ACT: The leopard thinking it can change its spots


Yesterday it was announced that A.C.T. was changing its party branding. A.C.T. Leader David Seymour announced that his party has changed its branding in an attempt to change public perceptions of a party that has struggled since 2011. From a party with 5 Members of Parliament in 2008 including the man behind Rogernomics, Sir Roger Douglas, to a one man band that has consistently polled at 1-2% and only exists at all because of Mr Seymour’s hold on the Epsom seat, why has A.C.T. consistently struggled?

In recent years Mr Seymour, as the public face of A.C.T., has tried to soften the party’s image. A quite successful stint on Dancing With The Stars, which many people had thought was an April Fools joke – aside from some twerking – showed him as an under dog, given he was expected to exit early and perhaps ungracefully like his predecessor Rodney Hide did (after dropping his partner on stage). And New Zealanders do admittedly like an under dog – one who does better than expected.

Unfortunately for all of A.C.T.’s rebranding, the leopard is not going to change its spots. Deep down A.C.T. will still be A.C.T. – a party being kept alive out of convenience to the National Party. It can change its spots dozen times. It can make them pink the rest of it markings white. It could paint itself orange or some other bright colour, but deep down nothing has changed all is still the same.

It is still the party trying to undermine our checks on speech so that it is not responsible for its undisguised bigotry. Golriz Ghahraman will still be Golly to Mr Seymour, and still a Iranian refugee M.P. who is apparently trying to boss New Zealand around. It will still be the party that Louis Crimp, an avowed disliker of the Treaty of Waitangi who thinks Maori are savages and wanted to scrap funding for Te Reo Maori, supported.

A.C.T. will still be the party that refuses to recognize the necessity of tightening up controls on semi-automatic weapons. These include the availability of accessories and modifications such as the one that has enabled mass murders including the Christchurch mosque attacks. It did not want to know about the fact that there would be further opportunity to comment when the second tranche of law comes before Parliament towards the end of this year. Concerns that become all the more stark when one considers that the primary lobby organization for gun ownership in the U.S. – a country A.C.T. and to a lesser extent National think can do no wrong – the National Rifle Association is struggling in the face of several recent mass shootings, and students saying that they have had enough.

A.C.T. will still be the party that thinks climate change is a hoax and that the best approach is the business as usual approach. It will ignore the massive loss of biodiversity around the world, the rapidly worsening number of carbon particles per million. In the name of lesser regulation it will stonewall attempts to create a collaborative approach that brings business on board. Instead of relying on “market forces” that neither know nor care for environmental or social well being, which A.C.T. espouses, knowledge of the environment, technology and society would be put left right and centre and driven by the urgency of knowing time will be needed to adapt and therefore major steps have to be taken now.

Mr Seymour would be well advised to wind up the A.C.T. Party and start over. A.C.T. is a leopard. A leopard cannot change it spots and no amount of painting over its colours will change that. When their initial leaders resigned or left under a cloud caused by acts of stupidity that they brought upon themselves, A.C.T. should have taken the opportunity to under go a rebranding then to either be something other than a failed corporate party that pretended to be about responsibility and liberty.

 

The nine lives of Phil Twyford


A cat has nine lives, or so the old saying goes. When I think about current Cabinet Ministers of the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, none fit that description more accurately than Minister of Housing and Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford. And whilst I do not think it is possible to accurately account for the number of Ministerial lives lost by Mr Twyford, one might guess he is well on the way to his ninth.

Since coming to office as Minister for Transport, Minister for Housing and – until Ms Ardern stripped him off it – , Mr Twyford has really struggled with his portfolio’s. The shadow spokespeople for Transport and Housing in the National Party have managed to land a number of hits on the good ship Twyford, though none yet appear to be fatal.

But damaging they are. The two most notable fires on the M.S. Twyford are in the handling of the Kiwi Build programme and the handling of the Warrant of Fitness scandal.

