Jacinda Ardern becomes the youngest ever New Zealand Prime Minister

It’s official. Shortly before 1900 hours last night, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters – after 26 days of waiting, and nearly two weeks of negotiations – has announced that his party will support a Labour-led Government.

The next Prime Minister of New Zealand – the 40th – will be Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern. Youngest Prime Minister of New Zealand in 160 years.

This is a truly historic moment. Not only has Ms Ardern become Prime Minister, but it is important to remember that not even three months ago, Labour were staring down the gun barrel of a four term National-led Government. It was dead in the water. Nothing was going right – no policy releases, personnel changes or attempts at positivity were working. National had every right to think it was going to win. Both it and its leader Bill English were kilometres ahead of Labour and its leader Andrew Little on 31 July. Despite having suffered a bit of a hit over the Todd Barclay saga, ongoing issues with housing and immigration, National did not seem to have suffered any lasting damage.

But few could have possibly predicted the effect of Ms Ardern being made Leader of Labour on 01 August. From dead in the proverbial water, Ms Ardern was off to a flying start. Over night nearly $250,000 was donated to Labour in 24 hours.

The first poll taken showed a huge spike in Labour support. Young and charismatic, seen as a breath of fresh air Ms Ardern might have lacked the skills and experience in the eyes of many. But she had enthusiasm, was quick to stamp her mark and able to land hits that her predecessors in the post Helen Clark era have only been able to dream about. After the first poll National were probably not unduly worried. It could all be a flash in the pan and her support might go back down.

But it did not. Still not yet time to panic. Mr English, whilst being less popular than his predecessor former Prime Minister John Key, had spades of experience to draw upon. He presented himself as a steady pair of hands and adept at managing crises.

Still – and Ms Ardern knows this – she has those predecessors to thank for buying her and Labour time. It would have been difficult to imagine any of them landing the hits or making the policy announcements that she has. They lacked the charisma and were too scared to make announcements of significant new policy.

Ms Ardern will learn from the longest serving Member of Parliament, the Rt. Honourable Winston Peters. Mr Peters, with the exception of the 2008-2011 term, has served in the New Zealand Parliament continuously since 1981. I was a tot who still had yet to learn to walk when he made his maiden statement that year. Mr Peters, is in a unique position because he will know the pit falls of coalition agreements, Ms Arderns rapid rise to the top from being an M.P. with the Social Development spokesperson role means in some respects she is inexperienced at crisis management.

Over the next few days Labour will announce how it has split the Ministerial Portfolios’. New Zealand First and the Greens are both going to receive a couple. For Mr Peters and his caucus it will be a reminder of the last time it was able to have such an influencing role in a New Zealand General Election.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, M.M.P. IS working

It looks ugly on paper, but Mixed Member Proportional voting, which is what New Zealand has for a voting system actually is working.

For those who are not old enough to remember the First Pass the Post (F.P.P.)system of old, which ended in 1993 I shall lay down here why New Zealand abandoned it. There are several reasons:

  • A vote for anyone other than the winner or the runner up would have been a wasted vote – so for example a vote for the Green Party would be a wasted vote because it was not for National or Labour; in the case of the Alliance Party whilst in Parliament prior to 2002, a vote for it would detract from the ideologically similar Labour Party
  • F.P.P. promoted tactical voting where the party most likely to win got the vote, even if the voter preferred that neither the winner or runner up, won
  • F.P.P. meant a small party that some how made it into an elected chamber would draw away votes from the largest party of similar nature, thereby aiding the largest dissimilar party

The fourth Labour Government, where radical changes were ushered in by Labour, which included significant deregulation – against Labours founding principles – caused significant angst on the left. Unemployment skyrocketed to 247,000 at one point in 1989, or nearly 10% of working age New Zealanders at the time. State owned assets such as New Zealand Rail had assets sold off. The New Zealand Dollar was floated.

One might have expected National, upon election in 1990, to ease off on the market reforms. To no avail. National ushered in what was known by social justice campaigners as Ruthenasia – an unprecedented and savage attack on social welfare, health and social housing, effectively dismantling the . So unpopular were the policies that former National Party leader Sir Robert Muldoon resigned and National nearly lost the 1993 election.

