willing to dip into their pockets to ensure region-wide funding for regional facilities happens. Phoenix Research, which conducted the survey for Auckland City, told respondents that if funding was spread across the region, "ratepayers in some councils may have to pay around 2 to 4 per cent more on their rates. This is because some councils contribute more than others."

Despite this warning, just over 50 per cent said this was fair, 30.7 disagreed and 19 per cent had no opinion.

Encouragingly, there was support for region-wide funding even for activities which a majority considered only benefited Aucklanders with special interests, groups like the Philharmonia, Opera New Zealand and the theatre company.

It's a pity regional councillors didn't see this survey yesterday before they rejected a chance to initiate a regional forum with territorial councils "to discuss options for appropriate and sustainable funding for regional cultural organisations". Instead they called for another time-wasting report on options.

This despite their obligations under the Local Government Act 2002 "to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities ... "

At today's meeting of Auckland City's arts, culture and recreation committee, another approach to the issue will be discussed. This has arisen from the funding crisis faced by the Auckland Philharmonia earlier this year when, once again, Auckland City ended up as the only local council willing to take the issue seriously.

Following this near-death experience, city officials set up a "regional funding initiative working party" with representatives from 10 "regional" organisations. Besides the ones mentioned above are Watersafe Auckland, National Maritime Museum, and Stardome Observatory.

The plan is for legislation along the lines of the acts which force all seven territorial councils, from Rodney in the north to Franklin in the south, to share Auckland War Memorial Museum and Museum of Transport and Technology running costs.

We're told the various outlying mayors support this move, but I'm not holding my breath. I've seen them - both individually and collectively - wriggle out of tighter commitments than this in the past.

Hopefully the Phoenix survey might persuade them that in supporting the legislation, they will not only be doing the right thing, they'll even be doing what their voters want them to do.

As for the regional councillors, they had a chance yesterday to get their heads out of the sewers and busways that dominate their every waking moment, but they blew it.

The report before yesterday's regional strategy and planning committee spelled out the problem - and the opportunity. "Given the lack of progress by territorial councils in developing a fair and workable solution, it does not appear likely that a solution will coalesce soon without some form of leadership. This leadership might come from ARC."

It was a reasonable suggestion. Get the region together under regional leadership to brainstorm the solution to a festering regional problem.

But instead of accepting the challenge, our regional leaders scurried back down their drains.

Tapu Misa: Stick to the straight and narrow in your emails

Far be it for me to offer helpful advice to a new National MP, especially one who is being flayed for sending an ill-judged missive to an Auckland high school principal but, as it's nearly Christmas and I'm feeling public-spirited, here it is.

Dear Allan Peachey: Forget the humour and irony when emailing people you hardly know. They won't get it, and they probably won't forgive it. So next time you feel like ending an email declining an invitation to a high-school prizegiving with "P.S. Yes, I do have a knife in your back, so be careful!", resist it.

By the time your light-hearted if not wholly innocent little joke reaches the inbox of the intended recipient, mere nanoseconds later, it will have taken on an entirely different character.

Your silly, throwaway line will have become a clanger of major proportions, an "unprovoked, malicious, unethical and inexcusable" attack, as PPTA president Debbie Te Whaiti described it.

And everyone, especially those somewhat blinded by political opportunism, will have missed the exclamation mark at the end of your postscript, which was, of course, meant to denote your lack of seriousness, that you were "just kidding".

But there you go. Who knew online communication could be so fraught with danger and misunderstandings? Well, just about all of us by now.

Yet while increasing numbers of us continue our love affair with email - preferring the orderliness of our inbox to messier human interaction - the New York Times says internet addiction services in the US have identified a specific chemical rush, a dopamine high, from online activity, which can be generated by something as simple as receiving an email.

We still haven't quite caught on to its limitations (you can't deadpan in an email, no matter how hard you try), or its power to undo us in a rather spectacular and public fashion.

We all know that emails written in anger should be put on hold for at least a day before pressing the "send" button, and sending sensitive emails to our entire address book by mistake is not a career-enhancing move.

But learning to have a healthy respect for the power of our hastily written messages hasn't taken hold.

It's not just that email is seductively easy and instantaneous. In the case of those two legal secretaries in Australia, who committed electronic hara-kiri with their public email stoush a few months ago, making international headlines and getting themselves fired in the process, it seems email made it much easier for them to be nasty to each other, to say the sorts of things they might have hesitated to say face to face.

It's so much easier to be mean when you can't see the hurt in someone's eyes, which probably explains the rise of bullying by internet and text.

