Donald Trump and Chris Liddell struggling with a chart that outlines the process of building a Federal Highway. (Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Chris Liddell struggling with a chart that outlines the process of building a Federal Highway. (Getty Images)

The BulletinOctober 28, 2020

The Bulletin: Should the government back Chris Liddell for OECD?

Donald Trump and Chris Liddell struggling with a chart that outlines the process of building a Federal Highway. (Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Chris Liddell struggling with a chart that outlines the process of building a Federal Highway. (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Should the government back Chris Liddell for OECD, testing and app scan numbers jump over long weekend, and an update on talks between Labour and Greens.

The government’s decision on whether to back New Zealander Chris Liddell for the top job at the OECD looks likely to split parliament. There was a mention of this in yesterday’s Bulletin, bouncing off this Newsroom piece outlining some of the relevant factors. But since then, there has been a significant update, with parties staking their case for and against the leading Trump administration official getting diplomatic support.

National came out strongly in favour of supporting Liddell’s candidacy, reports Stuff’s Henry Cooke. The argument from foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Bridges is that it would be in New Zealand’s interests to have a dual-citizen in the job, and that it was the right thing to do for the country to back a high achiever who is also “a boy from Matamata”, as Bridges put it. “It would be a foot in the door for New Zealand. It would be incredible access. This is a guy who has been a CFO at Microsoft and high up at General Motors”. Act also put their support behind Liddell.

However, the Greens are strongly against any support for Liddell, on the grounds that he has been a key figure in the Trump administration. Foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said “it starts to get a bit scary at a time of pandemic when you look at his role not only in eroding multilateral approaches to things like the Paris Agreement, but in terms of the pandemic response and the attack on the World Health Organisation.”

It’s hard to pin down exactly what Liddell is and isn’t responsible for within the administration, as the White House deputy chief of staff. However, a disputed NBC report alleged that he was involved in a meeting in which the policy of separating asylum seeker children from their parents was decided, a moral stain of a policy that has had appalling outcomes. Regardless of whether Liddell was directly involved in that, there’s a wider argument to be made against enabling the policies of the Trump administration, and by all accounts Liddell has been exceptionally competent in his work. For many, simply being part of Trump’s inner circle is disqualifying.

There are also diplomatic considerations over and above moral considerations. The government has yet to take a position on the grounds that nominations haven’t closed yet. But if Liddell’s name is among them when they do, there could be something of a bind. On the one hand, the Trump administration has made itself deeply unpopular internationally by pursuing an aggressive isolationist foreign policy. To support Liddell’s candidacy could be seen as overlooking that. But on the other hand, to reject supporting him could be seen as a snub against the US, at a time when New Zealand’s diplomats are trying to avoid damaging relationships with major powers. And who knows, the notoriously sensitive Trump might win the election next month.

Who could win, and does it matter? On the first point, Liddell may not necessarily be a frontrunner even with the US nomination. As Treasury and Risk reports, former European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has been nominated by Sweden. No woman has ever held the job, and she would come in both with strong credentials, and has plenty to say that is relevant to the organisation, as this CNBC story about Malmstrom pushing for renewed ties between Europe and the US would suggest.

As for why the OECD matters into the future, I’d suggest you read this extremely crunchy report from the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, which discusses how “the organization has become a pillar of the global economic governance architecture”, and the future work it will do on the digital economy and trade standards. Former Australian foreign minister Mathias Cormann is also having a crack, and in a story about his candidacy the AFR discussed what the biggest looming challenge for the OECD will be – making big tech pay a fair share of taxes.

Covid-19 testing numbers held up pretty well over the long weekend, with no new community transmission cases being announced yesterday. Our live updates reported the number of active cases is now down to 68. Data from the health ministry also showed healthy rates of app scanning, which was something pushed very hard by Dr Ashley Bloomfield in the days leading up to the long weekend. Saturday was a particularly big day, with close to a million scans – numbers not seen since the start of October.

