National’s foreign policy plan is tone deaf

On Monday National released a policy document outlining its foreign policy. A mixture of old well known positions, with a few surprises such as bypassing the United Nations to impose our own sanctions, the document is for the most part, vintage National.

The announcement comes at a time when New Zealand is feeling the squeeze by both the United States and China, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly as both continue a trade war that has had the markets on edge, New Zealand has been exposed to the turbulence as much as other countries. And directly as it tries to find common ground with other nations on dealing with hate and lone wolf terrorism.

Interestingly enough, Mr Bridges also appeared to signal his intent to woo China, by doubling trade with it to N.Z.$60 billion per annum. I assume this would mean substantial growth in Chinese-New Zealand tourism, investment in dairy despite it having clearly peaked, further expansion of Huawei and other technology firms, input into education and property.

To me, this is an incredibly tone deaf foreign policy. It ignores our core role as one of the key players in the South Pacific where we should be investing 80% of all the time, money and resources that go into foreign affairs. These are the nations whose well being most seriously impacts on our national security behind Australia. These are the nations with the biggest geographical and cultural links to New Zealand. The Pacific nations of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and to a lesser extent Vanuatu are where we go on holiday in our thousands.

Perhaps Mr Bridges is trying to woo both super powers at once in an attempt to keep them onside. If so it is a risky proposition. For all their supposed friendship, neither the United States or China understands the delicate state of the South Pacific, why it should be New Zealand’s top priority and nor do they care. They might ask why they should, and the answer is fairly simple: as one of the leading nations in the South Pacific and one with a significant Pasifika population these nations are our  backyard and long time friends, and for us to be well means they must be well.

Perhaps Mr Bridges believes that America is still the same America that won international respect by providing the armaments and large ground forces to help the Allies win World War 2. And that if this is the case, America by default is a force for the good, cannot do any wrong and must be supported at any rate.

It does not change the fact that America is turning itself into something of an international pariah with its belligerent behaviour towards friends and foes alike. Far from trying to wind up the War on Terrorism, Mr Trump has turned it into an exercise of Pax Americana. More strongly left-wing types would use the word hegemony to describe what they believe America is trying to impose, and perhaps that might yet reach a point where it becomes accurate, but there are rays of hope. Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming exasperated with Mr Trump and realize America risks alienating large tracts of the international community if it continues down this path.

New Zealand needs to be careful with China. It has invested vast sums of money into this country. It competes with others for the rights to build infrastructure and puts significant effort into building ties with political parties, notably National and A.C.T. This is not a red neck screaming “Yellow Peril!” at the top of his lungs. Nor is it an anti China statement to criticize the Chinese Government, but 2 weeks out from the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the Great Fire Wall of China as strong as it has ever been, we need to remember China is not a democracy – it is an authoritarian regime that will hang on to its power using whatever means are necessary.

A centre-right Christian party for New Zealand?

On Saturday National Party Member of Parliament Alfred Ngaro launched a scathing attack on the use of abortion in New Zealand. Mr Ngaro shared on his Facebook page a comment about abortion being “an unholy holocaust in this nation”.

Mr Ngaro’s attack on abortion came as he discussed with National Party leader Simon Bridges, the possibility of a right-leaning Christian party for New Zealand.

New Zealand has had a bit of a chequered history with right-leaning Christian parties. United Future entered Parliament as a centre-right leaning group which was the result of Future New Zealand (formed 1994) becoming United New Zealand (1995). When they took 8 seats at the 2002 General Election, United Future almost immediately ran into trouble with one Member of Parliament being forced to resign before even being sworn in because that Member was not a New Zealand citizen. It went on to support the fifth Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark. In 2005 it was reduced to three Members of Parliament, during which time it shifted to the political centre, having shorn itself of its strongly Christian M.P.’s and then to just the Leader, Peter Dunne in 2008. He supported the fifth National-led Government until retiring in 2017 and United Future dissolved the following year.

Around the same time as United New Zealand came into existence, so did Christian Democrat Party (1995) which merged with the older Christian Heritage Party (1989) to become the Christian Coalition. This disintegrated with the Christian Democrats joining United N.Z. after two years as a revived Future N.Z. Christian Heritage went their own way and ran into public disgrace and ultimately disbanded after it was found that the Leader Graham Capill was a paedophile who had violated numerous young girls.

Further fringe parties continued to form outside of Parliament from 2003 to 2007 (Destiny New Zealand, The Kiwi Party and The Family Party). The parties were made up of disgruntled United Future members who had lost their seats in the 2005 General Election and the remnants of older failed parties. They all stood on socially conservative grounds with opposition to same sex marriage, abortion, promoting strong family policies and a hard line on justice. By 2012 all of them had disbanded or had merged with the Conservative Party of New Zealand under the now disgraced Colin Craig. The Conservative Party was the largest party outside of Parliament in the 2017 General Election.

