Australian politicians can learn from New Zealand

Every so often I tune into Australian Sky News to see what is happening in Australian politics. As our closest neighbour of influence, Australia and New Zealand have close political, economic and security ties. Australian politicians have commended the strength of the relationship and M.P.’s from both countries Parliaments have sat in on sittings of the other country’s Parliament.

What New Zealand M.P.’s have learned is one thing. But what they might remember Australia for is not so much the policy making, but the prickly tortuous, apparently all consuming politicking that has made their Federal level politics almost morbidly fascinating.

New Zealand is lucky. Here at least, despite the at times menagerie like behaviour of the New Zealand Parliament, it at least works – none of the parties are engulfed by crippling indecision on what to debate next. Despite the grumblings in the National Party about the leadership of Simon Bridges, even National is not lead by a pack of senior M.P.’s who are so consumed by their own ambitions that they have forgotten who they are meant to be representing. And the Labour party rumbles of 2008-2017 all happened on the Opposition benches, and therefore had no significant impact on the day to day running of New Zealand. All have ideas of where they want to take New Zealand, and all have Members of Parliament actively working in their communities.

Not so in in Australia. The Liberal Party of Australia and its Australian National Party allies are crippled by fear of the Australian Labor Party managing to pass legislation that would have ensured medical assistance for the refugees and asylum seekers on the island Republic of Nauru.. So much so that as of yesterday they have given up any hope of passing legislation in 2018 and have gone to an early Christmas

How is it possible to govern when the governing party lives from one day to the next in fear of another coup or something happening that forces them to call an election? New Zealand, in the absence of such strife, can only wonder. It can look at how Tony Abbott, a politician whose sole mission in oppositionĀ other than to deny climate change, oppose same sex marriage and campaign for ever increasing tax cuts, was to destroy Ms Gillard’s Government, completely failed. Having led the Liberals to victory in 2013, Mr Abbott had no plans for Australia. If one follows the trail, the failures of Mr Abbott soon become those of his successor Malcolm Turnbull, whose weak leadership finds him likewise struggling. So poor was his leadership that the gains the Liberal Party made in the 2013 election almost completely disappeared in the 2016 election.

Rattled, the more ambitious began plotting against him for Australia’s top job. Peter Dutton, the toxic power hungry Minister of Home Affairs is one. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is another. The former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce whose affair and involvement in the dual citizenship fiasco that saw numerous politicians resign nearly cost him his job, is a third. And a fourth was Scott Morrison, the former treasurer under Mr Abbott. In October this year it came to a head, when, having failed to gain any traction as Prime Minister, was rolled by Scott Morrison, only to cause a Labor party surge in the polls.

During the three years since, the Australian Labor Party has led in every single Two Party Preferred poll that has been taken. It has never had in all that time a score of less than 51% and at times a score as high as 57%. With such support it would be able to comfortably govern on its own without any input from its Green Party friends.

It is not that the Australian Labor Party has had it easy itself. In 2007, Labor swept to power after the Liberals under John Howard lost the election. The newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lasted just a couple of years before being toppled by the ambitious Julia Gillard who narrowly survived the 2010 election and led the Labor Party until 2013 after continual infighting between the two, when Mr Rudd had a go at getting his old job back. Ms Gillard promptly retired from Parliament. Mr Rudd followed in the aftermath of the defeat to the Liberals.

But with the Parliamentary year in Australia effectively over, the Liberals will be going to summer break nervous about what the New Year will bring. Labor will be going into it with high hopes of ending an increasingly pathetic game of charades.


The renaissance of the Crusher

Judith Anne Collins, Member of Parliament for Papakura, former Minister of the Crown and National Party attack dog is on the hunt for the leadership of the National Party once more.

Ms Collins, known as Crusher for her promise to put the confiscated cars of boy racers into a crusher, is staging a renaissance in the National Party. Her revival as one of the key members of the party, pursuing a clear blue agenda has excited the conservative wing of National.

At 6% in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, she is only 1% point behind her boss and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. Mr Bridges has been wallowing at 7% in the polls and has been unable to gain any traction against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At 6% she is even ahead of Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters.

Ms Collins has time on her side. Barring a major scandal or highly improbable failure to pass a budget, it will be 2020 before an election is called. That gives her time to build up her support, have a think about the direction she would like to take the National should she launch a successful bid to roll Mr Bridges. Any Collins leadership is sure to take National to the right and see a harder line on crime and justice; a more aggressive approach in Parliament and a willingness to dish the dirt.

