The challenge facing a Todd Muller led National


On Monday 18 May 2020 a poll was released which sounded the death knell of Simon Bridges time at the helm of the National Party. It had National on an abysmal 30.6%, which would have given it only 37 seats in a House of 120 Members of Parliament. The same poll had Labour on a whopping 59%, which would have given it a majority not seen in Parliament since Mixed Member Proportional voting was established in New Zealand.

By the end of the week, Mr Bridges was gone. No one knows how comfortably the previously almost completely unknown Todd Michael Muller rolled Mr Bridges in the leadership vote, but the latter was gracious in defeat. Mr Muller was equally magnanimous in victory.

When he had his post-coup press conference, Mr Muller presented the most senior members of his new line up. Gone was Paula Bennett, who had been Deputy Leader. Shadow Treasurer Paul Goldsmith had kept hold of the Treasury, whilst the machiavellian Judith Collins is likely to hold a significant post such as Justice. Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam had

Mr Muller faces several challenges, and he has just under four months to address them.

Probably the most important is New Zealanders want their economy moving again, without a doubt, but they also want to know that National will pay due attention to environmental, housing, social welfare and crime. They want to know that the old “get rid of the R.M.A.” will not be core environmental policy; that housing will become affordable again for the average Jim and Jane; that the crime and the poverty often behind it will be addressed. The COVID19 pandemic might have been a black time for the New Zealand economy and there is no doubt that a lot of people have been hurt by it, but New Zealand has an unprecedented chance to shape the post-COVID economy in a way that will be beneficial for generations to come.

The second one is his team. There are Members of Parliament in National that have been around a long time, like David Carter, Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith, in addition to a bunch of M.P.’s who were Ministers under former Prime Minister John Key and Bill English. They are showing their age now. Former National Party President Michelle Boag once suggested a term that has become synonomous with M.P.’s who are past their best, but not wanting to leave Parliament: dead wood and in this category, one could include Anne Tolley, Paula Bennett. With a team of 55 other Members of Parliament to work with, Mr Muller has significant options, such as Chris Bishop

The third is New Zealand. With an immensely popular Prime Minister in charge and – despite the likes of David Clark and Phil Twyford putting their incompetence on display – several competent Ministers such as Andrew Little (Education), Ron Mark (Defence), Grant Robertson (Treasurer), and James Shaw (Climate Change), only a monumental mistake is likely to prevent Jacinda Ardern from being a two-term Prime leader of New Zealand.

It is the early days of Mr Muller’s leadership of the National Party and no doubt he has ideas of his own about what New Zealand should look like. But before then he needs to establish himself as leader, make peace with or send to the back bench those that are not on board. That is a lot to do in four months.

 

New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2020


New Zealand Treasurer Grant Robertson must have been a tangle of emotions on the night before the 2020 Fiscal Budget which was delivered on 14 May at 1400 hours. So much riding on probably the single most important budget in a generation: the one that gets New Zealand out of the COVID19 mud pit.

New Zealand’s economy has taken a battering. Of that, there is no doubt. Unemployment may reach nearly double digit percentage figures, with Air New Zealand shedding 3750 jobs; 150+ at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook Village; 300 at Ngai Tahu; and another 240 when Bauer collapsed the New Zealand magazine industry. Thousands more are going in the hospitality sector where the forced closure as a result of COVID19 has sent many restaurants, bars and cafes to the wall.

On one hand he had an unprecedented licence to spend on measures to get the economy going again. On the other Mr Robertson would have been nervous about whether he got the balance right between a big spend up and having enough in the bank for 2021, in case COVID19 did not clear out as fast as hoped for and to cover unforeseen emergency expenditure. And then some how dancing between the two hands, the knowledge that no matter which way he sliced and diced the pie, someone would not get enough support and might have valid reasons to be grumpy.

So, what did Mr Robertson’s Fiscal Budget 2020 do:

  • For people like me finding out that the Government has thrown another $3.2 billion in wage subsidies to businesses was very welcome news – most budgets do little for me, but this one honestly has
  • Kainga Ora has been allocated funding to build another 8,000 houses
  • 11,000 additional jobs will be created with a $1.1 billion fund to support environmental projects’
  • $1.6 billion for vocational training for those out of work and school leavers

Notably the Government had $50 billion it could have spent on New Zealand yesterday. It appears to have allocated around $30 billion of that money, leaving $20 billion in reserve. If I had to guess, Mr Robertson is wanting to make sure that there is enough in the Treasury in case COVID19 is not as finished as we think and a second wave – God forbid! – hits, in which case that is very sensible thinking.

