Sustainable New Zealand in crisis

Sustainable New Zealand, a political party established last year to challenge the blue-green vote, is in crisis. The green alternative to the Green Party was announced by former National candidate Vernon Tava in 2019. Mr Tava intended to establish the party as a sort of blue green alternative to the Green Party, whilst having an emphasis on economic development.

After much initial fan fare including a public launch with all of the major media outlets invited, the Sustainable New Zealand party appears to be in crisis. Officers of the party have left, citing problems with internal processes, fiscal transparency of the party’s finances among other issues. A quick review of the party’s policy platform shows nothing drastically distinct.

It is not the first party outside of Parliament to have run into newsworthy strife in recent years. Colin Craig established the Conservative Party of New Zealand and then went on to allegedly harass the Party Secretary, Rachel McGregor who took him to court, and who has been on the receiving end of sustained litigation by Mr Craig. The Conservative Party wound up expelling Mr Craig, whose political hopes must be all but dead by now.

Out of this has arisen the New Conservative Party, a socially conservative, Christian oriented party of small government, that is anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage.

But if we go back to Sustainable New Zealand, the idea of a political party campaigning on sustainability is not at all a bad idea. Which is why I am slightly disappointed to hear that it has struck trouble. Whilst not being a member of the party, or even likely to vote for it, I have long believed that there needs to be a party that keeps the Greens honest about the need to balance environmental protection with making sure that there is a functional economy.

So what are the problems?

Any newly formed political party in New Zealand has some massive obstacles to mount, in order to get into Parliament and I think that most of the problems are basic ones that all new political parties have to tackle. But having a leader with a public profile that can be seen by everyone is perhaps the most important. With no profile, raising public awareness of ones existence is the biggest challenge by far.

Beyond that there are the issues of reaching the 500 member threshhold needed to call a party a party by Electoral Commission rules. Other parties have struggled with this as well in recent years, with United Future having the embarrassment of having not enough members to be a recognized party despite it being a supporting member of the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key. That deprived it of critical Parliamentary Services support available to every party in Parliament until this could be rectified.

And what of a legitimate functional Board that governs the party internally? If you read the article it is said that Sustainable New Zealand’s board was not legitimate.

Then there is the 1-seat/5% party vote threshhold that any party must overcome to get into Parliament. The only time a party has been under 5% and made it into Parliament was New Zealand First in 2011, after being ejected from Parliament in 2008. For a new party this is an almost insurmountable barrier. One that I believe is too high, and should be lowered to 4%.

Finally there is policy. I noted during my quick examination of their policies, nothing about social welfare, health, education, justice, foreign policy and a slew of others. Most notably there was also nothing about Maori or Te Tiriti O Waitangi. For any party to be in Parliament, some idea of where it stands on all of these and other policy areas is essential.

Sustainable New Zealand might be a fledgling party struggling to get momentum, and the challenges facing it are definitely daunting. However two other political parties have started up in the last year or so – Prosperity, and Social Credit. They too have these challenges, but the last thing I heard from Prosperity was that they were having a steady influx of members.


Political donations issues highlight need to change the law

Over the last few months, questions have been raised about how New Zealand First has handled political donations with regards to the Electoral Finance Act. That has been referred to the Police, who promptly sent it to the Serious Fraud Office. It has led to the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges and his Deputy Paula Bennett both saying that the Government needs to stand down New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as happened in 2008.

A couple of days ago it emerged National had received two significant donations of $100,000 which had to be declared but are alleged to have been broken into substantially smaller chunks to avoid disclosure laws. Now former Member of Parliament, Member for Howick Jami-Lee Ross has been charged along with three Chinese nationals by the Serious Fraud Office over them.

Mr Ross was hospitalized in 2018 following a mental break down during which time he levelled damaging allegations against the National Party. They after it was revealed that National might not have declared a significant donation from one of the three Chinese nationals, Zhang Yikun. Mr Ross was expelled from the National Party and became an independent whilst continuing to hold the seat of Howick, but as an independent M.P.

These two cases, separate as they are, highlight clearly the need for decisive action on the subject of electoral finance law. Is the Act, which was passed in 2006 following revelations nearly every party in Parliament misused money in the 2005 and had to pay it back, no longer working? If so, what needs to be changed?

These questions and others about our E.F.A. will be asked by more people as we approach the 2020 General Election. With confidence in politicians and the system that elects them to office falling, being seen to want positive changes that make the Act fairer and more accountable to the New Zealand public, is not so much a “good idea” any more as it is essential. Minister of Justice Andrew Little appeared to realize when he told New Zealand that he might bypass the Justice Committee in order to get changes through the House before the 2020 General Election.