The Kiwi Build programme, was meant to promise 100,000 affordable homes for New Zealand. A lofty target to meet and one that we are falling a long way behind on. Not only has Mr Twyford bitten off far more than he can chew, it would appear that he is being a proverbially messy eater, some of the specifics that Mr Twyford has mentioned have themselves turned into botch ups. For example Mr Twyford appears to have a quite different interpretation of the word “affordable”, which to most New Zealanders in terms of housing would be a two bedroom house costing no more than $350,000 instead of the $500,000 price tag he is offering. As for the rate of houses being built, only a few thousand have been put up so far in the first term of this Government.

The other damaging problem that Mr Twyford has to deal with is the W.O.F. scandal. This is a scandal which has left New Zealand Transport Authority red faced and having to admit thousands of people may have had Warrants of Fitness issued to their vehicles which should never have been certified. Not only that, no one seems to be really certain of how many registered garages have been issuing substandard W.O.F.’s and for how long. It begs several serious questions of the N.Z.T.A.:

  • Where has their regulatory unit been among all of this?
  • Are the W.O.F.’s issued by suspect garages going to be null and voided?
  • Do we know who all of the potential victims in this are?

Among others.

Combined these two problems make me wonder how long Mr Twyford can hang on to his job. It is clearly obvious that he has significant issues on his plate and very soon some serious answers are going to have to be given. N.Z.T.A. need to come clean immediately on the scale of the problem. The problem garages are going have to have their registrations suspended until they can prove they are fit to certify peoples cars, and the head of N.Z.T.A. regulation is going to have to be prepared to quit if this does not happen.

Equally seriously, Kiwi Build is obviously not going to work.  The range of issues faced extend beyond just the exaggerated promises and the massive over pricing of units. Do we actually have enough builders and other trades people to reach such a lofty goal? Does Kiwi Build actually have its priorities worked out? Or should we simply scrap it and start again?

2019 New Zealand Fiscal Budget run down


Yesterday Treasurer Grant Robertson announced the 2019 Fiscal Budget, which is delivered in late May. It sets down the spending priorities for New Zealand.The Government made a promise that the 2019 Budget would be a budget about “well being”. Many people on the centre-right thought that the whole idea was all just fluffy feel good spending with little practical value.

At a first glance there appears to be little unexpected expenditure. Defence, education and a number of portfolio’s that have had recent major announcements knew not to seriously expect much more than what had already been allocated. As noted in other articles, the Defence Force is getting P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that can watch our waters, but also perform search and rescue. At some point in the next couple of years a solid decision will be taken on what shall replace the C130 Hercules as our major transport plane.

Not surprisingly the major beneficiaries of Budget 2019 have been those who need social welfare assistance from the Government. One of the several measures introduced is to index benefits to wages, which stands to affect about 339,000 individuals and families.

Schools were a surprise winner. Despite the teachers being on strike and Minister for Education Chris Hipkins being adamant there is no more available, $1.2 billion has been set aside for maintenance and upgrading of school property. This will help fund new class rooms for expanding schools, new/replacement buildings.

Perhaps the biggest loser was health. Few significant announcements appear to have been made. I was wondering if there might be money for upgrading hospitals and a modest top up of the District Health Boards following issues in recent years around funding calculations.

There was a very welcome investment of N.Z.$1 billion for railways, as an acknowledgement of the significant but under appreciated role that they play in our economy. Hopefully it will lead to Kiwi Rail better utilizing the South Island track network, which could easily allow more freight to go on rails instead of via road.

National and A.C.T. invariably cried foul on the apparent lack of regard paid by the budget to the economy. This demonstrates to me that they clearly have not latched in any way onto the fact that from Day 1 this Government has said that it will have a stronger focus on the well being of people. It is an attempt to provide redress for the socio-economic consequences of National’s market driven  philosophy. From those with family in mental health institutions, to those struggling to get their children through school and retirees concerned about being left behind in the digital era, this Budget appears to try to address their needs.

On a cautionary note though, the budget, whilst nice for those in income poverty and having issues with mental health, does raise – again – questions about the wisdom of removing the Capital Gains Tax from the table. Going into election year with National and A.C.T. nipping on Labour’s heals, the money taken from a C.G.T. would have gone some distance ensuring New Zealand’s debt does not get too big.

 

What I hope for from New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2019


Whilst the Government struggles to contain the effects of National’s claimed leakage of figures from today’s Fiscal Budget, I give my take on what should be in Budget 2019. This is not a complete list, but a priority one based on what I believe has been a significant and sustained under funding of programmes and support for the very young and the very old, the mentally unwell and those in the education system who are not in a position to fund their own expenses.