There's also a certain solidity and power to the written word. The things you write don't disappear into the ether, though sometimes I wish they would. They take on a life of their own, and never really go away.

I discovered this a few years ago when a reader reminded me of a theatre review I had written 20 years before. It wasn't a good review, which probably accounts for my having deleted it from my memory, but he had kept it, amused by my reference to the women in the play being "glorified props" - a line which had greatly annoyed the playwright.

But ever since then, my correspondent had called one of the actors in the play, a friend of his, "a glorified prop".

Still, I'm grateful for email because it makes it so much easier to say "no", which is difficult for someone of my cultural persuasion to do without feeling rude.

Then, too, email is infinitely preferable to the telephone, or at least, talking on the telephone, which is something that I and members of my family have an almost pathological dislike of. I'm not sure why, perhaps it's the inability to read body language and facial cues.

Symptoms include promising to call each other knowing we'll never do it - if I didn't call you back, don't take it personally - and getting our husbands and wives (who, luckily, are more garrulous, telephone-friendly individuals) to make our calls.

As for those emails, I find the "kiss" principle invaluable - keep it simple stupid. Humour and irony should only be tried by highly skilled professionals with years of training and experience, people who don't need smiley faces to convey their humorous or ironic intent - a group that, clearly, no longer includes me, given some of the reaction to last week's column on feminism.

I knew my ironic intent had been lost in transmission when one of my regular correspondents, who last agreed with one of my columns in 2004, wrote me an approving email: "Don't fall off your chair, sweetpea, but I agree with 90 per cent of what you wrote today."

Oh dear. Chuffed though I was by the approval rating, I feel bound to confess that I didn't say what she thinks I said.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe that New Zealand is toxic for men (although it is true that some men's groups believe this) and a haven for successful women (although it is true that some women have done very well indeed), and that feminists are anti-men and anti-family (although a few may be).

That was indeed an overstatement. It was meant to be. (Sorry to disappoint you, sweetpea).

I'm now giving serious consideration to including smiley faces in my columns.

John Minto: Shot by our own farm gun

In the 1960s my family visited a dairy farm in the Waikato run by distant relatives. It was a great experience for a bunch of city kids and had all the romantic appeal we'd imagined. The grass was lush, the cows big and happy and the cowpats were eye-opening. It was picture-postcard perfect.

It was 35 years till I visited another dairy farm - this time near Rakaia in Canterbury. The romance was there but heavily discounted. The intensity of the farming was astonishing - detailed planning of herd size, herd movement, animal output, fertility rates, fertiliser application, pasture management, and so on.

Cattle management was detailed to the last day, pasture management to the last blade of grass, and irrigation to the last litre a minute.

I left with the overwhelming feeling that this intensity of farming is just not sustainable. It's not so much a house of cards as a rickety structure constructed on shaky foundations with short-sighted economics.

Fast forward to the Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations shortly to reach a climax in Hong Kong where New Zealand is at the forefront of a dirty drive to both open up agricultural trade and pressure poorer countries to open their economies to the wealthy nations.

The rationale goes like this. The world will become one single free market. Countries must develop competitive products for this market. We have a "competitive advantage" with agriculture and therefore our future lies in getting other countries to open their borders to our wool, meat and dairy products.

To get this we will have to give up other areas of our economy to foreign predation.

This is deeply worrying.

Global warming and changing climate patterns make our agricultural future uncertain at best and the damage to our environment from intensive farming is plain to see. But our government blunders on. New Zealand has joined seven other rich countries to develop a scheme to require all countries, rich and poor, to open permanently a minimum number of their services to foreign firms.

The rich countries also want credit for the commitments they made in the previous Uruguay round of negotiations and our own Labour Government has even suggested a formula to calculate the commitments each country - rich and poor alike - should be forced to make.

This would have a devastating effect on fledgling industries, agriculture and the service sector in developing countries with the beneficiaries being the large transnational corporations (TNCs).

In a previous round, Labour had even asked the European Union countries to open up their public education systems to private companies, while telling us here at home that they will protect our own public education system. Yeah, right.

Now Labour has gone further and is setting up a Friends of Private Education Exports group to push for more private sector takeover of education worldwide through WTO negotiations.

In these actions New Zealand is standing firmly with the rich countries and their large TNCs. We are behaving like a playground bully's sidekick. The irony is that if the Doha round is "successful" it will be a disaster for New Zealand and Third World people alike.

When the WTO was established in 1994 its purpose was to raise standards of living and ensure full employment and a growing real income for all the world's people. Eleven years later, through the WTO's trade and investment rules, worldwide unemployment has grown and tens of millions are in low-paid part-time employment with little or no income protection.