The Electoral Commission says that parties must report immediate donations and/or loans in excess of $30,000.

Parties may keep up to $1,500 of any anonymous donation, and up to $1,500 of any donation from an overseas person.

If an anonymous donor gives more than that, the party must pass the extra amount to us within 20 working days. If an overseas person gives more than that, the party must return the extra amount to them or, if that isn’t possible, to us within 20 working days.

However, a party can keep more of an anonymous donation if it is a ‘donation protected from disclosure’. These are payments that we make to the party on behalf of donors that want to remain anonymous. Between two successive elections, parties can receive up to $307,610 in donations protected from disclosure. If a donation will take a party over their limit, we will return the excess to the donor.

Along with the two donation issues mentioned above, there is also concern that China is trying to buy influence in New Zealand politics by getting Members of Parliament involved with Chinese Communist Party activities. At some of these events, I have little doubt that donations are being talked about in a broad sense.

National’s economic policy lacking originality

Yesterday National Party leader Simon Bridges released his party’s policy for economic growth should National form a government after the 19 September 2020 General Election.

It is almost as if Mr Bridges is determined not to acknowledge that the out worn out National Party formula of tax cuts for what it sees as middle class New Zealanders simply does not work any more. When economists who generally support more liberalised economics start suggesting that social welfare benefits need to be increased and recognize that the market will suffer from a growing portion of New Zealanders simply not being able to participate in it, that is a warning written in red ink.

National claim to be working for ordinary New Zealanders. They claim that their policies are better than those of a government that is “not delivering”, not keeping promises and whose Ministers of the Crown do no know what they are doing. Whilst no one should be surprised – and indeed this is what an Opposition is meant to do – given the lack of progress National made on socio-economic indicators during its nine years in office, the allegations that a not-quite one term Government is failing to deliver ignores a detailed list of smaller announcements.

But even without cutting taxes, Mr Bridges could free up substantial money without too much effort. I and others have long had questions about the fiscal accountability of the District Health Boards, especially after the Minister of Health David Clark found that an audit of the D.H.B.’s had $1.25 billion of red ink. Mr Clark blamed the previous Government for it, but this incident reminded me of an estimate that D.H.B.’s might cost $750 million per annum to run.

Another thing Mr Bridges could have his Government do is make good on the recommendations of any large scale reviews into the Ministry of Social Development, its form and function. It is well known that the unwieldy ways of the Social Welfare Act and associated pieces of legislation go some way towards creating the toxic relationship that sometimes arises between social welfare providers and the recipients.

There are infrastructure projects which could boost some of New Zealand’s not so wealthy provinces, which Mr Bridges could be looking at. They include a Waste-to-Energy plant that could burn waste, and generate electricity in doing so on the West Coast, an idea that has already been mooted by West Coast business leaders, but shot down by Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage. Another one, which might be of use in Southland would be a hydrogen plant to support New Zealand’s transition to clean energy, and would create hundreds of jobs designing and building the plant, as well as many more operating it.

And then there is tax legislation itself. The tax code is like a leaky hydroelectric dam, constantly leaking and unable to reach full capacity because of said leaks. Closing the loopholes that makes New Zealand get viewed unfavourably when it comes to money laundering and other organized crimes. As well as tax evasion it would not only improve how the rest of the O.E.C.D. view us, but also bring in extra revenue that we were meant to have had all along, but which leaked through the dam.

So, if we look at what I have suggested and what Mr Bridges suggested in his speech, who has the more original approach to economic growth? And why?

Dear Labour Party: 2020 Election

I understand you are coming to the end of three fairly turbulent years in office. A lot of things have happened in New Zealand and abroad, that have kept you and the other coalition parties on their toes. I see that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to enjoy high popularity in the preferred Prime Minister polls and is well ahead of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges.

A brief review of October 2017 to the present day shows that you have had to:

  • Lead the country in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, setting an example for how to show leadership and compassion, whilst at the same time making sure people are going to be okay
  • Deal with the Whakaari eruption – one of those rare, but ultimately inevitable moments when a New Zealand volcano puts on a lethal eruption
  • Do damage control as Phil Twyford stumbles from one botch up to the next; Stuart Nash struggles with the fact that many New Zealanders are more conservative on crime than we want to admit; acknowledge that there will be push back on the decision to phase out oil and gas
  • Balance the Green fringe and the conservative parts of New Zealand First without causing the Government to collapse

Across the chamber you have an angry National Party, still smarting over the fact that Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party went with Labour instead of choosing the largest party in Parliament. National are ready to fight. They are absolutely certain, despite Mr Bridges misreading of the voting public on housing, crime and a host of other issues, that this Sixth Labour Government is going to be a one term wonder ending on 19 September 2020. With 56 Members of Parliament and a formidable campaign machine that even its most ardent critics have to admire – however grudgingly – you have an opponent that will make you work for your portion of the House of Representatives.

