Major local government reforms being undermined by timing and volume


It has emerged that a large number of local government proposals have been released by the Government just prior to the Christmas holiday period. The proposals which include nine different bills, reviews or consultation documents whose public input periods are expect to start expiring as early as 27 January.

If these concerns are credible, then the timing and volume of them is very short sighted by the Government. They knew that like everyone else all but essential council staff go on holiday at Christmas/New Year just like the ratepayers they are meant to be working for.  As a result they must have also known that there would be minimal likelihood of council work getting down, in terms of staff and elected representatives being able to talk. Late December is never a good time for massive document releases like this because from about 15 December to when individual councils break for Christmas, meeting agendas are being progressively wound down. Only items that can wait or were going to wait until the new year are still on the agenda.

The Government also knew that most of New Zealand would be paying minimal attention to politics over Christmas time, never mind actively trying to participate in it as one is doing when making a submission. Non-governmental organizations might have been more interested, but that is because by their very nature, many of them focus on issues that persist year round and may have clients or interests that simply cannot wait for the new  political year to start.

A quick examination of some of the nine known bills, reviews and consultation documents can be seen below. For further information, click on the links.

  1. Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill
  2. Resource Management Amendment Bill
  3. Urban Development Bill

Other notable items include the Fire and Emergency New Zealand funding review, the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity and the Waste Management Levy review. The Crown Minerals Bill mentioned in the article passed its Third Reading just before Christmas and is awaiting Royal Assent.

 

 

 

A.P.E.C. Security Bill of Parliament largely unnecessary


One of the Bills of Parliament currently sitting before the Select Committee is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (A.P.E.C. 2021) Bill. The purpose of this Bill of Parliament as shown in the Explanatory Note in the legislation is to:

The policy objectives of this Bill are to—

  • support safe and secure APEC 2021 events for all world leaders, attendees, and the general public; and

  • assist in mitigating security risks that could result in harm to individuals or property or the disruption or cancellation of APEC 2021 events; and

  • assist in facilitating the timely and efficient operation of APEC 2021.

To be absolutely clear, it is not that I oppose the need to have security at these events. We will be hosting the Presidents of China, America, possibly Russia, the Philippines and a host of other nations with whom our relations are in varying states. They as visitors will want to be absolutely sure that their delegations are going to be safe and not disrupted. We as a nation want to be equally sure that we are not going to have a national embarrassment, or international incident occur because we were too slack on security.

However given that they will have their own perceptions on what constitutes a security risk, I believe that the New Zealand Police should brief them on what they can and cannot do, and turn away anyone who refuses to comply. If the foreign powers want to bring in equipment that breaks the firearms legislation currently before the House of Representatives, I believe this would create unnecessary tensions . Instead, if we have such stock available, they should be

Further more I expect that the personnel accountable to the likes of the Filipino, Russian and Chinese delegations – among others – will likely have less tolerance for protestors, given their poor regard for human rights.

Because of that I find myself in the relatively rare position of supporting Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman’s comments that New Zealand’s existing laws should be sufficient for the task at hand.

I propose the following amendments:

  1. A clause that requires all actions regarding detention, confiscation, search and other such overt actions that under other circumstances could be considered intrusive, to be in compliance with – as appropriate – the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the New Zealand Human Rights Act, 1986
  2. New Zealand Police shall act as a go between between any protestors or other persons making a statement and any foreign protection forces; New Zealand Police shall have the final say on what happens

During the 1999 A.P.E.C. Conference there was a State Banquet in Christchurch involving United States President Bill Clinton, the then President of China Jiang Zemin and former New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. Prior to the State Banquet a couple of Christchurch Boys High School students protested against Chinese repression of Tibet. Because of the proximity to the Banquet, and the extreme adversity of Chinese officials to public protests, the Chinese President refused to attend until the protestors were dispersed. Eventually New Zealand Police were requested to move the protestors along, which sparked controversy, but which I think in hindsight was probably the right thing to do, as Chinese security officials would not have taken so kindly.

The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020


2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

Challenges facing New Zealand in the 2020’s


As we enter the 2020’s with bush fire smoke descending on New Zealand from our Australian neighbours and the world watches U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate further (more on that tomorrow), it is important to note our own considerable challenges. They cover a broad smorgasbord of issues that without significant action in the near future, have the potential to cause significant grief in years and decades to come. I briefly look at what I consider to be the major challenges here:

CONSTITUTION: Whilst our current framework gives New Zealand flexibility that an entrenched constitution such as that of the United States does not, the latter has some features that we should consider adding. The framework which consists of seven significant Acts of Parliament includes the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1986 and the Constitution Act

There have been challenges in Parliament in recent years to the framework that need to be addressed before one renders it useless. They include incidents where Parliament has voted to remove a Commissioner without doing due diligence; legislation passed that directly undermines the legal right in the Human Rights Act 1986 to peaceful assembly . Such steps are not only highly improper, they pass into grey areas of New Zealand law and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

ECONOMY: Since 2016 the economy of New Zealand has been stuttering along, partially caused by global uncertainty as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate; uncertainty over Britain and Brexit and the U.S.-Chinese trade war. But we cannot blame it all on international concerns.

