John Armstrong: English no fool when it comes to super

Has Bill English blundered big time in flagging his intention to raise the age of eligibility for state-funded New Zealand Superannuation from 65 to 67?

The Prime Minister challenged Andrew Little and Winston Peters to say specifically what they found wrong with his proposal. Source: 1 NEWS

Monday's announcement by the Prime Minister prompted a rush to judgment from all and sundry.

There were plaudits for him at least having the gumption to confront the most divisive issue in New Zealand politics. But not many.

And that praise was drowned out by a cacophony of criticism, much of which slammed the casual and haphazard manner in which he made one of the most important announcements he will ever make.

Facing charges that the only thing he had achieved in making the announcement was the triggering of inter-generational warfare, English's three-month political honeymoon with voters seemed well and truly over.

Source: 1 NEWS

It did not help that the Prime Minister and Steven Joyce, his finance minister, struggled to supply a convincing reply to the question at the very heart of the matter.

Why were current superannuation entitlements suddenly no longer affordable some years down the track when National had been adamant they were affordable for forever and a day?

What's more, National has ridiculed anyone who has dared to question the ruling party's insistence that the current scheme is sustainable.

The blame for National's failure to display leadership on super policy rests fair and square with John Key.

The former prime minister's promise to resign if existing entitlements and eligibility were cut or compromised was a millstone around English's neck when the latter held the Finance portfolio.

Neither English nor Joyce were going to besmirch Key's handling of super policy no matter how flawed that has been. They owe him too much to do so.

Despite giving the impression otherwise, English would have thought long and hard about the political risks of raising the age of eligibility.

No other current politician has better - and bitter - experience of how to get it wrong when it comes to tampering with people's pensions.

English witnessed Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley crash and burn during the 1990s in attempting to slash the size of the bill for taxpayer-funded super.

The only thing that pair's efforts achieved was to slash National's share of votes.

Not surprisingly, the party became gun-shy of reform.

Labour filled the vacuum by establishing the New Zealand Superannuation Fund as a vehicle for pre-paying part of the future pension bill, as well as setting up KiwiSaver in order to reduce the number of elderly whose incomes were solely dependent on getting the state-funded pension.

1 NEWS political editor says the PM’s announcement shows Bill English carving out his own path but comes with huge risks but also huge potential rewards. Source: Breakfast

National signed up to the parliamentary consensus that the basic pension be "65 at 65" - that those reaching the age of 65 are entitled to a minimum married couple rate at 65 percent of average net wages.

Key's warning that he would resign if National breached the 65-at-65 formula was all about National rebuilding voters' trust in his party.

English would have been acutely uncomfortable, however, in having to echo Key's assertion that the current scheme would remain affordable - and even more so once the coming explosion in healthcare costs for the elderly was recognised as a very relevant  ingredient in the whole equation.

The notion that existing settings will continue to be sustainable is a pretence which political parties have used as a convenient excuse to do nothing.

It is a charade. And everyone knows it. Moreover, the longer the charade continues the tougher it will become to end it.

While the minor parties might be able to get away with maintaining the charade, a major party like National cannot abrogate responsibility.

Sure, Monday's announcement was about English further differentiating himself from Key's tenure as prime minister and showing he is his own man.

It was also all about English providing real proof that he is capable of real leadership.

Even then he could only go so far.

The Seven Sharp host doesn't hold back when sharing his opinion on the decision to raise Super to 67. Source: Seven Sharp

The 20-year hiatus prior to the phasing in of the rise in the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 has been dismissed as timid. It has also been decried as cynical because it ensures baby-boomers will not lose any money.

But mooting such a change remains a huge gamble. It is one that National's pollsters no doubt analysed to a very great extent prior to Monday's announcement.

Still, English has thrust his party's toes into some very icy water.

At the end of the day, however, he did not really have that much choice in the matter.

South Auckland charity The Aunties takes home top Women of Influence Award

The founder of a South Auckland charity group dubbed The Aunties has won the top honour at the Women of Influence Awards.

Jackie Clark set up the not-for-profit organisation six years ago to help vulnerable women and children who've experienced domestic violence.

The group's primary aim is to provide material needs to those they support.

"The Aunties believe everyone has the right to be safe, to have shelter, to be fed, to be loved, to dream, to read, to write, to have their say, and to be heard," the group proclaims on its Givealittle page. "Where any of those things are missing, the Aunties mission is to help provide them - the practical things, and also in terms of advocacy and pastoral care."

The group says it believes in manaakitanga - protecting the mana of the people they help so that they can find their way towards living independently, and with dignity and joy.

