National’s tricky road to victory in 2020

Simon Bridges has a job to do. Take back the Government benches in 2020. He is the Leader of the Opposition in the New Zealand Parliament, Leader of the National Party. His job is in two parts:

  1. Is to destroy the policies of the 6th Labour Government.
  2. Come up with a credible alternative policy platform that New Zealanders like enough to walk away from Labour

Unfortunately for National, when environmental and economic pragmatism is needed, Mr Bridges is a conservative who believes the core philosophies of the National Party and the policy making traditional to these philosophies is just fine. Yet Mr Bridges must in the next twelve months destroy the policy making of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and make her utopian vision look bad enough that New Zealanders are convinced to vote blue instead of red.

But if Mr Bridges is willing to be pragmatic about environmental law and environmental issues there are things that he could do which would help the environment and the economy at the same time. These two alone will not be enough. and he will have to have sound social policy and the right people to push it. To make it happen though, he would need to replace a few lieutenants – Amy Adams who was one of the more pragmatic voices on judicial and women’s affairs is leaving Parliament. Chris Finlayson who was Attorney General in the Government of Prime Minister John Key and Bill English has also departed.

Mr Bridges faces another problem. I highly doubt that New Zealand First will work with National again whilst Winston Peters is leader. I can understand National’s disgust with New Zealand First after electing to support a smaller party instead of handing National an historic 4th term – which I think would lead to a decisive Labour victory in 2020 with well over 50 red seats if Mr English had been returned to power. National would have to swallow what I imagine would be a massive rat whole.

And then there is A.C.T. Its Leader David Seymour would doubtlessly be expecting a Ministerial Warrant in any negotiations as part of a future National-led Government. Mr Seymour has no time for climate change  Also, would Mr Seymour be prepared to work with one of A.C.T.’s biggest enemies, New Zealand First and could Mr Bridges keep the two happy in the improbable situation where they agreed to?

But perhaps the biggest problem facing Simon Bridges is the same thing that toppled successive Labour leaders between 2008-2017: preferred Prime Minister ratings. Ms Ardern might be down on the historic high she hit after the Christchurch mosques were attacked, but she is well ahead of Mr Bridges who is being challenged by fellow National M.P. Judith Collins, whose preferred Prime Minister rating is the same as his.

National has a long road ahead of it if the party wants to return to the Government benches in 2020. It has some big decisions to make around refreshing the Members of Parliament so that they do not become deadwood, policy and building a rapport with New Zealanders. There are deep crevasses in the form of environmental and social policy on one side and the deregulated, minimalistic governance that A.C.T. favours on the other side. Mr Peters and Mr Seymour represent potential obstacles or opportunities depending on their own parties fortune.

It could be a very interesting 12 months.

Ardern’s bucket list of New Zealand “things to do”

When Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges called Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a part time Prime Minister, he conveniently forgot that for New Zealand to have a presence of the world stage it means going overseas occasionally and having the necessary contact with world leaders. Mr Bridges also seemed to forget that there are a bucket list of problems he could have tried to tackle her on that would have been a bit more meaningful.

When someone writes out a bucket list of things they say they are going to do, it is generally understood that it is out of want and normally meant in a pleasurable sense.

The bucket list of things that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needs to tackle in New Zealand is probably not a pleasurable one. It is certainly not an easy one. Ticking some of them off will create considerable political capital and give her a good track record looking forward to the 2020 General Election.

It is a long one and this is just a snap shot across a few key areas of the sheer diversity of issues facing the Government:

  • Health – waiting lists, D.H.B. funding, vaccinations, affordable dental care, Pharmac subsidised medications…
  • Education – restoring science, introducing compulsory civics, N.C.E.A., managing teacher workloads, the relevance of Tomorrow’s Schools
  • Justice – drugs, overcrowded jails, effectiveness of the courts
  • Economy – taxation, green tech, climate change, decongestion of roads, jobs training, support for small and medium businesses
  • Social welfare – poverty, reforming social welfare legislation, drug reform, domestic violence
  • Environment – climate change, waste, fresh water, R.M.A. reform, air pollution

As can be seen the range is substantial and there are a host of other areas such as foreign policy, transport, conservation – among others – which I have left off. But if I had to take one issue from each of those areas of concern and call it a priority, the list would look like this:

