Can the Maori Party revive?

In 2009, the year after it was ousted from the New Zealand Parliament in the General Election, New Zealand First faithful gathered to do two things:

  1. Assess the damage caused by being ousted from Parliament
  2. Decide how to move forward based on the assessment of the damage

No one said it would be easy, and it was not. But New Zealand First made it happen and in 2011 picked up 8 seats. Winston Peters and Deputy Leader Barbara Stewart led six newcomers into the House of Representatives much to the chagrin of National. Nearly a year after the 2017 General Election, the Maori Party must be wondering the same thing: can it pull itself back together and if so, where to from here?

The Maori Party has many challenges lying before it. They range from the basic ones around how does a party ousted from Parliament rebuild with severely limiting resources, through to how to attract new members and whether or not the Party’s constitution is in need of an overhaul.

But first things first. Who is going to lead the party? Right now both of the co-leadership positions (Maori Party constitution requires a female and male co-leader)are vacant. Will Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox want them back? Good question. If not then who will take over? There are no obvious candidates to do so at the moment as these were in many respects the two most charismatic, capable and certainly the best known of all the Maori Party leaders over the years.

The Maori Party will have significant challenges to address in terms of who does it represent. One might say that the answer is in the name, and whilst there is truth in that, when one looks at the diverse range of settings Maori find themselves in, the answer is certainly not as simple as one might want to think.

  • Will northern Maori, with issues pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi and adherence to it by the Crown, Maori and non-Maori alike put their foot down and demand concessions from the leaders
  • Will Ngapuhi come to the table with realistic expectations about what to get out of a settlement as the last major Iwi to commence negotiations
  • Would it want a reconciliation with former member and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, son of the notorious Titewhai Harawira?

In many respects I was not surprised that the Maori Party collapsed at the last election. Past efforts at having a Maori Party in Parliament have collapsed as well. It also did not help that a resurgent Labour feeling the Jacinda-mania warmth picked out all seven seats, having finally convinced Maori that, yes, it has learnt the lessons of the Helen Clark Government. But the major reason that the Maori Party failed at the 2017 election was that internal warring. a general failure to address issues more pressing than the Treaty of Waitangi, such as crime, joblessness, suicide and addiction rates – all the statistics no one wants to be represented in, in other words – and nine years with National, were just too much for many to stomach.

With 2011 still two year away there is still time to rebuild. But it would be wise to start the planning now.


Has business confidence really slumped?

With her return from maternity Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been getting back down to business at a brisk rate. And with concerns about both the New Zealand economy and the global economy growing, Ms Ardern is out to tackle what media commentators are describing as the elephant in the room: the allegedly slumping business confidence.

I am not altogether sure that business confidence really has slumped as a direct result of the Labour-led policies being announced, or whether it is a result of an overall poor international economy. Yes it would seem that Labour likes to announce working groups and other panels to give the appearance of being busy, but realitistically in under a year with most of those panels still not due to report back, I find it difficult to believe Labour alone can be to blame for the slump in confidence.

On the other hand we have a bunch of slowly worsening crises around the world that are making investors jittery. They range from the increasingly irrational behaviour of United States President Donald Trump to ongoing concerns that another major fiscal crisis is in the offing; from Brexit deadlines looming with neither British Labour or British Conservatives seemingly having a clue what they are supposed to be doing to ever climbing petroleum prices. All of this also says nothing about reviving concerns over Euro-bound economies and concerns about the geopolitics of Russia and China.

That is certainly not to say I think that the New Zealand economy is doing okay. The New Zealand Dollar has dropped substantially. In late 2015 it was arounnd U.S.$0.88c and there were people guessing that it might crack U.S.$0.90c, which is territory that just a decade ago was unthinkable. The announcement about oil and gas being phased out was appallingly handled by Ms Ardern, without even her Minister of Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Woods knowing.