Out of all of this, only Peter Dunne, who retired from politics in 2017 came out with a respectable record. Mr Dunne left Labour in the early 1990’s to help establish an independent party, and eventually became the Leader of United/Future (and United Future)New Zealand through its various forms including an 8 week period in 2013 where it was deregistered for lack of members. Mr Dunne held the Ministerial warrants of Inland Revenue and Associate Health until his retirement.

It is against this backdrop we now watch to see if Mr Ngaro will proceed to form a party. Coming so soon after the Christchurch terrorist attack, one might well wonder whether it is an appropriate time to be launching a Christian Party. But Mr Bridges would not be drawn on that, saying he simply told Mr Ngaro to contact with him when things have progressed.

Whilst Mr Bridges might be trying to cultivate support among Christians in New Zealand who may feel burnt by the huge support for the Muslim community, he needs to be careful. His support for President Donald Trump of the United States at a time when Mr Trump is aggressively pursuing policies that are biased against Muslims and openly endorsing the Christian right is at risk of directly clashing with post-Christchurch terrorist attack sentiment.


The election result no one saw coming

Nobody saw it coming: An Australian Liberal Party victory that even stunned its leader, Scott Morrison, who whilst hoping for a miracle, must have been a nervous man throughout Saturday as millions of Australians voted in the Federal Government elections.

I was just as stunned this morning when I read that Australia had returned the Liberal National coalition to office for a third term as I imagine most of the left-wing of Australia’s political spectrum were last night. It reminded me of New Zealand Labour’s slump to their disastrous 2014 defeat against New Zealand National, where Labour barely managed to hold its ground, let alone make inroads into National. In the aftermath of that election Labour leader David Cunliffe found himself walking the gang plank as Labour plunged into another round of blood letting. After a while they settled on giving Andrew Little a go.

It does not look like there will be any of that in this Australian Labor Party. At the same time he was making his concession speech, Labor leader Bill Shorten also announced his resignation as leader of the Party and indicated that he would maintain his seat in Maribyrnong. Already deputy leader Tanya Pilbersek and fellow Labor M.P. Anthony Albanese are lining up as candidates, and with the dust still settling on the election, it is possible that others may yet join.

For Labor and Green party candidates this will have been a horrible night. A night in which, right up to the close of polls Labor had been expected to take office had been snatched from right beneath their feet. Apparently climate change, refugees, Australia’s support of Trump, the Centre Link debacle and the hugely disproportionate spread of wealth across the country are not priorities to Australia. Far better to listen to Peter Dutton rabbiting on about refugees taking Australian jobs and offering nothing but criminal activity appears to be the verdict of Dickson voters.

In some respects though this has actually been a very modest swing to the centre. Shorn of Toxic Tony (Abbott), the Liberals appear to have realized some of their fringe members are a liability. But most of the swing has probably come from the apparent demise of One Nation, a refugee and Aborigine hating, gun loving, climate change denying mob from the Queensland woop woops, led by Pauline Hanson. I guess that is the price paid for having a certain Member of Parliament launch a ferocious and totally uncalled for attack on refugees on the same day 50 were slaughtered at Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. No great loss to see him getting egged by the electorate.

So, in conclusion, much as it pains me to say so, Congratulations must go to Prime Minister-elect Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party who might yet be able to form a government without National assisting. Right through out his time as Prime Minister, even when Labour had opened up a 5-point lead in the two party preferred stakes, Mr Morrison consistently led Mr Shorten in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, sometimes by as much as 9 points. And during the last two months whilst Labor still maintained a lead in the polls, Mr Morrison managed to close the two party preferred to within 2 points of Labor.

Where Mr Morrison goes from here with his Liberal or Liberal/__________ coalition remains to be seen. However, tax cuts are a certainty, as is a deadening lack of progress on Australia’s abomination of a refugee and lack of constructive indigenous policy.



National climate emergency? Not at this rate.

On Thursday Environment Canterbury declared a Climate Change Emergency. Just hours later on the same day, Nelson City Council followed suit. Widespread applause followed.

On the surface, the councillors gathered around respective tables in Nelson and Christchurch can say that they have done something positive for the climate, but on the other hand, despite being able to make an educated guess as to what it means, I wonder if anyone has a clue what it would mean on paper.

Granted Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw says it has no legal standing, the time for words is passed.

I am concerned though that all it will end up being is another layer of symbolism on top of a wad of earlier actions that were symbolic but lacking in substance. Under Prime Minister Helen Clark there was a move to reduce exhaust fumes, without really understanding that most exhaust fumes are invisible and that in effect the measure being introduced was just window dressing. For real progress on vehicle emissions there would had to have been steps taken to address the state of the New Zealand car market or a maximum age a car could become before it is permanently removed from the roads.