"Jackie and her fellow Aunties give without seeking anything in return and without judgement," said Westpac NZ chief executive David McLean, whose company co-sponsors the Women of Influence Awards. "She, and her core of other Aunties, ask vulnerable women what they need and then set about making it happen, in a completely selfless way.

"They have made an enormous contribution to our local communities at grassroots level."

The award ceremony was held last night at SkyCity in Auckland.

Here's the full list of winners:
Supreme Winner: Jackie Clark
Lifetime Achievement: Theresa Gattung
Arts and Culture: Miranda Harcourt
Board and Management: Dr Farah Palmer
Business and Enterprise: Angie Judge
Rural: Rebecca Keoghan
Public Policy: Charlotte Korte
Community/Not for Profit: Jackie Clark
Innovation and Science: Professor Wendy Larner
Diversity: Sarah Lang
Global: Sarah Vrede
Young Leader: Maddison McQueen-Davies

Jackie Clark set up the non-for-profit six years ago, which aims to help vulnerable women and children who have experienced domestic violence. Source: Breakfast


Around 360 Glenorchy homes still without power 48 hours after early spring snowfall

The Glenorchy township in Central Otago is still without power 48 hours after a spring snowfall caused major disruptions in the deep south.

Around 360 households have been affected.

Aurora Energy is hoping to have power restored to the area by this evening.

Around 360 households in the central Otago town are affected, with Aurora Energy hoping to have electricity back on by this evening. Source: Breakfast

In many places power was cut, schools were closed and flights cancelled. Source: 1 NEWS


Watch: Artist uses pyramid in central Auckland to spread some joy around town

A Kiwi artist are architect is using a pyramid in central Auckland to spread some joy.

Matt Liggins has made it his mission to ask people what makes them smile, but instead of rolling up to you on the street he's built a pyramid to help lighten people's moods.

TVNZ1's Seven Sharp's Lucas de Jong went along to take a look and share a laugh in the video above.

Matt Liggins has made it his mission to ask Kiwis what makes them smile. Source: Seven Sharp

Britain can flourish even without Brexit deal, says UK's Foreign Secretary

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the UK will flourish with or without an agreement on its relationship with the European Union after it leaves the grouping next year.

A "no-deal" Brexit is possible, he said in an interview in Tokyo, "but I don't think it's in anyone's interest for that to happen. So that's why we are cautiously optimistic that we will get a deal. But there's a lot of work to do to get there."

British Prime Minister Theresa May travels to Salzburg, Austria, on today to meet other EU leaders. She needs to win over both the European Union and critics of her Brexit proposal within her own Conservative Party. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.

Japanese companies with operations in Britain are among those worried about the impact of a "no-deal" Brexit, in particular on their ability to export from the U.K. to the rest of Europe without tariffs or other trade restrictions. Under a no-deal scenario, the U.K. would leave the EU without establishing rules for future trade between Britain and the 27 remaining EU member countries.

"The U.K. will flourish and prosper as one of the strongest economies in the world whatever the outcome of these talks," Hunt said, noting its business-friendly environment and strong universities.

He defended the May government's proposed Brexit deal, which has been roundly attacked by his predecessor, Boris Johnson. Hunt succeeded Johnson as foreign secretary in July.

"British politics is littered with the graveyards of people who have predicted the demise of Theresa May and been proved wrong," he said.

"Of course Boris Johnson doesn't agree with some of the policy decisions that she's taken, but Theresa May has to speak not just for the 52 percent who voted for Brexit, she has to speak for 100 percent of the country," he added.

Hunt is in the Japanese capital to hold annual U.K.-Japan strategic dialogue talks with Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

He said he welcomes the summit that started Tuesday between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but that the time has come for the North to take concrete steps toward eliminating its nuclear weapons.

"Words get you so far. I think words have helped, they've changed the atmosphere, but we need to see actions now," he said.

Britain has sent warships to the Pacific to help patrol for transfers between ships at sea that violate economic sanctions on North Korea. Hunt said Britain is ready to relax sanctions if there is concrete evidence of change on the North Korean side.

Hunt, who lived in Japan in the early 1990s, delivered a short speech without notes in Japanese to about 50 people from U.K.-Japan exchange programs.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt delivers a speech during a "strategic dialogue” at British Embassy in Tokyo, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Hunt said it’s time for North Korea to take concrete actions toward eliminating its nuclear weapons. Hunt told that Britain is ready to relax economic sanctions on North Korea when there is concrete evidence of a change from the North Korean side. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt delivers a speech during a "strategic dialogue” at British Embassy in Tokyo. Source: Associated Press