  • HealthWaiting lists: I have long thought that there should be a one off $1-2 billion injection into operations for people on the waiting lists with nothing other than sorting out as many people as possible; the spending will partially pay for itself by having a whole lot of people who might be limited in what they can do being able to partake in activities currently off limits and go back to work
  • EducationTomorrow’s schools: For me this just manages to beat out managing teachers workloads and N.C.E.A.; after 30 years there is a need to check on the ability of the Tomorrow’s Schools model to deliver adequate and appropriate education and if it is outmoded, what will replace it?
  • JusticeDrugs: New Zealand needs to ditch the American approach and either legalize or decriminalize what I call common cannabis; too many people are going to jail for it and they are coming out in a worse state than they went in
  • EconomySmall and medium businesses; many of which are the Ma and Pa stores, the local chains like Bakers Delight, Challenge and so forth which might include simplifying compliance processes and managing H.R. and O.S.H. issues
  • Social welfareReforming social welfare legislation: Anyone who has been into a Work and Income office will know the often cold relationship between clients and case managers; reforming the laws will help to – along with staff retraining – reduce the wastage that goes on behind the scenes, but also disarm confrontations before they happen
  • EnvironmentWaste: Whilst Minister for Environment Eugenie Sage has announced some good ideas such as supporting e-waste initiatives, there are some simple things that could be made to happen and have immediate positive impact on the environment such as recycling aluminium which could be made possible by introducing a nation wide recycling programme; same for glass

Former Treasurer Dr Michael Cullen talked about the “knowledge economy” that was needed for New Zealand to grow. Former Prime Minister John Key’s National Party coined the slogan “A brighter future” and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern came up with “Lets do this”.

Yes Jacinda. Let’s do this. Let’s adopt my suggestions now and New Zealand will be on the way to the brighter future we never got from National.

Good P.R. useful, but not enough for Government

Her warm motherly down to earth approach has won the hearts of many. From elderly people in rest homes and hospitals to young school girls being afforded the chance to see what real role models look like; from New Zealand Muslims, afraid for their future following the Christchurch terrorist attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been a welcome – albeit often all too quick – source of inspiration.

But great public relations can only go so far. Eventually it has to give way to solid policy development based on the messages big and small emanating from New Zealand society. Eventually no amount of baby hugging will hide some truly damning bumps in the terrain of the carpet.

To be fair to Ms Ardern, there was a period in the last National-led Government, where the then Prime Minister had a similar appeal. Former Prime Minister John Key had significant political capital, which gave him an every day touch with a person on the street. He appeared down to earth in a blokesy “aw shucks” sort of way that none of his Ministers came close to matching – one person told me he was the kind of person they did not agree with, but felt that it would be possible to have a beer and a joke with Mr Key.

But both Ms Ardern and Mr Key have a common problem that goes with all political capital. There is only so much of it that one has and at some point it either expires or gets used up. But not only that, there are a multitude of ways to blow it without realizing what one has done until too late.

Thus we arrive at the problem currently confronting Ms Ardern. Whilst it is true that although Labour would not want the days and weeks immediately post-Christchurch terrorist attack to be so, it was the warmth and compassion that she showed to massacre victims, their families and fellow mosque worshippers, that enabled her to make significant political hay – and she did. The Christchurch Call, the attempts to remove military style semi-automatics, her willlingness to wear hijab herself along with a number of others were all seized upon as measures built on compassion.

But none of this empathy, this warmth is going to solve the Auckland housing crisis where 40,000 houses are unoccupied. Nor is it going to radically result the discourses that have sprung over the last few years about where our education is going or how realistic the plans to deal with climate change are.

At some point Ms Ardern will have to do what Prime Minister John Key failed to do and that come up with solutions tailor made by New Zealand politicians for New Zealand conditions and New Zealand people. Will in an M.M.P. environment that seems scared of radical ideas New Zealand politics permit this? I do not know the answer except that like it or not we need to try.

Microchipping humans? NO THANKS!

I am a microchip. MC000012020NZ. A tiny identifying integrated piece of circuitry embedded in the thumb of a human being. I have been in the thumb of my human host since 2020. Outwardly my host appears just like any other human being. Inwardly s/he is a data trove  The year is 2025 and microchipping employees has become widespread in New Zealand.

The arrival of myself and my many data loggers has led to tens of thousands of New Zealanders having these little data banks implanted in their finger or thumb. Many have thought of the convenience of being able to skip queues, carry out mundane tasks quicker, give the boss the comfort of knowing where workers are and what they are doing. I have stored on me information about his/her daily activities at work, at home, the shopping mall – where I have been and what I was doing, what I have purchased, and services used. It might save you a few seconds paying for something you purchased, or placing an order for a taxi or using a service.

But did they think about what my makers might have intended for that data?

Dial the clock back to 2019. An article in Stuff talked about the benefits of being microchipped. I read the article out of curiosity to see why someone would contemplate getting a microchip inserted. And then I read the comments at the bottom – granted the number was not many, they were overwhelmingly negative.

And I am not surprised.

Big data is coming for you/me. Do you want to be a slave?

Another question that really bothers me will be the accountability of whoever manufactured the chip. Will it be a New Zealand company that is subject to New Zealand laws and can be made to answer to New Zealand Parliament, or will it be a company like Facebook or Google, or some unknown third party? Whatever the case, the idea of a company whose first task is to make a profit out of supplying MY data – possibly without me actually knowing WHAT data is being supplied – to whomever does not thrill me in the least.