The net result of these nine years – or three consecutive terms of parties breaking promises – was public revolt at the ballot box. National’s majority was cut to just 1 seat. However Labour did not necessarily pick up all the slack. Small parties such as New Zealand First and the Alliance formed, which served to tell the two big parties that their performance was not satisfactory to many. National promised to offer a referendum on a new political system, which would be called Mixed Member Proportional.

The purpose was then, as it is now, to stop large scale radical changes in Government policy. This was achieved by giving smaller parties more sway at the ballot box. Mixed Member Proportional is not perfect, but 21 years after it was first used in 1996, it has managed to keep in check the political parties. There has yet to be an absolute majority Government where a single party can pass legislation on its own since 1996. That is the effect of a functional M.M.P. system.

In two words: IT WORKS.

Why New Zealand needs to support Iran deal

The decision by United States President Donald Trump to not certify the Iran deal for the next three month stanza shows a dangerous disregard for the only international agreement that the Iranian Government has agreed to comply with. And with the international community indicating that it will stand by the deal with or without the United States, Mr Trump’s reckless actions are of no help to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s interests in the Middle East are somewhat limited. However we – like the rest of the world – have an interest in the stabilization of the region, which is something that would be threatened by any United States attempt to trash the agreement.

New Zealand has several Middle East airlines flying into N.Z. airports as well as airlines that stop in Middle East airports. Emirates flies twin deck A380 aircraft into Auckland and Christchurch on a daily basis. Qatar Airlines flies into Auckland. Air New Zealand and other airlines fly through Dubai on their way to/from other destinations.

The New Zealand Government – rightfully or wrongfully (depending on ones view)has tried to cultivate trade relations with Middle East nations. This includes Iran and Saudi Arabia

So, what does the Iran deal do that is actually beneficial? A number of things:

  • It prevents the Fordow plant in an underground mountain from enriching uranium.
  • Irans centrifuges would be reduced to 6,000 which is down from the 19,000 Iran was known to have when the agreement was signed
  • 96% of its low enriched uranium would be diluted or transported off shore and the remainder would not be allowed to be enriched – weapons grade uranium is highly enriched uranium
  • The heavy water reactor at Arak would be filled in with concrete; no new heavy water plants would be built and the reactor would be designed to significantly reduce its plutonium capacity
  • Iranian nuclear research would be limited in researching advanced centrifuges and would not be able to immediately ramp up research when the 10 year ban ends

Like everyone else, New Zealand will have no gains from a conflict or worsened international tensions caused by the United States walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the Iranian nuclear deal comes under. It would result in a much more unstable international environment with potential Iranian support of proxy wars waged by its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. It would embolden the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has effectively stated by way of his actions that Palestine and Palestinians are not legitimate.

Which is why I was relieved to hear that the three Generals of the Trump Administration, Defense Secretary General Jim Mattis (Marine Corps), White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly (Marine Corps), National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster (Airforce)have sought to contain Mr Trump. Good luck to them. They might be the difference between peace and the next big (potentially catastrophic)war.

In which case, nobody wins, no matter how far one is from it.

Economic direction of New Zealand MUST change

For a combined six terms of Government, the two major parties have talked about an economic overhaul for New Zealand.

Under the previous Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark with Dr Michael Cullen as Treasurer, we heard about a “knowledge economy”. In that time – admittedly a stable one with no major natural disasters and only the 11 September terrorist attacks on the world stage, until the Global Financial Crisis – the surplus grew to $10 billion. Two major entities – Kiwi Saver and Kiwi Bank – were implemented by Labour. Despite this though, there were no huge improvements in wage growth or social indicators.

Under National, we have had a vast growth in dairy farming, with Fonterra now contributing about $13 billion to the G.D.P. per annum. There has been a major increase in road infrastructure being built, and trade deals have been negotiated with numerous countries. Despite their promise of “a brighter future” truancy and youth crime are up, suicide and mental health issues are prevalent and 80,000 young people are not in training or education.

