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Gareth Vaughan on a big Beehive power grab, holding the country over a pork barrel, Angus Deaton rethinks economics, corruption on tape & RIP Rod Oram

Economy / opinion
Gareth Vaughan on a big Beehive power grab, holding the country over a pork barrel, Angus Deaton rethinks economics, corruption on tape & RIP Rod Oram

This Top 5 comes from's Gareth Vaughan.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to And if you're interested in contributing a guest Top 5 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 5s here.

1) The big Beehive power grab.

At Politik veteran political journalist Richard Harman has an interesting take on the Government's controversial Fast Track Approvals Bill.

The Bill is described by RMA Minister Chris Bishop and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones as a; 

one-stop-shop fast track consenting regime for regional and national projects of significance will cut red tape and make it easier for New Zealand to build the infrastructure and major projects needed to get the country moving again, say RMA Minister Chris Bishop and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones.

Harman, however, describes it as;

even more draconian than Sir Robert Muldoon’s 1979 legislation, which attempted to do the same thing.

That was the National Development Act, which Harman notes;

led to a split in the National caucus, with three MPs voting against it, and was a factor leading to an abortive leadership challenge against him in 1980. Opposition to it was so widespread that ultimately it was used to consent only a handful of projects.

Harman says his understanding is that;

the legislation was drafted for New Zealand First before it returned to Parliament, though it is not known what changes have subsequently been made to that draft.

He points out the Bill has been praised by the mining and petroleum lobbies, whilst declared a war on the environment by environmental groups. 

Notably, the coalition has eliminated the Minister for the Environment (Penny Simmonds) from the process. The Ministers in charge of the RMA, Transport, Resources, and Regional Development will alone make the final decision on whether a consent should be issued. 

2) Holding the country over a pork barrel.

Stuff columnist Janet Wilson, a former journalist who was working for the National Party as recently as the 2020 election, has also taken aim at the Fast Track Approvals Bill and its NZ First backer, Shane Jones. Wilson points out;

Activity deemed prohibitive under the RMA, such as discharging of raw waste into waterways and burning hazardous substances, is allowed under the bill despite officials warning against it.

She describes the Bill as pork barrel politics, and quotes a staggering figure on how much of the Provincial Growth Fund was splashed around in Jones' home region of Northland. 

All this means the Fast-track Consenting Bill is not an act of political alliance so much as pork-barrelling at its finest, providing a new golden age for National’s and NZ First’s backers; the land developers, the mining companies, marine aquaculture, fishing, transport, and energy industries.

For Jones, arguably this Government’s most regressive minister and accomplished pork barreller, the announcement was business as usual. After all, he’s been able to take the $3 billion largesse he handed out in the regions between 2017-2020 under the Labour government, $556 million of which was allocated to his home electorate of Northland, and turn it into another $1.2b Regional Infrastructure Fund under the present coalition agreement.

His enthusiasm for all forms of extractive industry is unbridled. So much so that this week he announced that he’d instructed officials to investigate if oil and gas companies could receive compensation if a subsequent government stops them from bidding for new exploration permits.

Environmental groups are gearing up for a fight. Here's a tweet/X post from Greenpeace's Russel Norman.

While Lincoln University's Tim Curran and the University of Otago's Jo Monks have written an article for The Conversation saying the Government's plans are bad news for New Zealand's biodiversity. 

There should be some interesting select committee hearings ahead. Watch this space.

3) Angus Deaton rethinks economics.

Angus Deaton is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs, Emeritus, at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University. He was the 2015 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

In an article for the International Monetary Fund, Deaton writes about changing his mind.

I have recently found myself changing my mind, a discomfiting process for someone who has been a practicing economist for more than half a century.

He writes about power, philosophy and ethics, efficiency, humility, unions, immigration and more.

On power Deaton says;

Our emphasis on the virtues of free, competitive markets and exogenous technical change can distract us from the importance of power in setting prices and wages, in choosing the direction of technical change, and in influencing politics to change the rules of the game. Without an analysis of power, it is hard to understand inequality or much else in modern capitalism.

And on humility;

We are often too sure that we are right. Economics has powerful tools that can provide clear-cut answers, but that require assumptions that are not valid under all circumstances. It would be good to recognize that there are almost always competing accounts and learn how to choose between them.

4) Brazen corruption caught on tape.

Bloomberg has an interesting and detailed story about corruption in the commodity trading industry. At the centre of it is Javier Aguilar who worked for Vitol Group, the world’s largest oil trader, and was caught in a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting.

On Feb. 23, Aguilar was found guilty on three bribery and money-laundering charges after just six hours of deliberation by a jury. The crimes carry a maximum sentence of 30 years, making him one of the first commodity traders ever to face meaningful prison time for corruption. (Aguilar’s lawyers, who argued that he was an unwitting participant in a scheme masterminded by others, have said he will appeal the verdict.)

But the revelations of the trial stretched far beyond Javier Aguilar and Vitol, as witness after witness described a frenzied period of corruption in Ecuador that extended across the oil trading industry. On the very first day, a former Ecuadorian official stated flatly that he had been bribed not just by Vitol, but also by Trafigura Group and Gunvor Group — together, three of the four largest independent oil traders. (The other member of the quartet, Glencore Plc, has not been accused of wrongdoing in Ecuador but in 2022 pleaded guilty to separate charges of corruption in eight other countries.)

The testimony painted a picture of an industry which has continued to write its own rules even as its largest companies have become so crucial to energy security that governments from Germany to Saudi Arabia are helping to finance them. The traders operate with little regulation or oversight, and yet Vitol alone is a behemoth of global commerce, with sales of $505 billion in 2022 that made it the fifth-largest company in the world by revenue — behind only Walmart Inc., Inc., Saudi Aramco and China’s state grid.