Talks between Labour and the Greens have continued, with little new public information about what’s on the table – except mallowpuff biscuits. Radio NZ reports talks are expected to conclude by Friday, at which point the Greens will take whatever is offered back to their members to be voted up or down. A 75% majority vote will be needed to get any deal through the party. If it gets voted down, it looks likely that will be that, and the Greens will take no deal at all.

Meanwhile at parliament, a crop of new MPs from migrant backgrounds are getting to grips with the job. Justin Latif has profiled five new MPs born overseas, and it’s really notable the breadth of skills and experience they’ll bring.

The water tank installation industry is booming amid the dry weather in Auckland, reports the NZ Herald (paywalled.) Collecting rainwater is the best way to get water for gardening and exterior cleaning, with wider restrictions in place. If you’re thinking about getting a tank, it’s worth looking into whether or not you’ll need a resource consent for it – generally they don’t, but there are exceptions. Meanwhile on the wider subject of water, Radio NZ reports meters introduced in Marlborough have brought to light worrying leaks, which if left unfixed are likely to severely cut into household allocations.

Dunedin councillor Lee Vandervis is proving ever-less popular with his colleagues. In what reads almost like a roast, the ODT reports the entire Council took turns to point out his alleged behaviour problems, particularly around explosive outburst of rage. He has until next Tuesday to apologise to a satisfactory standard, or will have some of his roles revoked. For his part, Vandervis says he has already made a written apology, and alleged that this is being used by supporters of mayor Aaron Hawkins to discredit him as a potential challenger at the next election.

Scorching Labour weekend temperatures were partly as a result of climate change, a NIWA forecaster has told One News. Some parts of the country hit highs that would have been warm for December, said NIWA’s Chris Brandolino, and that was because climate change is enhancing natural temperature variations. It’s looking likely at this stage we’ll get a worryingly hot summer.

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Image: Alice Webb-Liddall

Right now on The Spinoff: Race relations commissioner Meng Foon argues there is an urgent need to return stolen land to Māori. A bunch of smart people look at the ways Covid-19 changed New Zealand forever. Laura Jean McKay writes about how to maintain bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable societal problems. Hal Crawford surveys the backlash currently taking place against big tech. Alice Webb-Liddall ranks borers (those giant tunnel drilling machines) in a delightful piece that transcends the boring subject matter. James Dann examines the effect of lockdowns on topics like what we ate, and the responsibilities of childcare. And Duncan Greive reviews the new show Match Fit, in which ex-All Blacks have never been so relatable and unfit.

For a feature today, an analysis of the political ramifications of a new Supreme Court justice being confirmed just days before the next US election. If the polls are correct (huge if there) then the Republicans are on track to get absolutely hammered on November 3, but regardless they pressed ahead to secure the conservative majority on the court. So if Democrats do win the election, will it mean their victory gets limited? Here’s an excerpt from the article on The Atlantic:

Republicans claim that Barrett’s confirmation is not about securing a justice who will be friendly to Republican causes: Conservatives look for justices “who have a fealty to the Constitution and not to particular policy goals,” Duffield said. But even among themselves, conservatives disagree about the extent to which Republicans look to the Supreme Court as a firewall for their agenda. Conservative advocacy groups spent millions on swing-state ads meant to pressure Republican senators, points out James Wallner, a Republican former senior Senate staffer and current fellow at the R Street Institute. “It’s nonsense to suggest it’s not supposed to be political,” he told me.

Even after four years of controlling the Senate and the White House, along with two years of holding the House of Representatives, “Republicans don’t have a lot to show for [themselves],” Wallner said. “Confirming Barrett right before Election Day is a continuation of a trend: We have to do something.” In the absence of major legislative achievements, he said, the judiciary has become an arena where Republicans, the party of small government, look to entrench their power. The party’s instinct “is not to check the Court. It’s to control the Court,” Wallner said.

The Wellington Phoenix have announced that they’ll be based in New South Wales for the foreseeable future, with the A-League season starting in late December. The NZ Herald reports the decision is based on practicalities around Covid restrictions, and if a genuine two-way travel bubble is opened up then there may be a reassessment of hosting home games in Wellington. Further player announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks, with just 11 players currently on the books for the Nix.

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