Whilst no Fiscal Budget ever pleases EVERYONE, that was more so the case today. So many people and industrial sectors needing significant help and simply not enough money to help them all, whilst still having enough in the Treasury for a rainy day situation in 2021. Also New Zealand is very vulnerable at the moment. We are busy trying to deal with a damaging economic hit caused by a pandemic that has already taken nearly 5% off the economy, so should we have a major disaster like an earthquake or large volcanic eruption, it would be catastrophic.

Whilst not on the Government’s agenda, there are other ways we could help grow the fiscal pie, which the Government needs to consider in the near future:

  • Increase investment in research, science and technology to 2% of G.D.P. – with money being prioritized for medicine, renewable energy, alternatives to finite resources
  • Bringing back a permanent nation wide apprenticeship scheme
  • Legalize cannabis and establish the industry in poorer regions such as Gisborne, Northland and the West Coast
  • Redefine infrastructure as energy, railways, merchant marine, and invest accordingly instead of just building roads

So whilst the Government has played a largely welcome Budget in 2020, as always there are things that it could have improved on or been willing to give a try. Many New Zealanders want to see meaningful socio-economic change and are sick of the neoliberal model that only supports the very wealthy, and those with greater means than others. This cannot happen if the Government is not prepared to make changes.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 49


Yesterday was DAY 49 of New Zealand in lock down as we fought the COVID19 pandemic. It was also the end of LEVEL 3 lock down. It ended at 2359 hours last night. The LEVEL 2 transition to the post COVID19 future began at 0000 hours 14 May 2020.

The last couple of days in Parliament have been a massive bun fight over the legality of the new COVID19 legislation ensuring that the Government management of it under LEVEL and LEVEL 1 is legal. Without this legislation it would be nearly impossible for the Government to successfully wind up the war on COVID19.

It is legislation with some critical flaws. Some have been repealed to avoid potential legal challenges or because public compliance was going to become an issue. Some are still there:

  1. Initially the Government wanted a 2 year sunset clause that would see the legislation expire at the end of a two year period – National succeeded in getting this amended to a Parliamentary vote every 90 days or so
  2. An enforcement officer may enter, without a warrant, any land, building, craft, vehicle, place, or thing if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person is failing to comply with any aspect of a section 11 order (S. 20)
  3. The speed with which this has had to go through Parliament means there is no way it can possibly be solidly constructed legislation – in order for the legal basis of LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to exist, the legislation had to pass by 2359 hours, which meant no public input and no select committee stage
  4. Section 11 orders appear to be a watered down version of the provisions of Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956
  5. Section 24(4) appears to void any legal appeal

The opposition has come from all parts of the spectrum N.G.O.’s such as Amnesty International talked about the concerns that they have for the . Human rights activists have registered their dismay as well, whilst people like Lizzie Marvelly expressed concern that it would unfairly target Maori.

The right have also expressed criticism. National, despite winning some concessions opposes the bill and will not be voting for it in Parliament. Nor will its traditional ally A.C.T. As I cannot recall any other time when legislation was crafted like this and with such haste – the passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Act was not attempted until late March, 2011, some several weeks after the Christchurch earthquake – I have noted the short time frames that have been provided in the advent of Section 11 orders. These can be made with 48 hours written notice; can if the Director General believes a COVID19 outbreak to be in progress be made in shorter time frames. Notably – and alarmingly – any appeal appears to be effectively void by Section 24(4).

As some kind of legal basis needs to exist to enable LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to have any legal basis, this legislation will invariably pass since the Greens and New Zealand First are voting for it in addition to Labour. However that does not mean it is good legislation – it is crap and when you have both sides of the House attacking it and look at why this was not drafted earlier in the COVID19 emergency, it becomes clear that the Government did not do due diligence.

The only thing that we can hope for is that New Zealanders start to wake up to the fact that our constitutional framework is not adequate for keeping Government in check; that we need to strengthen the checks and balances. And soon. We also need to introduce civics in schools quickly because the longer we do not teach students about how the New Zealand legal system, Government and so forth work, the greater the number that do know understand their rights and responsibilities, will be when we need them the most.

N.Z. in lock down: DAYS 47 and 48


On Monday afternoon at 1600 hours, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand was moving to Level 2 at 0000 hours on Thursday.

Across DAYS 47 and 48, I have been thinking about the impact of the Government’s decision and the wisdom of it.

Whilst I generally support the move to LEVEL 2 I have wondered at times, in flashes of doubt brought on by a mixture of local goings on and international goings on, if perhaps New Zealand should have decided to wait another 10-14 days at LEVEL 3 and skip LEVEL 2 completely. Those pangs of doubt have been quickly silenced each time just by looking at  the number of people starting to raise credible concerns about our time at LEVEL 3

If we had decided to stay at LEVEL 3, whilst that would be very hard on a lot of people, I think the reward would have been COVID19 for the time being effectively eradicated in New Zealand. The country would have been able to effectively return to normal business. The Government restrictions would be all but gone and the Police would be able to fully focus on crime; hospitals and medical centres on the normal problems.

