Have the Greens peaked?


It is sad to say so, as getting a few more seats would certainly be advantageous for the left-wing of New Zealand politics, but the Greens seem unable to advance beyond their current 14 seats.

There is no doubt that the Greens much coveted position is to be a respected coalition partner for Labour. With no other credible party on the left to assist Labour, it is imperative that the Greens establish themselves as *that* partner. The far left wing of their party might feel alienated and concerned about dealing with a party that is pro-trade and seems happy to occasionally deploy the New Zealand military overseas. However politics is about the art of the deal and compromise is an essential skill, which is something the Green Party should know by now.

Whereas Labour back benchers apparently have good relations with the New Zealand First caucus,.how much has been done to reach some sort of working arrangement with the Greens?

Could the Greens also make some sort of peace with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters? In fairness to them, Mr Peters is a social conservative and has never quite shown the respect that has been due the third largest party in New Zealand. The idea of “Black Green 2014” being a motivating catch cry unfortunately came unstuck for a lack of willingness despite similarities in several policies between the two parties to work together.

It is not like their party is lacking talent. It has Gareth Hughes as its energy spokesperson and Julie Anne Genter as its transport spokeswoman. Both are young, well liked and well educated and know their portfolio’s inside out. Their candidates standing at this election are also among the most diverse ever fielded and include Golriz Ghahraman, a human rights lawyer from Iran. None of this guarantees seats around the Cabinet table

For all their strengths, it is unfortunate to note that the Greens have an annoying habit of occasionally shooting their mouths off. Random comments about one issue or another on a particular day have misjudged the public sentiments or come across as kowtowing to one party or another, and in doing so have lodged in their memories, to have consequences for the Greens on polling day.

The Greens are an essential part of the New Zealand political landscape. Although I am too conservative for them when it comes to foreign policy, defence, justice and the economy, I can see several other policy areas of the Greens working out very well for New Zealand. To lose the Greens or see them unable to grow any further puts a lot of pressure on the left-wing of New Zealand politics that is simply not needed.

Labour is going to have to hope that it can resolve its own problems and make inroads into National in the next four months. If it can half of the challenge of forming a Government has been achieved. The other half one of the other parties will be there to make up the numbers when New Zealand First decides what form the next Government will take. And that might well mean the Greens needing more seats.

 

Labour has four months


127 days. In just 127 days New Zealand will head for the polls. At the end of Election Day, Labour will find out whether or not it is doomed to spend a fourth, possibly permanently crippling, term on the Opposition benches.

That night New Zealand will make a historic choice:

Does it want a Labour Party still stuck in first gear nearly full terms after it was defeated in the 2008 election, leaving it with no clear successor to former Prime Minister Helen Clark? This is a party that has been led by Phil Goff, now mayor of Auckland; David Shearer who gave up his United Nations job in Africa to come back to New Zealand, and has since decided to return to Africa; David Cunliffe, who after succeeding Mr Shearer, and leading Labour to a catastrophic defeat has retired from politics.

Or does it want a National Party that somehow seems to still have the teflon touch of former leader and Prime Minister John Key, where no matter what got flung at it, nothing stuck? This is a party that has navigated through three terms with no clear vision other than economic growth, keeping its backers happy all the while letting housing, violent crime, mental health, environmental issues and dodgy military forays at the request of the United States.

I predict that if Labour gets rolled in the election there will be a general purge. Few will be spared. Mr Little will be just one of a wave of M.P.’s heading for the door. The knives are still sharp from the 2014 election and there will be a fair few in the party braying for blood. The need for fresh ideas, faces, and a change in direction plus a willingness to be brave and stand up for Labour principles is loud and clear enough now, but few seem to be paying attention.

But let us suppose the miracle that Labour needs, actually happens. Let us suppose that just for whatever reason, Labour lead the centre-left to victory and are in a position where they plus the Greens are able to comfortably form a coalition with New Zealand First help. Winston Peters might despise the Greens, but the party has good relations with Labour, and there are many many people in the New Zealand First party who have no desire to see a fourth term National-led Government. Some will be wanting to see Mr Peters get revenge for being outed in 2008 by denying National a fourth term Government.

But let us be honest.

On current performance, the only way Labour will see the ninth floor of the Beehive is either with significant New Zealand First and Green Party help, or a miracle of major portions.

127 days Labour.

That’s all you have.

The case for whistle blower protection legislation


The recent case of Joanne Harrison, a lady who has been convicted of taking $725,000 from the Ministry of Transport and has gone to jail for significant fraudulent activity, had another revelation the other day. It was revealed that a few days after she was told she was under investigation and her access to the building where she worked would be revoked, Ms Harrison tried to enter the building to interfere with documents. Upon failing to get in she asked a contractor to access the building for her.

The employees who blew the whistle on Ms Harrison and her deceit were allegedly not treated well by their employers according to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Mr Peters. Labour M.P. Sue Moroney also questioned the treatment of two people who were thought to have raised red flags, and then found themselves jobless just a couple of months later in a review Ms Harrison had a hand in.

It is true that whistle blower protection legislation already exists in New Zealand. However it is undermined by a grossly inadequate set of protections for anyone who feels the need to report serious wrong doing. It is totally unenforced to the point that very few people – if anyone at all – have actually felt safe enough to come forward under the legislation and report serious wrong doing in their place of employment. And it is also under resourced in terms of help that can be offered those considering reporting serious wrong doing.

Insider activity can devastate companies. Of that there should be no doubt. But what happens when the people who see the most damaging activity are too intimidated to report it? What happens when a culture of fear and/or corruption that makes it too dangerous to report such activity, or the activity is reported by people to their superiors, who then sweep it under the rug?

