Adrift in the political sphere

I am adrift. After 9 years of supporting New Zealand First and 7 years of being a member, I think I can safely say that I do not identify with the party at this time. And as I look out across the ocean of New Zealand politics, I wonder whether I should try to rejoin whilst I am not too distant, but the dismissal of the Capital Gains Tax, the betrayal of party members on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and a desire to try other things are pushing me further out to sea.

That cuts me adrift. Bobbing along among the waves of the big open sea with no real clue about who to support in the immediate future, where do I go? I am too conservative for the Greens whose defence, justice and foreign policies do not match mine. Also, some of their Members of Parliament seem to be averse to accepting that it is okay to be a man. At a time when we are supposed to be helping the MeToo movement address abuse of women, listening to some members

The big red island out there in the distance is Labour. It looks bright and vivid like their immediate future, but I am reminded that underneath, Labour still have work to do in returning to being a party of the centre-left and not the centre. It looks like some kind of party is going on there and that anyone is welcome, but what is it actually doing?

What about The Opportunities Party, or the Social Democrats?

Whilst I like the looks of the Democratic Party for Social Credit (a.k.a. Democrats for Social Credit) policy platform, the party has a major problem. It is – without significant time and effort – unlikely to win any seats in Parliament. It is then going to have the problem all new parties to Parliament will have: no experience in the rules, procedures, Parliamentary debating and so forth. Of course it has to start somewhere, but for the next while its priority would have to be simply building up a base of supporters for any future attempt at Parliament.

I have to be honest that The Opportunities Party did not initially appeal to me, not so much because of policy, but because of the personal politics of its original founder Gareth Morgan. Calling then Labour leader/Leader of the Opposition and now Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “lipstick on a pig”, is rank and file misogyny right there. Mr Morgan has since left the Party altogether and it is now run by Geoff Simmons.

There are two parties that know right now they can count on me not voting for them. National and A.C.T. I am philosophically opposed to market economics, especially now in a resource hungry world generating much waste that it is failing to recycle, despite the technology and the know how existing. As the Government does not wish to be accused of rigging a market, it tends to stay out when it could provide leadership by enacting policy or financial measures to steer certain aspects in a different direction. National and A.C.T.’s tendency to adopt Americanized policies such as Three Strikes, supporting U.S. led wars – good or bad – instead of developing home grown policy I also find hugely troubling. And the nail in of the coffin of both parties in terms of getting my vote or support is a lack of regard around human rights, which I think they view as “nice to have”.



The year in which the Government must deliver

There is such a vast broad platform of policy on which this Labour-led Government is promising to deliver, that it is a bit difficult to know where to start. There are some Ministers holding substantial portfolio’s such as Social Welfare and smaller yet critical ones like Local Government who have yet to pop their heads above the parapet. Maybe they have significant work in progress that is simply not ready to face the harsh glare of the voting public, but it would be good to know that they are not “Missing In Action”.

This is a year in which Labour and its New Zealand First and Green Party cabinet colleagues will need start delivering significant policy. Reviews can only go for so long before they start to imply that the incumbent government is frozen on policy making.Such a freeze tends to send a clear signal to the voting public that the Government does not know what it is doing, which 18 months into its first term would be a really dangerous sign.

It has so far been a year where the major call has been to scrap a capital gains tax which will give attempts at equality reform the wobbles. This move will pile on the pressure in terms of expecting the minimum wage increases the state of a living wage to perform. It potentially locks away billions of dollars in tax that could be used to help fund projects that might now struggle to be seen or heard. And it is a move I am disappointed to see happen.