For you to win the 2020 election campaign – which you can, and possibly quite convincingly – Phil Twyford needs to go. I am sure he is a nice guy and a good local Member of Parliament, but as a Minister of the Crown, he simply is not up to the job. I have also lost confidence in Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage, who seems determined to end any prospect of a Waste to Energy plant on the West Coast. Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni needs to either get on with reforming the M.S.D. or resign. Your Ministers of Corrections, Health, Economic Development also need a rev up. None of them have been very visible in the last 2 1/3 years and the public would be right to wonder where they are, and what they are doing.

But it is not all bad Labour. You have a bunch of competent Ministers, who include Kris Faafoi, Megan Woods, Ron Mark, Winston Peters, Chris Hipkins and Tracey Martin who I believe are making an honest go of their portfolio’s and have delivered some solid outcomes. All are still works in progress in terms of getting their agenda’s delivered, but they are there and they are trying.

Mr Hipkins has bitten off a huge chunk of work, which might go into a third term, and therefore he needs to be realistic about what he can deliver. Ms Martin is trying to make the best of Oranga Tamariki, and is doing work with children that has cross party potential. I hope to see Dr Woods announce some sort of investment in hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source, which would help secure the economic future of Southland. Mr Faafoi’s stumble might be overshadowed by the fight over Concert F.M., whose well being is essential to how Radio New Zealand deliver concert material as many of the sound engineers are involved with the recording and delivery of concerts. But if he and his colleagues are careful, they can deliver the goods Ms Ardern will need to deliver to the electorate before the 52nd Parliament of New Zealand is dissolved.

Because once it is dissolved, the scrap that by then would have been rumbling for weeks will be all on.

Dear National Party

I understand that you are coming to the end of your first term on the Opposition benches. And that as the largest party in the House you have 56 Members, of which three have just announced their intentions to retire at the end of the 52nd New Zealand Parliament. I understand that your campaign machine is itching to get going and make this Government a one term wonder. I understand it has been a long term on the opposition benches, ruing the way M.M.P. works.

But I have honest doubts about how ready you are to win the election. Winning the election means that in three years you have somehow managed to:

  1. See that neoliberalism is a failure and the neoliberal model either needs a fundamental overhaul or to be rejected entirely
  2. Accept that compassion is a good human quality to have and that not everyone is lucky to have the necessities of life
  3. Understand that climate change or not, the rate of resource consumption around the world is destroying tracts of ecosystem at a rate that will crash humanity in the next 100 years if left unchecked
  4. Accept that certain conservative sacred cows such as harsher penalties and an unfair tax system do not work for many people any more

Except that you have not. At least not honestly. A sea change in politics, especially New Zealand politics, where some commentators think we are 15-20 years behind Europe in our thinking about society, the environment, economy and how they interact, cannot happen in three years.

Seeing you as a father, a Leader of the Opposition, on Facebook and being sure that like the very vast majority of Parliamentarians you genuinely want the best for New Zealand – albeit in a blue tinted way – you will achieve my second point. But for you and National to achieve the other three, your whole outlook is going to need to change. And after two years watching you on the Opposition benches I do not see that change, or any credible evidence it is going to happen.

It is true that Labour are fluffing around on several things, such as housing, justice and economic growth, but that is where it ends. In their time in office, they have made initial moves to address issues that I thought might have waited until the second term. Minister of Defence Ron Mark had big expenditure decisions to make for the Defence Force, and with the exception of the replacement transport aircraft for our old C-130H Hercules, he has pulled them off superbly. The move on oil and gas was always going to come, but I thought it might have waited until their second term, and it is clear that the younger generation of New Zealanders some of whom will vote for the first time this year, want action now.

I can understand that Simon will be disappointed that he is probably not going to get to be Prime Minister. It is the highest honour in New Zealand politics, and an office respected by friends, allies and nations we normally do not have much to do with, alike. But it is true that there is nothing worse than being a first term Leader of the Opposition, because, with two exceptions – ironically both involving Labour Governments – New Zealanders tend to give a first term Government the benefit of the doubt.

So, I am sorry Simon. The coveted office of Prime Minister is most likely not going to be yours when the sun rises on 20 September 2020. Labour will have done enough by the end of this term to justify a second one in office, because after all, the old saying goes

“Opposition’s do not win elections; Government’s lose them”.