A part of me also worries that New Zealanders in their rush to get back to “normal” will completely forget the lessons of COVID19, which I will discuss later this week. And so for those reasons, my happiness at going to LEVEL 2 is tinged with wariness.

But the real worry is about a number of issues that people might perceive to be on the side, but which actually have had tangible impact on aspects of COVID19:

  • The legalese of the State of Emergency
  • The need for a hygiene revolution in New Zealand
  • How we approach health dealing with our elderly and more vulnerable people
  • The interconnected state of the world and the next pandemic

These issues are going to impact on how New Zealand recovers. But most probably few people have thought about them or their potential impacts.

Whilst I have laid down the case for the State of Emergency in previous posts. I believe that New Zealand needs to revisit as soon as this one is lifted the procedural steps that had to be taken to reach it. Each State of Emergency when it is lifted is immediately reviewed by its controller/s and senior staff so that before people forget what their roles and actions in it were, they are on a paper record in case question arise later about their legality.

New Zealand needs a hygiene revolution. And I can see it happening if we are serious about making sure we never have to do what has gone on in the country in the last seven weeks again. In some respects it will be simple things like requiring diners at a restaurant to sanitize their hands on arrival also patients arriving at any medical centre or hospital; in other respects, law changes might need to require people with the common cold/flu to stay home – is this enforceable? Don’t know.

Vulnerable people with serious long term conditions might now need to be marked as such on their files if this is not already happening. When emergencies are declared a community health worker might need to be sent around on a regular basis to make sure their needs are being met.

The pandemic made it around the world via cruise ships and long haul flights. There is no polite way of saying so. I see a necessary step in the future being to require anyone who has cold symptoms or worse to present a medical certificate at the border before being allowed to fly; require anyone entering the country with such conditions to present a certificate and agree to isolate until a Dr can see them. No agreement, no entry. Tough, but very probably necessary.

This is what I believe to be a common sense approach to the post-COVID19 future.

Urgent reform of Work and Income New Zealand needed


For decades it was rumours that the department of Work and Income New Zealand were underpaying clients on a systemic basis. Just rumours to most people. But they were persistent rumours. It was like looking for smoke with no obvious source – a lot of it about and stubbornly refusing to disperse. There had to be something burning somewhere, and there was. But where? And why could no one find it, never mind put it out?

But now, thanks to a leak on Friday, the rumours have become something much more serious.

In my estimate the entire Work and Income senior management need to be sacked. If an organization has lied for the decades it is alleged that Work and Income have done so, then most probably the senior management are not only aware of it, they are also complicit in enabling this.

I also believe that there should be a class action taken against them. I do not know how many clients of theirs were underpaid or not paid at all, who have eligible claims, but it could be in the tens of thousands of potential claimants and some of them might be eligible for thousands of dollars in compensation.

I would not want to be the Chief Executive of W.I.N.Z. right now. This would be a potentially public servant career ending blow to suffer. I would not be waiting for the Minister to ring and tell me my game is up. If this happened under watch, I’d be clearing my desk immediately. This kind of systemic failure is simply not acceptable under any Minister’s watch.

I know little about Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni. For all I know she might be a brilliant Minister whose time has come and she intends to make the most of it. Or she might be spectacularly inept, like fellow Minister, Phil Twyford. Whatever the case, she need to stamp her authority on W.I.N.Z. and any other umbrella agency of the Ministry of Social Destruction, that might be behaving like W.I.N.Z. has behind her back.

A bold Minister would not have waited for something like this to happen. There is no shortage of evidence to indicate that problems have existed at W.I.N.Z. for some time, both from the tempestuous relationship between client and servant that anyone who has been to an appointment with this agency, and from some of the more overt problems that have surfaced in the media from time to time.

A bold Minister would be overhauling the legislative framework that governs the M.S.D., W.I.N.Z. Studylink, Child Youth and Family Services (C.Y.F.S.). They would be looking at why such a toxic and dangerous culture has been allowed to form and the aggravating factors possible; the interactions between the agencies. To enable the necessary changes, they would then be bringing legislation before Parliament that takes on board all of these issues and the numerous other ones lurking just beneath the surface.

And if the Minister refuses to ACT on the feedback, she should consider whether she is fit to hold the Ministerial Warrant for Minister of Social Development. Because at the time of scheduling this to publish, there was a warning of potential legal action hanging over W.I.N.Z.

Watch this space.