There are things that I am expecting the Government to deliver or start work on in this term:

  1. A comprehensive waste recycling programme that covers wood, paper, glass, plastics and aluminium – we have the know how, but do we have the will?
  2. Announcing how it will reform New Zealand’s schools 30 years after Tomorrow’s Schools, which was seen as a visionary programme in 1989, but is not so now
  3. Reform of Ministry of Social Development – I have mentioned in the past, the failings of this Ministry, which is straight jacketed by a legislative framework
  4. Reform of the justice system, which has lost the confidence of victims of crime and seems to be failing to address the reoffending of youth
  5. Sustainability – we might be phasing out oil and gas, but is electricity able to sustain New Zealand’s energy needs on its own; the reduction of carbon emissions affects the marine ecosystem; fresh water quality and usage is not sustainable
  6. Transport – a much larger investment in railways is needed; New Zealand also needs to look at a long term plan for the sea going merchant ships

Of course the terrorist attacks have overtaken all of this and we need to revisit how we gather and use state intelligence. We will need to revisit our constitutional arrangements sometime in the next decade or whenever the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II passes on. And if that is not enough the West Coast flood event of 25-27 March 2019 raised some alarming questions about the readiness of the West Coast for a bigger disaster.

Much going on, but how is the Government going at delivering? Find out this year (and next).

Labour surges, National drop following terrorist attack

In 1985, when France attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, the French Government calculated that it would divide New Zealanders. They calculated that the New Zealand people would lose faith in the Labour Government and its nuclear free stance. They could not have been more wrong. Labour was returned to office in 1987. More significantly, when National finally did win the 1990 election, despite concerns that we needed to repair our relationship with the U.S., the policy survived and is still in force today.

It is too early to tell whether this Labour led Government will enjoy such a bump in support as a result of the terrorist. However in the immediate weeks that have so far passed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decisive handling of the new firearms legislation, her empathy and warmth shown to the Muslim community have caused Labour to surge in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, which shows the Sixth Labour Government at an as yet all time high.

If an election were held today that would give the following seats to the parties in Parliament:

  • National; 51
  • Labour; 60
  • Greens; 8
  • A.C.T.*; 1

The results are clear. Labour and the Greens could comfortably govern as a left of centre coalition. National and A.C.T. would be resigned to watching legislation pass through the House and hope that enough people are following through the media to be aware of what is happening.

Assuming no seats are won by its M.P.’s, New Zealand First would not be in Parliament, having failed to make the 5% threshhold. A.C.T.* would re-enter Parliament on the assumption that its sole Member of Parliament David Seymour retakes Epsom.

National Leader Simon Bridges remains unchanged on 5%, which is probably okay given he has barely had a look in in the last few weeks as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership basks in the praise heaped on her by national and international media. That said, Judith Collins, well known for her more conservative outlook and popular with the right wing of the National Party is thought to be agitating for a crack at the leadership. More ominously for Mr Bridges, she is in the Preferred Prime Minister stake at 5%, which is the same as him.

It is perhaps New Zealand First who should be the most worried. Despite their record of comebacks in elections, M.P. and Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones is widely viewed among the voting public as a bit of a loose cannon. This combined with a party that failed to ignite support among South Island voters at the last election, will would have proved a serious hindrance if not a fatal blow in a hypothetical election.

But this is all hypothetical. What it does not show is the significant number of issues that this Government faces, the problems it is having with its Ministers and the middling economy. Soon they will make themselves known.

Change in Census processes needed

It is very obvious that the 2018 Census was a farce. But the fact that the chief statistician Liz MacPherson thought she did not have to come clean on the full extent of the problem until being threatened with Contempt of Parliament, tells me that it is more than just a colossal failure of data gathering systems. It tells me that officials responsible for the Census are operating with contempt of Government, which is a serious allegation for anyone to make.

According to Ms MacPherson when she finally told Parliament about the full scale of the data loss, as many as 1 in 7 New Zealanders failed to complete a census, something that has to be completed for every single person in New Zealand on the assigned night. The scale of the data loss as a result of thousands of New Zealanders not being able to complete or even attempt the census is severe enough, that combined with Ms MacPherson’s failure to be honest with Parliament and ultimately New Zealand it is not unreasonable to ask for her head.

National Party Member of Parliament Nick Smith said that New Zealand should seriously consider having another census as early as 2021. In suggesting that, Dr Smith indicated it would be in line with the original schedule of Census nights. That was knocked out of kilter by the Christchurch earthquakes which forced thousands of people from their homes and the 2011 Census would have been conducted during the earthquake emergency, when as much as 1/5 of Christchurch had left town.