Despite corporates having practices in place with the intention of making the process safe and easy for such complaints to be reported, there is still the risk that someone in a position of authority, perhaps with undeclared interests to hide, will clamp down on a whistle blower. They will attempt to shut them down through bribes, intimidation and harassment – it can be called bullying, but if the attempts at shutting a complainant succeed it is also an attempt to pervert the natural course of justice.

A whistle blower might continue working at the place where the activity is happening. Why should they leave or be made to fear coming to work each day, fear doing their job, because someone in a position of authority is corrupted?

New Zealand does not necessarily need a General Auditing Office like the United States, but it does need an agency where qualified people with impeccable ethics, acting in a neutral manner are able to receive a complaint, disseminate it and determine whether the company, person or people in question have a case to answer. It needs to be networked with other agencies, such as the Serious Fraud Office, the Police, and others who can investigate and if necessary, bring about a criminal prosecution.

Because whistle blowers are not going to be potentially at risk when they blow the whistle, there needs to be protections in place. In the same way the police protect witnesses to violent crimes or gang violence from intimidation and harassment, there needs to be appropriate protection for whistle blowers from the moment they report the offences through to them either being dismissed or the perpetrators found guilty and sentenced. Even then they might not be safe if in the course of prosecuting, associates of the accused or others scared that their own misconduct might be exposed, decide to track down the whistle blower.

New Zealand needs a revolution in land use planning


With all of the talk about housing going on, I find it somewhat surprising that no one has attempted to look at the idea of apartment living more closely. Given the lack of flat land in some urban areas and issues that go with reclaimed land, the current trend towards big single story houses and needless landscaping, and the development of infrastructure with more of this wastage in mind, strikes me as absurd.

I personally find the word revolution too emotionally and politically charged to use as a general rule. However there is coming a time in land use planning where it might be the most suitable way of describing the growing need to change how we approach land use planning.

The quarter acre dream is dead. If not it should be. The expansive suburbia ideals of the 1950’s and 1960’s need to be exited from planning. With our limited space, and geographical challenges such as the narrow isthmus in Auckland or the long corridor zones of Wellington, it is simply not realistic to continue to pursue. In its place we need to be prepared to go vertical with residential complexes, have communal vegetable patches in order to teach future generations about self sufficiency.

Planning law needs to become substantially more accommodating to apartment complexes. Too often politicians favour loosening up land zoning changes, such as changing industrial zoning to residential when it needs a substantial clean up first or zoning an area at high risk from flooding to something that permits intensive development. The current thinking ┬áIn doing so, the theorem around public transport will hopefully change so that cars have a less of a role in private transport. The idea that if you build where ever the roading network will simply follow suit and everyone can drive themselves, needs to go. Smart cities integrate with bus networks, and – where possible – railway networks.

Is the urban area a rough blob shape with a clearly defined centre? If so, a ring and radial network of roads and railways may work best. It looks like a bike wheel with the radial routes being the spokes, and the ring routes being the rim and so forth. In New Zealand the best example would have been pre-earthquake Christchurch. Globally Tokyo and Moscow provide good examples of such planning theory. This theory worked well prior to the earthquakes of 2010-11, where Christchurch’s bus network looked much like the model described. It might still work in the future if certainty about the reconstruction of the city centre can be obtained.

In the case of Auckland, urban sprawl and a growing motorway network with no real vision other than build more motorways is becoming an increasing problem. I was quite shocked in 1998 to see hectares of land disappearing under new commercial development displacing farms or fruit or vegetable growing businesses. The scale of the development, and the lack of regard that seemed to be given towards issues such as storm water run off, infrastructure and so forth.

I do not know how or when this revolution will start or what form it should take, but it plain to me that the status quo is not working.

Alfred Ngaro does a favour highlighting National’s arrogance


Every so often, one will witness a Member of Parliament accidentally shooting the mouth off in a burst of complete nonsense. It might come out of frustration with how their day is coming or be intended as a cheap political points scoring exercise. Whatever the motivation, every time an M.P. is interviewed, s/he is on show, making their best pitch to New Zealand – everything they say is subject to being broken down and analyzed; every action feted or rued.

It is like a tight rope over a pool and the M.P. has no idea what lies in the waters, but a sneakily placed microphone or other recording device – as the infamous cup of tea at a cafe in Auckland showed – can cause a packet of grief.

Over that time, emboldened by a weak Opposition where sometimes the most effective opponent has been the leader of the fourth largest party in Parliament, the perceived arrogance began to grow. It was not helped by a media establishment that went ga-ga over the Prime Minister. With a Speaker of the House only too happy to do some dirty work for National, when he should have acted like the neutral House official he was supposed to be, it is possible that Mr Ngaro became detached from reality.

Unfortunately Alfred Ngaro’s comments were not the first outburst from a National Party Member of Parliament. Many will remember the commentary that erupted from the mouth of the National Party-list Member of Parliament Aaron Gilmore during dinner at a hotel in Hanmer Springs where Mr Gilmore got angry and insulted staff who refused to serve his group. It caused national outrage and led to Mr Gilmore resigning from Parliament after a second, pre-Parliament incident came to light regarding inappropriate e-mails being sent by Mr Gilmore.

Other comments come from Prime Minister John Key. Mr Key, in a fit of irritation with the Human Rights Commission hinted that if the Commission did not pull itself into line, he might see fit to ensure that the funding it had at the time from the Government would be its last. The comments came after the Human Rights Commission criticized a Bill of Parliament going through the House regarding the conduct of the spy agencies and the scope of proposed changes.

So, thank you very much Mr Ngaro. You have epitomized, however unintentionally, what so many people find off putting about National as a party. Whether we as a nation remember this unfortunate incident in September is another question altogether.