New Zealand is a classic example, with many families relying on long hours in low-paid jobs to make ends meet, and 15 per cent of our families borrowing money just to pay for daily living expenses.

Throughout the world millions of peasants have lost their land to large agri-businesses and been forced into urban ghettos. This will accelerate dramatically if trade in agricultural products is opened up. Family farming will disappear and intensification of farm practices and a focus on food crops for export will dominate worldwide. This will drive down prices and put millions out of work. The WTO mantra that increased trade leads to increased economic growth, and hence positive development for the world's poorest citizens, is a grubby myth.

Even when a country's economic growth looks good on paper, it bears little relationship to the quality of life of its citizens. New Zealand, for example, has had six years of "outstanding" economic growth, yet a third of our children live in poverty, loan sharks abound (perhaps the biggest growth area of our economy in recent years) and breadwinners work exhausting hours just to get by.

In fact we are the great negative example for the advocates of so-called free trade and open economies. Meanwhile, the profits of TNCs operating in New Zealand are celebrated in the boardrooms and in the homes of wealthy shareholders. We are an abject lesson in the failure of WTO policies. New Zealand is the turkey at the WTO turkey shoot.

For the sake of our farms, families and communities let's hope we can celebrate the outright failure of the Doha round.

* John Minto is a spokesman for Global Peace and Justice Auckland

Tim Groser: It's all about market access to agriculture

It must be truly terrifying to be a Green MP. To have the responsibility of saving the planet from so many threats, and yet be understood so little. What catastrophe is it this time, you ask. According to Greens leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next week may cause Auckland's electricity grid to crash - not to mention accelerate global warming.

Wow! Run for cover if the WTO meeting starts to gain traction.

In a sense, we should celebrate that the only real opposition to trade liberalisation in New Zealand today comes from the Green Party and, to the left of them, activists and one or two academics whose agenda is basically a continuation of the anti-capitalist, anti-market tradition of the far left.

How different it is in so many other countries where trade is such a divisive issue - as it was in New Zealand 20 years ago. I happened to be in one of those countries last week - Canada.

Canadian views on agriculture trade issues are a study in confusion. On one hand, Canadian grain exporters want what we want - fundamental reform. On the other, the dairy, pork and poultry producers want to freeze world trading conditions as they are.

For all WTO members with a stake in this negotiation, the first requirement is to have either power or credibility. Only a handful have power (EU, US, and Brazil and India as leaders of the key developing country group, the G20). For everyone else, it is about credibility.

Canada must be careful. It, like us, has excellent people. But that cannot be a substitute for coherent policy.

The key to progress in Hong Kong is obvious: we need a compromise on agriculture market access. Some positive decisions are essential.

Present strategic thinking is that Hong Kong will be followed by a further ministerial meeting in a few months. This is necessary but there is an obvious trap: it may create a perverse incentive to kick all issues forward in the naive belief that this would "create pressure" on the other side to capitulate. It won't work.

To avoid a fudge on all the important issues will require tremendous political leadership from the most powerful countries and help from smaller constructive players, like New Zealand.

The best strategy is for that leadership to be demonstrated on the first sticking block (agriculture market access) early in the week, to allow more balanced progress in areas of strength to many of the developed countries with major political problems in agriculture.

Two such areas stand out: trade in services and improved access for industrial goods (the WTO jargon is Nama, or non-agriculture market access).

The EU, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and many others with difficulties in agriculture could then see something positive coming out of this meeting.

On the other hand, these powerful and rich countries need to moderate, but not remove, their demands for liberalisation from the developing countries.

Developed countries should remember that they took eight previous multilateral negotiating rounds to lower their average industrial tariffs from around 50 per cent after World War II to less than 5 per cent today.

The major developing countries will benefit from liberalising their economies in these areas, but they too face political resistance to too rapid change. We once again need the "c" word to emerge: compromise.

This will not be the last multi-lateral round, although legions of armchair tacticians will tell us it will be, as they did in the last Uruguay round.

Every negotiation builds on what has occurred in the past.

The only reason we are looking at eliminating export subsidies today (a certain consequence of this round, provided it is brought to a successful conclusion) is precisely because we achieved in the predecessor Uruguay round a modest 24 per cent reduction in the volume of subsidised agriculture exports.

This result has underwritten the extraordinary expansion of the New Zealand dairy industry. There could be even better news in the future.

All negotiators need to find this balance - determination to use such a rare opportunity as a round to good effect, balanced by a realisation that in such human and political affairs, the excellent is always, not often, the enemy of the good. Such a round will even help us to pay for an improved electricity grid for Auckland.