Long standing concerns about the lack of diversity in the economy and a lack of emphasis in terms of investment in science research and technology still exist. New Zealand will not become one of the higher wage earning nations in the west until they are.

EDUCATION: Whilst this Government is on the right track having another look at Tomorrow’s Schools, I am concerned that the students are missing some very basic teaching in the rush to embrace digital technology. Many students struggle to show mathematical working on paper; construct basic sentences and that not enough is being done to embrace books. Whether the Minister will address this remains to be seen.

The tertiary education sector also faces a number of challenges. They include the sector reforms announced by Chris Hipkins, who has embarked on what I consider to be an overly radical reform whereby all of the institutions are merged into a mega institute. The push back is understandable, though some of the smaller institutes that are vulnerable to failure should be closed before they implode.

ENVIRONMENT: Since Labour came to office there has been a welcome escalation in the war on waste. To the Government’s credit it has banned plastic bags, announced a phase out of fossil fuels and acknowledged that water quality is a major issue. This is one somewhat brighter area despite the many and considerable challenges facing the natural environment.

But the Government must step up the tempo. The review of the Resource Management Act, whilst a good idea is in danger of just adding to the confused 800 page beast it already is. It needs to announce how it is going to tackle the phase out of fossil fuels in conjunction with economic and social leaders, and the war on waste is really only just beginning.

FOREIGN POLICY: New Zealand foreign policy is largely correct in my book, with four significant exceptions. Two are super powers competing for our attention and support. The third is the willingness to continue to put New Zealand first by taking a third way as opposed to a Chinese way or an American way.

It is the fourth that should concern us the most as we need to do more to help our Pasifika neighbours. The Samoan medical emergency caused by measles has shown it does not have the ability to cope with this all on its own. They also need to be reassured that New Zealand takes their environmental concerns seriously and will push them at the United Nations.

POVERTY: This is really a combination of social, background, medical and education factors working (or not working) together. Neither National or Labour have really tried to acknowledge this. Nor have they tried to address the neoliberal economic model that favours a small select group of people and ignores the rest. Trickle down economics is a myth perpetuated to make people believe that market economics work for all. They do not and poverty is a significant consequence of it.

 

Neoliberalism needs to end – Part 1: The rise of neoliberalism


In 1989 an influential political scientist named Francis Fukuyama released a defining paper called “The End of History and the Last Man” that suggested the end of Communism would clear the way for market-oriented liberal democracies. Nations all around the world would flourish under a market system that removed tariffs and other barriers to economic growth; competition would open up new opportunities for products, goods and services and it would occur in a democratic environment under governments that espoused deregulation. But most of all, everyone would benefit. This would be the final, eternal form of governance in human society.

That was the idea. And for a while it looked like it might work as moderates like British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, United States President Bill Clinton joined conservatives like Australian and British Prime Ministers John Howard and John Major. Big free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement were negotiated and held up as a victory for laissez-faire market economics. Deregulation of markets was the “in” thing to be seen doing – encouraging investors to sink money into new ventures, simplifying or getting rid of pesky legislation was seen as a necessary part of this.

I have mentioned the transition to a market economy that was attempted in New Zealand in other posts – how the Labour Government of David Lange started it and then how it was continued by the National led Government of Prime Ministers Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley. Free trade agreements with various countries were touted as the way forward. Particularly high on the agenda were deals with China and the United States. Despite her reputation as a socialist, Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark oversaw the N.Z.-China Free Trade Agreement in 2008; initial negotiations. Ms Clark also did not attempt a buy back of the former Electricity Corporation New Zealand assets that had been sold when E.C.N.Z. was broken up, causing a 100% increase in power prices across ten years.

In 2002 the price of housing began to increase in New Zealand. A property that might have been worth $150,000 in 2001 would increase to $550,000. Investors, realizing the potential for meltdowns overseas were starting to become interested in having a rainy day solution in New Zealand. A property to quickly move to if their existing situation became untenable along with opportunities to invest some of their money and get a return through renters was suddenly not a bad thing to have.

So convinced were many by it that when warnings about the potential for a massive economic depression to rival the 1929 Great Depression sounded, no one wanted to know. Despite years of increasingly dire warnings that the financial markets were about to face a massive and probably violent correction, the thought that institutions like Lehman Bros., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could fall over in the United States along with smaller ones in New Zealand like Capital Merchant Finance, was dismissed as not being possible. “Too big to fail” was a popular phrase to describe financial establishments that were thought to be indestructible.

This might have been the end of neoliberalism, but it was not. Within two years, the economic and financial commentators appeared to have completely forgotten the purpose of President Barak Obama introducing the Dodd Frank Act. Mr Obama’s legislation was simply seeking to give assurance that Americans could trust their banking sector, that there would not be another major crisis like the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. He was also seeking to ensure that Americans would be able to trust the financial tools they use to purchase property and their ability to service their finances would not be burned.

But 30 years after Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”, the tide is beginning to turn against the neoliberalism he and others have espoused. And perhaps, what I call the “Second coming of History” is here. Find out more in Part 2.