As mentioned in earlier columns there are a host of steps that New Zealand could be taking right now which we appear reluctant to do so. For example an energy audit done by the Green Party done a decade ago found that New Zealand could reduce its household energy use on average by 10-15%. If that were coupled with more recent ideas such recycling all aluminium, which would significantly reduce reliance on electricity from Manapouri power station.

For all of successive governments talking about having a strong knowledge based economy, even 20 years since the then Labour Deputy Leader Dr Michael Cullen promised a “knowledge economy”, New Zealanders still seem rather averse to higher levels of investment by both the public and private sector in science, technology and research. Compared to the O.C.E.D. average of 2.4% in 2017, New Zealand spent about 1.3% of its G.D.P. on science. These results may be linked to a general lack of investment in schools in science and mathematics – my two bogeyman subjects at high school, but ultimately two very important ones that everyone needs to know a bit about. Labour has committed to increasing the percentage of G.D.P. spent to 2.0%, but how this will be spent and and on what, remains to be seen.

Following on from this, it needs to be noted that a report has come out suggesting that cutting back the methane from farm animals is not on its own, despite being the largest portion of New Zealand’s green house gases, going to significantly reduce the impact of emissions. Which raises a quandary, because New Zealand’s climate change focus has been on this and will now have to be reviewed just as the Government starts to look at ways of ramping up its response. Does that mean we have the science all wrong?

What we need in terms of climate planning is a clear set of objectives that we are to achieve. For that we need policies that give effect to those objectives and rules to enforce the policies. But we also need to be realistic about the potential change of pace – on one hand we need to move reasonably quickly because the window is closing on how long the world has before some of the natural changes become irreversible. On the other hand, simply going in and laying down a whole wad of rules without thinking about who will be affected by them and how, is a sure fire recipe for trouble.

So, in summary, it is all very well for Canterbury and Nelson to declare a climate emergency, but unless there is a clear idea of what it is meant to achieve, how and when, it is really just another layer of symbolism.


Australian election 2019: Uninspiring and typically divisive

So, it has come to this. Two uninspiring parties significantly detuned from the Australian electorate are in a near dead heat for what will either be a miraculous third term of the Liberal National Party coalition or the first term of a Labor led Government.  Australian Labor Party led by Bill Shorten is expected to at least maintain its tight grasp on the throat of the Liberal National Party coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as Australia go to the polls on Saturday. But after months of dysfunction and no real change in politics or policies on offer just how enthusiastic are Australians?

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten does not strike one as all that inspiring. Indeed for much of the last 3 years Mr Shorten has ridden the consistently superior Labor polling in the two party preferred stakes with a margin of anywhere between a dead heat at 50/50 out to 56/44. Yet at the same time Australians desire for his leadership has consistently shown the leader of the Liberal Party to be the preferred Prime Minister.

But what leader(s) was/is that? Over those same three years that Mr his party has been behind in the polls, Australians have clearly and consistently signalled that they want a conservative leaning Prime Minister. The infighting in Labor between former leader and one time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a significant and potentially lasting turn off for many Australians, who would have been hoping it would be better remembered for the apology to the Aboriginal people; acknowledging climate change and moves to keep the Australian economy moving along.

Oh yes, that is who it was. A man by the name of Anthony (Tony)Abbott, who denied climate change, thought that Australia started when the British arrived to establish a penal colony, insisted that Nauru and Manus Island Detention Centres were not only legitimate, but also necessary for Australian protection of its borders. His time as Opposition leader was defined as a man with one mission only: destroy however you can, the Government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. So short on ideas was he and his Government, that before the end of the first term, he was gone, replaced by Malcolm Turnbull though never to yet shut up, sniping, barracking and carrying on from the back bench.

Sadly Mr Turnbull was no better and in terms of the treatment of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island, possibly even worse. A weak Prime Minister whose fledgling government barely escaped being confined to the annals of Australian political history, Mr Turnbull has been shunted by his inept Ministers from one disaster to another growing next to it. With crises ranging from extraordinarily expensive combat jets for the Air Force to Centre Link, Pauline Hanson’s ongoing crusade against Aboriginals, Muslims and Chinese, a wad of by elections causing losses at regional and at State level, Mr Turnbull might be quietly looking forward to a bit of quiet time before deciding how and where to end his career having surrendered to Scott Morrison last year.

And then there is Scott Morrison. The treasurer of the Abbott Government appeared to have only tax cuts for the immediate corporations on his mind, with not any thoughts as to how Australia’s governmental services would operate. And after a tenure trying to find ways to cut the taxes instead of looking at which ones work best an A$326 billion debt grows in the background; Member for Dickson and Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s paranoid character assassination of detainees

The Liberal National Party coalition managed to fit all of this into 6 years of Government that was childish, polarizing and showed Australia in a decidedly negative light. I imagine it is dreading Saturday, for all of the above reasons and more. But can the untested and consistently less popular Bill Shorten do any better?

Watch this space!