In an age where privacy breaches are getting bigger and more frequent, why should we trust another means to cause yet more breaches? In an age where government officials seem unable to be held to account, where the average Jim and Jane is too busy trying to live to care about the lack of accountability how will we tackle the inevitable abuse?

Our employers know enough about our whereabouts as it is. They have no good reason to know where we are 24 hours a day. When I step through the foot gate at work in the morning, I am on site and have to be ready to do work related tasks. When I clock in, the boss knows that I have started my working day. But does that give my employer the right or need to insert a microchip into me on the pretense of needing to know what their employee is up to – or not up to? When I clock out, the boss knows I am finished and not intending to do any more work. They can see from the print out of the time on the machine when I started and finished.They have my number so they can ring me if there is a problem.

Whilst they certainly have rights and even a need to know ones whereabouts, ethical questions and – I suspect if this ever catches on – significant legal questions about its legality loom large. It is the start of a steep and dangerous slope into becoming a servant of big data. They equally have no good reason to know what we do 24 hours a day – knowing what their employees do or do not do 24/7 will not help them achieve their ends as employers any more than it helped them in a pre-microchip world.

Does the Government need to know so much about you that a microchip becomes necessary? I do not believe so as that takes on an Orwellian aspect of big government. Does that mean the data can be linked into the passport system so that some random act one committed in New Zealand might potentially come up on your file and cause an alarm to scream at a Customs Officer as you head away on holiday or other business overseas? Some might argue as opposed to using ankle bracelets, that microchipping is a useful way to monitor criminals, but just as with anybody else, certain ethical issues such as a right to privacy.

But will I ever submit to being microchipped?

You will have to put my cremated remains back together first… and if you can get a body out of that, the answer will still be no.

Time for a new Mayor in Christchurch

In 2013 I supported the election of former Labour M.P. for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel. Ms Dalziel was the clear cut front runner in a mayoralty race after incumbent Robert (Bob) Parker decided he was not going to stand again.

At the time Christchurch was struggling back to its feet following the worst disaster in the city’s history and one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand’s peacetime history. The Christchurch City Council was a ship in disarray, off course with the senior officers bickering at the wheel. Its Chief Executive Tony Marryatt was in disgrace for his almost Nero-esque management of the City Council during the 2010 and 2011 earthquake emergencies. Secrecy at a time when the public needed open transparent decision making more than ever was rife.

When Ms Dalziel came to office, Raf Manji who had expertise in finance was given the finances portfolio. He had the messy and difficult job of accounting for finances that the council knew were going to require hefty rates increases in the near future, whilst balancing the bill for the massive damage caused by the earthquakes to city infrastructure. Mr Manji thought that Christchurch should not invest in social housing for vulnerable tenants as the cost of doing so on top of the already massive bill for earthquake repairs would cause a financial blowout. The Council instead committed to overhauling the heating and insulation in the existing stock of flats.

Until about the start of last year I thought Ms Dalziel had led the Christchurch City Council fairly well. Transparency had improved. Many of the major rebuild projects were starting to see some progress – the Town Hall restoration was underway; the construction of Te Pae was about to start, and much of the infrastructure repairs had been completed. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority had wrapped up its work and  The council treasury books, whilst still messy had a clear order to them at least now had priorities.

Yet at the same time, it was becoming obvious that the City Council had a listening issue. People were becoming frustrated by the obsession with cycle lanes around the city, especially on roads which they were not suited for. Some of the suburban revival projects were no closer to starting than the day they were announced – often several years earlier. Frivolous unnecessary expenditure was going on art works like something in the middle of the Avon River, which to this day I am convinced just collects rubbish.

I also note that New Brighton, which could be a pretty grim, run down part of town even on the best of days once again seems to be slipping under the radar. Sure its demographics have changed with the earthquakes. Sure it sits on the edge of the old civilian red zone, and in fairness I have heard that the new salt water pools are being constructed, but wasn’t there meant to be some sort of community redevelopment plan? You never hear about it if there was.

But more recently some of Ms Dalziel’s pronouncements have begun to concern me. She admitted a conflict of interest over her husbands involvement with a Chinese water bottling company, but did nothing to remove him or herself form the discourse.

With long time activist John Minto and businessman Darryll Park both vying to become Mayor, the 2019 race is looking a lot tighter than in 2016. The former wants free public transport, but has not really said much about his spending priorities. The latter wants to have zero rates increases should he win, but has never spent a day around a council table. I am not entirely sure now who I want to win, but Ms Dalziel is looking tired now as a leader and a fresh injection of ideas is needed and some knowledge of council procedures would be useful too.