On the losing side was Ecuador, fed on by commodity traders and corrupt officials who siphoned off hundreds of millions and possibly billions of dollars from a country where a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

At one point Antonio Peré was asked if he had ever helped a client with government business without paying a bribe to a government official. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “I cannot recall one.”

5) RIP Rod Oram.

As I write this we've just heard the terrible news of the death of well known journalist and media commentator Rod Oram. He will certainly be missed.

In December I spoke with Rod for an episode of our Of Interest Podcast just after he had attended COP28 in Dubai. Rod's enthusiasm and optimism left a lasting impression on me. RIP.

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I corresponded with Rod on several occasions and though i disagreed with his characterisation of NZ farmers, the exchanges were always polite. he was also very helpful when i was considering buying an EV. Journalism could not afford to lose him.


I listened to an interview with him on Friday evening whilst driving, it makes you realise how much we take for granted. 

I recall appreciating how calm and well spoken he was - such rare qualities in 2024.


So saddened by this news. Rod was one of the few journalists whose articles I would always take the time to read because at the very least they would be well researched and thought provoking. A rare quality these days in the profession. RIP and condolences to his family.


Rod was an archetypal knowledgeable leftie journalist. Like CT in a way, he always had an answer to the issue of his choosing. Sadly, like most of his ilk, it was mostly words [albeit well written] followed by very little deeds, at the end of the day. The universities are churning them out by the thousands.

NZ needs more walkers & less talkers.


What a miserable and mean spirited post.


Terrible take. Rod was ridiculously well-respected by people who do plenty of 'walking' and he has had a significant impact on policy in NZ. NZ needs thinkers and do-ers. Valuing the latter but not the former is a recipe for going backwards.


You do realise he was a journalist/commentator , not a politican or civil servant???


Have you seen Rod's house. He put his money where his mouth is. You could well do to attempt to emulate such actions. So wrong John!


I think you need to get out more.  Rod Oram a leftie?  A compassionate human being who saw the business world with a less than selfish eye.  You could learn a lot Wrong John, but perhaps too late eh?


Wrong John - he meant well.

Which is more than I can say for your diatribe. Your incorrectly-based diatribe, at that. 

Rod Oram had empathy - for people, for the rest of the inhabitants of the planet, and for future generations of both. That puts him above those who think only of themselves. 

Rod was, however, first and foremost an economist - he never really understood energy, depletion, entropy. Even thus hamstrung, he was righter than he was wrong. 



On 3) - how in the world does someone who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science only finally get around to reading the right textbooks and tomes at this senior, senior stage of his illustrious career?  Mea culpa my a$$ - all this has been blatantly obvious to so, so many in academia and non-academia for years.

On 4) - well that's just great news he'll be locked up, but what good does that do for the people of Ecuador?

On the losing side was Ecuador, fed on by commodity traders and corrupt officials who siphoned off hundreds of millions and possibly billions of dollars from a country where a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

US governments and corporates have burned the countries of the South American continent soooo many times it's beyond belief.

On 5) - yes, very sad - a big loss to NZ and journalism all round.


When roaming through Latin America a few years ago it was so sad to learn the reach of the US into all of those countries, and just how under the thumb it keeps them. There were mass protests on two occasions while in Ecuador which was very eye opening to the passion of many have towards removing corruption, and again very saddening to think that each and every time they try to embed real change, they repeat the same cycle as the corruption is too ingrained.


Corruption that is funded via US interests.



3) the nobel prize for economics has for a long time been a dk measuring contest of self congratulation of inflated self importance. But just wait till you hear the scandal of those in charge of the nobel prize in medicine when they more recently covered up live human testing (with no prior tests or even animal tests first) of proven deadly, highly cancerous & toxic, implants, sometimes going so far as to maim & torture patients first so they would be more suitable for tests. In cases reminiscent of the early and late 1930s. Except in this case it happened in the last decade and forced those responsible for the cover up to do some swift back-pedaling and arse covering.

The Nobel prizes are less meaningful and more just parties for elite who often steal the work of others or falsify a great deal. It is more impactful to follow the research in the fields of study (and the real actual hard peer review, not the AI editorial nods to peer review) then to follow award winners and their sycophants. 



A conclusion I came to a good many years ago. For example, Econned by Yves Smith published in 2010, rips into classical economics. Chapter 10 is headed; Neoclassical economic, the triumph of simplistic math over messy facts. 


The best thing the USA could do for Central /South America , is back a USD based regional currency, like the French did in West Africa ,and i think,  French Polynesia. 

much of the gap between rich and poor is the ability to buy foreign currency , to ward against crazy local currency inflation. 


He was the 2015 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

Thank you so much for not calling it the Nobel Prize for Economics. I get irrationally annoyed when journos do that. Nobel prizes were formed according to an interpretation of Nobel's will. Economics was not part of this.


Very sad to hear about Rod Oram. RIP.


re 2 -  is anyone investigating the money trail to this charlatan? (these?)

Theft from generations yet to be born - and therefore unrepresented - is arguably fraud. Perhaps time we had that debate? 

But I suspect geopolitics will overtake local events; markets are drying up, ponzis are stalling, too many bets have been laid - I don't see too many business cases stacking up...


Re the power grab: our ability to change and learn has been made sclerotic by a technocratic risk aversion that doesn't seem to deliver appropriate results - or often any results at all, as process is seen as more significant than actually achieving anything.

We need to get over the idea that failures are bad - the trick is to make failing cheap and fast and to learn from them to make better decisions the next time round.

That's so alien to government that it may be that departments will need to be disestablished to be able to rebuild them to be effective- and could you see David Seymour et al. balking at that prospect? Not sure I'd want to be in any part of the public service tasked with operations.