* Tim Groser chaired the agriculture negotiations and was WTO ambassador before standing for National at the last election. He will attend the WTO ministerial meeting.

Allan Hawke: Comparing Oz apples with NZ pears

Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand Allan Hawke analyses the state of relations between the two countries.

Relationships between transtasman heads of Government have been fraught more often than not, and especially where the leaders have shared the same political philosophy.

Prime Ministers [Malcolm] Fraser and [Robert] Muldoon illustrate that point. Bob Hawke and David Lange's relationship, which was also strained, deteriorated further over the Anzus schism.

Although Jim Bolger and Paul Keating worked together productively on the international stage, Paul held strong views about New Zealand and its direction, believing that you had taken the NZ out of Anzus as a result of your nuclear policy and its impact on the United States alliance, and that you were attempting to get defence on the cheap.

This is an appropriate juncture to record a telling point that escapes most people - it's the important part that personal relationships play in the scheme of things. Commentators and analysts almost always overlook this dynamic, yet we know from personal experience the fundamental truth of this. During my first week, I was told about the New Zealand media's preoccupation with any hint of criticism from Australia or Australians. That wise piece of counsel was soon to be visited upon me in no uncertain way.

On 15 August 2003 I delivered what was supposed to have been a Chatham House Rule address to the Australian Defence Strategic Studies course.

A little while later, a subeditor from the Dominion Post rewarded me with an eye-catching headline: "Once were mates, now rivals." While I never said that, the heading drew attention to my remarks that "the Anzac relationship is finely poised on the fulcrum. It can go one way or the other - in defence, in trade, in every way. That assessment will underpin my three-year term here as High Commissioner".

At the end of August, I returned to Australia for a ministerial meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations trade agreement.

It became clear to me that the annual CER meetings between our Trade Ministers, which had served as a vehicle for progressing the transtasman relationship, had reached the point of diminishing returns.

That background led me to push three interrelated initiatives: establishment of an expanded dialogue between our Ministers for Trade, Agriculture and Industry to replace the annual meetings between Trade Ministers; the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum; and the Single Economic Market aspiration.

Before turning to these, some observations about the contemporary relationship are worth making.

In essence, the transtasman political relationship is in very good shape, epitomised by the example set by Prime Ministers [John] Howard and [Helen] Clark.

The nature of the Costello/Cullen, Downer/Goff and other ministerial engagements demonstrates the golden era that we have been enjoying at the Government-to-Government level.

New Zealand has an active involvement with Australian Commonwealth and state ministers in various ministerial council meetings and our parliamentary select committees often cross the Ditch to learn from each other's experience.

The Australia New Zealand School of Government initiative will also help the cause.

Transtasman integration is proceeding on a range of fronts including food and other standards, legal issues and the proposed Joint Therapeutic Products Agency, which we hope will serve as a catalyst for a generic governance model for other such bodies.

New Zealand still regards Australia as its principal ally and its 2005 Budget may take some heat out of the defence debate and associated foreign policy aspects.

Earlier this year, Prime Ministers Howard and Clark were at Gallipoli to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Anzac Day.

That pilgrimage served to remind us that our nations have long been bound together by geography, beliefs and interests. [But] I believe the relationship that we have taken so much for granted may be at risk as the current cohort of Aussies and Kiwis pass on the mantle of leadership, power and influence.

For the next generation, the personal links built backpacking around Europe and Southeast Asia are strong - but, do they see Australia and New Zealand as constructive economic and policy partners on the world stage, or just as good blokes and sheilas to share a beer with?

Prime Minister Clark has observed on a few occasions that Australia and New Zealand are embarked on fundamentally different directions and the cultures of our two countries are moving further apart.

The way our nations view the world and our place in it is also diverging. Paradoxically, that divergence is not reflected in our economic convergence, the extensive and growing personal links, or the thickening web of structural connections.

Everywhere I go, I run across transtasman connections - an anecdotal expression of the extent to which we are intertwined and the significant people-to-people interactions which characterise our relationship.

With a population of around 20 million, Australia has one million expatriates - 60,000 of whom live in the Land of the Long Lost Vowel.

Four million people live in New Zealand, which also has a diaspora of one million, almost half of whom now choose to call Australia home.

Harnessing the contacts and skills of our diaspora is a challenge for both nations.

So far this year, each week, around 650 Kiwis have moved to settle permanently in Australia, offset by 250 coming back the other way.

I'll leave it to you to calculate the effect on the Muldoon intelligence quotient!

* The second part of this edited transcript of a paper prepared by Allan Hawke and used as the basis for his address to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs in Wellington last night will be published tomorrow.