I anticipate that Ms Collins will place less emphasis on the environment, cannabis reform – despite it being linked to a lot of minor (and not so minor)crime – as well as social welfare, health and education. The latter based on her voting record, suggests she would support the revival of charter schools and tax cuts.

But Ms Collins also has baggage. Her co-operation with blogger Cameron Slater’s dishing the most grubby and smelly mud has not endeared her to the political purists or the New Zealand public in many respects. Her involvement in the Oravida scandal for which she was dismissed from her Ministerial portfolio’s for a period of time.

For now though Mr Bridges hangs onto his leadership of the National Party. He would be reluctant to surrender it because those who surrender the leadership of National or Labour, unless they have done it to support a more popular candidate like former Labour Leader Andrew Little did last year, are generally seen as being in the twilight of their Parliamentary careers. Mr Little’s three immediate predecessors Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe were all gone at the end of the Parliamentary term in which they surrendered the leadership.

So, as we settle in to watch this space, perhaps the bigger academic question to ask based on National and Simon Bridges fortunes, when Ms Collins will make her next move?

The U.S. mid terms: a view from New Zealand

Every four years, in between the other every four year cycle in American politics, the United States and the world around itĀ  tune in to see how the mid term elections turn out. These are the elections in which the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate are determined. Always as fascinating as it is mysterious, thrilling yet frustrating to non Americans, myself included, it helps to serve as a rule of thumb on what the President of the United States might be able to achieve (or not) in the next two years.

One of the many mysteries to myself and others no doubt is why only some House and Senate seats get contested each mid terms. Every other nation whose domestic politics I follow send all of their elected representatives to the ballot box at the same time. At any given time there seems to be some sort of electioneering going on in the United States. This raises a few interesting points:

  1. Such as whether or not the constant electioneering grinds on people and puts them off politics
  2. Is this actually the most efficient and effective way of running a political system in the U.S.?

Another mystery is how deeply embedded some of the representatives and Senators become in the system. Whereas in New Zealand unless one is high on the party list and/or in a secure electorate seat that has not changed party colours in recent times, the frequency with which electorates do move along their incumbent Members of Parliament is quite high.

The reasoning that could be behind the apparent embedded nature of representatives in the system is the use of classes of senators. There are three classes – one of 34 senators and two of 33. The idea behind the classes came about in the original drafting of the U.S. Constitution Article 1 Section 3 Clause 2, which stipulates that Senators get six year terms and are re-elected in staggered array so that the entire Senate is not emptied at the end of six years. Yet the founders wanted a timetable of frequent elections to stop a build up or purposeful combining for “sinister purposes”.

Still in 2018, it seems to me like the build up of Senators who are not fit for office or who have motives not in keeping with the spirit of the U.S. Senate has been achieved anyway. When people like Nancy Pelosi (Democrat), Mitch McConnell (Republican) are basically doing this as a well paid retirement gig and to serve personal ends, given that was probably not the intended spirit of the Senate when it was founded, should they not get the memo and retire? Apparently not, given that there are no term limits.

Contrast that in New Zealand. After the 2002 election rout, National set about clearing its caucus of “dead wood”. Members of Parliament who were seen to have done their time and not be serving a major useful purpose were encouraged by the party President to resign from Parliament. And following the thrashings of Labour in 2011 and 2014 similar calls were made for them to move their “dead wood” along.

So whatever happens in the 24 hours between this publishing and the article for Thursday, one can be assured that some interesting observations will be made of the United States mid terms. Whether the day comes when Americans observe electoral processes in other countries just as a matter of interest to see whether anything can be learned or not is another story altogether.

Government doing okay considering differences

Yesterday I blasted the state of politics in New Zealand and how I find myself along with others feeling abandoned by the party we supported over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Whilst all true and I stand by it, this is just one dimension to a multi-dimensioned state of New Zealand politics, which this article will discuss.