Six terms later and not much has changed. And there is much that does need to change. Business as usual is simply not good enough any more.

Since we have seen what the major parties are (not)prepared to do, below I mention what I advocate. But before we look at my suggestions it is important to know about the challenges that the New Zealand economy faces. Major challenges to the economy include:

  1. A failure to get more young New Zealanders into education or training
  2. Housing prices that are so high that many New Zealanders are simply priced out of the market; and whose rates are so high that people spend their wages just paying the rent
  3. A fear of science – fear of research and development and a distrust of the people who carry this out is stopping New Zealand from becoming a technological leader
  4. The neoliberal attack of the last 30-35 years has undermined New Zealand – market economics have only had modest success at best

But these are the things that need to happen in order to make the New Zealand economy more resilient:

  1. We limit our exports too severely – New Zealand needs to diversify and more niche export industries need to develop
  2. We have a dangerous over reliance on dairy farming – we might be a farming nation, but it is an unequal spread with too much emphasis on dairy and not enough on other forms
  3. The war on science needs to stop and Government investment needs to increase substantially; the process for research grants needs to be simplified
  4. The emphasis on road transport is outmoded, hugely biased and significant investment in railways and the merchant marine needs to happen
  5. Restrict property ownership to New Zealand Permanent Residents and Citizens
  6. Apply a levy – maybe $100 at the border on each tourist, which goes straight into a fund for building appropriate infrastructure in districts too small to be able to afford it themselves (Grey, Buller, Westland, etc)

Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong on the whole with the Resource Management Act. The complaints about it from both the right and the left of the political spectrum suggest that it is working. There are improvements that can be made, but on the whole it works.

We have plentiful untapped energy potential in solar and tidal energy. The price for solar panels has diminished substantially and if the energy companies would permit people to sell back excess power that their panels generate, individual households could create significant savings. This could generate flow on effects into other parts of the economy, such as a greater demand for electricians and other trades people.

So, when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters decides who he is going with, given that many of my suggestions above mirror N.Z.F. policy, I hope to see in the next three years some of these implemented.

A Government today?

By the end of today there could be a new Government. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is expected to announce whether he will go with National or Labour/Greens.

This – unlike 1996 – has not taken 9 weeks. Nor has it involved a coalition document so hefty that I was told a wheel barrow – which might be slight exaggeration – was needed to get it into Parliament on the day that that Government was announced. The size of the coalition document was allegedly a testament to the number of concessions that Mr Peters extracted from National before going with them.

Being a former National M.P. himself, I suspect that he will form a Government with Mr English. Contrary to popular belief I do not expect him to be granted the Prime Minister’s job. Nor do I expect him to be Deputy Prime Minister. This is a National Government that will be wanting to leave a legacy and that will most certainly mean a fourth consecutive term with a National Prime Minister.

In return for that, I expect some hefty policy concessions will be made. Substantial support for railways will probably be one; significant reductions in the number of immigrants able to come here and a change in housing ownership rules to either permit only permanent residents and citizens or possibly just citizens to own property. National will also have make significant concessions on rural investment and agricultural policy as well, given the inroads New Zealand First made in the rural areas.

I do not know how serious Prime Minister Bill English is about pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement forward. This might prove to be a sticking point and one of the places where Mr Peters might find the Labour/Greens camp to be more promising.

Labour and the Greens have a tougher job of negotiating with Mr Peters, although on health, social welfare and education they are much more closely aligned. Like National, if Mr Peters goes with Labour and the Greens, I doubt very much Labour leader Jacinda Ardern will surrender the Prime Minister role, though she might say yes to him having the Deputy role. If not, then Labour would have to make quite substantial concessions across the board.

Labour will want investment in mental health – something I think Mr Peters will be more than happy to do. There may be other areas where they see eye to eye, such as environmental policy.

The best bets for my priorities are definitely with a New Zealand First/Labour/Green coalition. Like everyone else I will have to grit my teeth and wonder how much more gnashing they will take if Mr Peters goes with National. But if he does that, my support for New Zealand First will dry up completely.