What Dr Smith overlooks is the under investment that his party made in statistics, which is in line with a general dislike for “paper shunters” – bureaucrats and office workers who do what to many are boring, yet essential jobs. The premature transit from the old data system to a new one was so bad that thousands of New Zealanders could not log in to do the census, could not submit census if they managed to complete it.

Green Party M.P. and Statistics Minister James Shaw appears to have his head stuck in the sand bank. The results are as good as useless and will affect planning for a myriad of services, functions, ministries and programmes. The next census is not scheduled until 2023, but can New Zealand really hang tough with such a monstrous failure meaning that the next four years are really just going to be a hodge podge of guess work for the people who need the data? I think not. And so, I tend to favour Dr Smith’s redeeming suggestion that a new one be held before then, which Mr Shaw rejects.

Maybe Mr Shaw might find himself following Ms MacPherson walking the gang plank.


The other issues happening in New Zealand

A mass of flowers adorns the Botanic Gardens fence on Rolleston Avenue in Christchurch, paying tribute to the people who were killed or injured in the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019. The flowers are starting to wilt and will soon be removed. The sense of respect and suffering though is still strong.

For days we attended the vigils, laid flowers, made donations of all sorts. We grieved. We cried. We felt sick and sad The country changed in terms of our perceptions that New Zealand is free from the sort of hatred espoused by the gunman.

But life goes on, and for our own mental health and to move this great country forward, we must come to a time when we move on, whilst never ever forgetting. Three weeks on, many New Zealanders, myself included are looking for normality to resume.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry has been announced into the Christchurch Mosque attacks, with Justice William Young expected to head it. Today Parliament will move the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts)Amendment Act to its Second Reading as the Finances and Expenditure Committee seek to make sense of the 13,000+ submissions that arrived in the space of 48 hours.

However it is still the New Zealand that has lost 112 people in road accidents since 01 January 2019. It is still the same country that has an 89,000 ton a year electronic waste problem; a country with a justice system failing to deliver sentences that both the public and the prison population both respect; a country with unhealthy house prices; a country with its biggest measles out break in year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might have wowed the world with her warm compassionate embrace of the Muslim community in the days and weeks after the attacks. It was certainly the right thing to do and it was admittedly very well played. Yet this is the same Prime Minister leading a Government with a Minister of Housing whose pet Kiwi Build scheme is in potentially terminal decline 18 months after it started. The same Prime Minister made a gamble in 2018 when her Minister of Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Wood announced that New Zealand would go free of oil and gas by 2020.

What do I think our major priorities other than dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attack should be?

  1. The future of Tomorrow’s Schools, the 1989-vintage model of how our education should be administered and the review that the Minister, Chris Hipkins ordered
  2. New Zealand’s burgeoning road toll. Desperate for attention, the Grim Reaper has claimed 112 lives since the start of the year
  3. Reviewing how Kiwi Build is (not)working and make appropriate amends – I cannot see it getting even 40,000 or 50,000 of its promised 100,000 houses on current performance
  4. Addressing our waste issue – far too much is going straight to the landfill and the war on plastics, whilst nice only has a certain degree of practicality as no coherent plan is in place to get people on to more sustainable material
  5. Overhauling the Ministry of Social Development umbrella agencies and the legal framework under which they operate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is going to have to make some choices in terms of her Ministers.Who are all of her Ministers and what do they do?

  • Some, like Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Social Development Jenny Salesa are barely visible – they might have policy announcements, due, but would do well to raise their profile
  • Others like Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins have major announcements due soon and will be nutting out the final details of their announcement.
  • High profile ones like Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones who is regularly courting media interest with his provocative and – at times – thought provoking comments, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters who has had a number of high profile engagements

Now that the mourning is coming to an end, the harder questions and conversations need to start. Has New Zealand really learned from this or is it all just for show?