New Zealand, despite its nearly 25 years of experience with coalition Governments, nonetheless has a somewhat chequered history with them in a Mixed Member Proportional environment. M.M.P had its first election in 1996, which resulted in a hung Parliament – neither the incumbent National Party or the Oppposition Labour Party were large enough as a result of that election to form a Government on their own and needed New Zealand First, which had gathered 17 seats and held the balance of power.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chose National. That lasted 20 months and about a year after it formed, the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger was ousted by his deputy Jenny Shipley. After a tumultuous eight month in which Mrs Shipley floated the sale of Wellington Airport, privatizing the energy sector and pushing through reforms that led to significant increases in university fees (and equally significant student revolts in campuses across the country in 1999), the coalition Government collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Contrast that with the coalition Government of today, and contrary to the assertions of National Party Leader Simon Bridges that it is in disarray, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is doing alright. Do they agree on everything? Absolutely not and there are plenty of good opportunities coming up for the two to have major disagreements. Mr Peters, whilst claiming to reject the neoliberal stance of both National and Labour, undermined that when his party chose to support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something myself and others had staunchly hoped he would reject.

They are co-operating on other matters. Mr Peters got a N.Z.$1 billion injection of spending into foreign aid shortly after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs (for a second time). New Zealand First is able to announce significant projects for rural development, something that National lagged behind on during its time in office.

New Zealand First is likely to clash significantly with the Greens. On issues such as defence, justice, criminal law and so forth, New Zealand First will always be more conservative than the Greens. It is not to say that the stance is necessarily correct as there is a great need to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of urgency and review how we treat drug addiction, which is distorting crime statistics significantly with arrests and punishments for relatively minor offences.

Whilst the Greens have made some progressive since Metiria Turei’s departure, it is still struggling with the fallout from Mrs Turei’s admission of having lied to Work and Income New Zealand. This gives New Zealand First a chance to make inroads in pushing the great body of policy that makes up the party manifesto. Whether N.Z.F. realizes this and seizes the opportunity is another story altogether.

The party will also probably clash with Labour at some point. Labour, despite its swing to the left in the last election is still tarred – and might be forever – by its experiment in the 1980’s with market economics. It’s failure to buy back the electricity grid in full has disappointed many. It’s reluctance to announce significant increases in investment in science, diversifying the economy

I am expecting to see significant further announcements across the remainder of this Parliamentary term in a range of areas – from the Defence Force announcing what will replace the C-130 Hercules transports, to the $300 million promised for Christchurch transport to the education review and how the concerns over oil and gas bans will be tackled.

But that does not change the fact that if an election were held in the very new future your guess would be as good as mine about how I would vote. Right now, I honestly don’t know.

Low tide in politics

I feel as if it is low tide. It is not moving in any particular direction – I do not feel an attraction to a particular political party at the moment. So much so that were an election held today, as to who I would vote for, your guess would be as good as mine – I honestly could not tell you.

To have members such as Fletcher Tabuteau consistently attack the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement inside and outside of Parliament and drum up support for ending it, only to then see them vote enthusiastically for it, infuriates many.

New Zealand First made a promise that it would see out the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It has consistently attacked using its Members of Parliament and the Leader Winston Peters. Its Members of Parliament all told me at one point or another that they did not want a bar of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The problem is who do I vote for?

I am too conservative to be a Green – I do not agree with them on most things including foreign policy, defence and justice, but also the feasibility of ending coal and gas in New Zealand. Their opposition to having a dysfunctional defence force, along with a general distrust of the military establishment raises questions about what they would do were a war where the U.N. requests N.Z assistance breaks out.

In some respects I might also be on the conservative wing of Labour were I to vote for them. Labour was my first vote – a misguided one at that – in 1999, when New Zealand voted to be rid of a three term National-led Government that had had nine yeas to change from being the neoliberal party that enabled massive market reforms, but at great cost to New Zealanders.

So, you say I should vote for New Zealand First?

No. New Zealand First and I have had a fractuous relationship. I enjoy getting to know people when I joined and the culture was quite nice. I have always been inspired by the Party’s : 15 Fundamental Principles, which supported pretty much most if not all of the basic themes that the party wants to take home: equality for all; retirement at 65%., a sustainable environment, better protection of our assets and resolving the Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Others might ask whether I would be interested in Social Credit. I honestly have no idea. Social Credit would – I suspect find themselves constantly standing on the toes just to draw level with the eyes of New Zealand First and the Greens would not look that natural and one could ask “how long, really?”. It is not that I am trying to put them down, and some of their policies – I have not read anywhere near all of them, and am not sure when I would get around to it – do look fine on paper.

Those are my feelings about this 1 year after Labour took office. On the whole Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is probably quite happy with how things have gone and will be more than pleased to see that National, like Labour before them, are capable of having bad days.