But there are major things happening:

  1. $28 billion was set aside for Auckland transport issues
  2. A major review of education is underway – submission opportunities close on Friday
  3. Substantial announcements made around single use plastics – with promises of stewardship programmes to follow
  4. Tackling major pay issues that the previous Government neglected with teachers and nurses is now happening
  5. A forestry service to manage our forests is being established

I admit that opportunities where the Government could be making substantial announcements exist:

  1. People want action against the epidemic of armed hold ups going on up and down the country – I do too, and not just because the service station that is entrusted with the servicing of my parents vehicles was attacked on Friday
  2. Alternative energy sources, such as biofuel, tidal power and solar panels need
  3. I am not advocating for R.M.A. reform on a large scale, but the enforcement provisions need to be revisited in the wake of the difficulty Environment Canterbury is having with the wayward Chinese bottling company

Let us also remember that Labour have not even been in office one year yet. National had 9 years in office and failed to do a huge number of things I thought that a conservative Government might have done. Whilst there is plenty of time for Labour to fall short of what socialists believe should be the agenda for New Zealand, I believe the party and its coalition partners would have to be performing substantially worse than they are in the polls to be a one term wonder.

Is Claire Curran the Weakest Link?

“You are ‘The Weakest Link – Goodbye!”

Minister for Communications, Claire Curran was stripped by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of her Communications portfolio after successive instances of not keeping an accurate diary of scheduled Ministerial meetings. Mrs Curran was found to have made multiple breaches, which also included failing to inform the Prime Minister, failing to inform her staff and failing to log them in her official diary.

The predicament brought onto Mrs Curran by her actions reminded me of a game show that used to screen some years ago on New Zealand television. It was called “The Weakest Link”, and was a game show version of survival of the fittest – or to be the last person standing. Many people in New Zealand will remember this British game show several years ago run by a stern game master. The aim was to be the last person standing, the one person not to bow to the master and be dismissed with a bark and a glare.

All Governments have a weak link. Some would say in the previous National led Government that the A.C.T. Party might have been the Weakest Link based on list M.P. David Garrett being made to resign from Parliament in disgrace. Mr Garrett was followed out by fellow M.P. Rodney Hide at the 2011 election after he was found to be indulging the same Parliamentary perks he and his predecessor Richard Prebble had spent so much time crusading against.

National are not the only ones though. The Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark saw several ministers leave in disgrace, and at times giving the appearance of being “The Weakest Link”. Lianne Dalziel, former Member of Parliament for Christchurch East, Minister of Immigration, lost her portfolio’s after lying to Ms Clark about a Sri Lankan refugee whose case she was asked to intervene in. Early in the first term Minister for Maori Affairs Dover Samuels left with a cloud hanging over his head after sexual abuse allegations were made against him.

But back to Mrs Curran, who seems to be a rather slow learner, it would seem that her boss Ms Ardern decided to exercise restraint in punishing her wayward Minister. Perhaps this is because, not even a year into the first term of what I hope will be a multi-term Labour led Government, there is time for Mrs Curran to redeem herself – and for others in such high offices to learn of the absolute importance of keeping an official record of their Parliamentary and Ministerial activities.

M.P.’s pay frozen for 12 months

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a 12 month freeze in the pay of Members of Parliament. The announcement of the freeze comes as the Government carries out negotiations with teachers and the police force. It also comes as the Prime Minister announces a review of the process by which the Independent Remuneration Authority goes about its business.

This is a clever move, as it is one that will draw support from both sides of the House of Representatives. It is not often an M.P. wants to be seen out of line with public opinion on the subject of Members of Parliament’s pay. And over the last several years M.P.’s would have become aware of a growing level of public frustration with them getting pay rises whilst the median wage remained stagnant.

Members of Parliament will be well aware of the potential salaries that they could be earning in the private sector. The fact that they are not in the private sector suggests that high incomes are not necessarily the major priority – or if they are a priority, one that M.P.’s are prepared to sacrifice to ensure a job with a degree of power attached. Whilst many might have come from being directors on company boards, legal backgrounds or were in professions such as teaching, medicine, law enforcement or social work, most likely it is their experiences in these places that made them decide to become a Member of Parliament.

The fact that they are in the public sector and understand that every 3 years their job is up for grabs, will fill them with a desire to – if nothing else – at least seen to be listening to the public and getting out among voters. The many kilometres covered doing the business of the party or the Government, depending on whose benches one sits, are matched by nights working late in the office. Then there is the time away from family and dependents, the missing out on things like the children’s birthday or weddings or other family oriented events. They tend to add up.

I do note though that Stacey Kirk has compared the pay of the New Zealand Prime Minister with that of the American President. There is a bit of playing the facts a bit fast and loose here. Ms Kirk ignores in her comparison the fact that NZ$1 will only currently buy about US$0.66 at the time of publishing this article. The U.S. President is paid U.S.$400,000 per annum, which right now comes out at about N.Z.$604,000.

I hope the public enjoy the 12 months that M.P.’s wages are frozen because the cynic in me thinks that somehow – accidentally or otherwise – the first rise afterwards will come with a hiss and a roar. I hope therefore that it is appended to something like the rate of inflation or the Consumer Price Index or other appropriate measure.

The Green Party recovery

This weekend the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is holding its Annual Conference in Palmerston North. It is their first since Metiria Turei’s resignation in the wake of her admitting she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her time as a solo mother. It is also their first as a governing party in the Labour-led coalition. One year on, how are they getting on?

Perhaps it is best summed up by co-leader James Shaw, who in his opening address to the party faithful, reminded them that it was not just he who made the decision to enter the coalition. It was made by the party membership. Mr Shaw also reminded them that in coalition, compromises are necessary and that sometimes this involves swallowing a proverbial dead rat or two. In the case of the Green Party this includes the Waka Bill, that will make Members of Parliament expelled from their caucus quit Parliament as well.

This bill could be quite contentious. As a strong believer of democratic process myself, I am not that enthusiastic about it, and can see why the caucus was originally dead set against it. The key problem is that the Waka Bill denies the Member the right to go back to the electorate and find out whether they still want a particular party representing them.

But there have been wins and these have to be acknowledged. When one is in Government it is a case of making the most of the opportunities to effect credible change because one never knows how the next election will turn out, who will be in Government and whether key policies will have to be sacrificed or not. In the case of this Government, whilst the Greens have been made to sacrifice a couple of policies, they have also had some big policy wins – a phasing out of oil and gas; a nation wide phasing out of single use plastic bags.

It is also a rebuilding time. The Greens came dangerously close to electoral oblivion with Mrs Turei’s resignation in disgrace from Parliament last year. Her popularity in the Green Party until that fatal admission was considerable and had she not made it, I do not think anyone would have been any the wiser. It would have probably given them all back all of their 14 list seats, and ensured more portfolios around the Cabinet table are held by Green Party M.P.’s. But she did, and whilst her admission of guilt was commendable, she should have immediately followed it up with a statement saying that the monies owed had already been paid back. The public probably would have left it at that.

Thus far her successor Marama Davidson has not enjoyed the same high profile as Mrs Turei. Nor has she enjoyed the same popularity. As a supporter of the more social wing of the party, Mrs Davidson has not had the opportunities that Minister of Transport and fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter has had. Ms Genter was lucky enough to be able to make a substantial transport policy announcement a few months after becoming Minister. And having a capable rival Ms Genter in the race for the Green Party leadership meant Mrs Davidson had to work for her right to be co-leader.

Ms Genter, who is just about to go on maternity leave for her first child has been a consistently heavy hitter when it comes to policy. Her ability to outflank National Ministers of Transport without them really realizing – much less admitting – that there is a Green Minister who can hold their ground, constantly led to testy exchanges in Parliament.

Mrs Davidson, whilst appealing to the social minded supporters of the Green Party, I have yet to see have such exchanges. It is not to say that such events should be a measure of how one performs, but it is in Parliament as well as in terms of policy and being active in public, that she will be judged. So far Mrs Davidson has been relatively invisible.

It will be interesting to see how the Green Conference goes, and how the rest of this term turns out for them. Can they overcome the hurdles inadvertently laid down by Mrs Turei’s departure and will the membership realize that coalitions are about compromise, however much it might stink some days? That remains to be seen.