I am not expecting much, if anything new, for education today. I believe Minister of Education Chris Hipkins when he says that he cannot offer teachers all that they are asking for. A lot of the demands are things that are built up with time and need refining as they go – it is not a simple case of saying “here’s the money, it is all ready to go”.

The same goes for Defence. Earlier announcements might get a top up such as the P8 Poseidon patrol aircraft acquisition. However I am not expecting Minister of Defence Ron Mark to announce much if anything new.

Where I am expecting to see some additional support are:

  • Non monetary: Moves by Treasury to implement some of the recommendations made by the Tax Working Group in their review, which came out earlier this year. For the Government to improve its revenue, changes need to be implemented fairly rapidly
  • Non monetary: Investigation into Pigouvian tax being used to dissuade persistent polluters by taxing them if more than x is discharged per business year
  • Non monetary: Lower the range of housing prices for Kiwi Build houses – the current range is unrealistic
  • Mental health: the Government has announced it will accept nearly all of the recommendations that were made in the mental health inquiry, except – notably – the one for a suicide reduction target and one other; given the problems being had with mental health patients in hospitals, the explosion of problems among youth ranging from effects of bullying, societal pressure and domestic situations; support for mens mental health
  • Health: a top up for D.H.B.’s to help maintain services
  • Disability sector: frankly an abomination in terms of how it is being treated, where lip service is everything and solid accountable actions are nothing, a top up across the board for all such
  • Social Development: particularly those with school age children who might be struggling to afford the basics and may need assistance purchasing school materials, uniform parts or funding school trips; assistance for superrannuitants including perhaps further discounts on essentials
  • Tertiary Education: Introduction of a postgraduate allowance for all Honours, Masters and PhD students recognizing that it is impossible to expect such students to hold down full time work and complete qualifications that are time and energy intensive

Secondary priorities that I think need be provided for include:

  • investment in railways particularly in the South Island, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.
  • reinvestment in science with some emphasis on explaining theory to students.  waste reduction, reducing crime, and simplification of the research grant application process for researchers
  • encouraging reduction in harmful carbon emissions by recycling aluminium; introducing hempcrete; investigating the feasibility of waste to energy

There could be more, but when the Government walked away from the C.G.T. it walked away from a significant opportunity to check the unsustainable growth of the wealth and income of the 1% who have 50% of all of the known wealth. In doing so it deprived New Zealand of a substantial source of tax revenue that will now probably not happen for another generation – if ever.

Budget leaks or National Party hot air?


The National Party has claimed that the Government has been misleading about the nature of the Fiscal Budget it is due to release on Thursday afternoon. The claims, which come from leader Simon Bridges who says that he has received 22 pages which which show that Defence and Forestry are in line for big expenditure, instead of social welfare, health and education initiatives central to Labour’s promise of “well being”.

To some extent it is a bit of both. Treasurer Grant Robertson has admitted that some of the figures being bandied about are true, but not all of them. Some of the claims are also potentially misleading, such as National claiming that it is not about the well being budget that Labour has promoted. Mr Robertson also pointed out that many of the figures alluded to a four year spending plan that was already known about and therefore the figures were a) not new and b) possible not accurate any longer.

Inevitably there was going to be money set aside this year or next year anyway in the defence budget due to the announcement of the P8 Poseidon patrol aircraft being purchased. On top of that there are other equipment upgrades and replacements being announced in the near future or which are being undertaken right now.

Another alleged leak that was mentioned today regards the budget  is an alleged increase in the budget for forestry initiatives. Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones was not saying much today about the claims other than it not being his job at this point in time to point fingers as to where the leak came from.

As I am not sure how much money is in the coffers, I cannot judge and nor can anyone else just how much of the claims are fakery. Where Mr Robertson should be concerned is about finding out how any figures at all came to be leaked. Was the leak intentional and if so, where did it come from? The annual Fiscal Budget is something that is usually embargoed until 1400 hours on Budget day, which is in this case Thursday 30 May 2019. Normally only Treasury, Cabinet, the printing firm and the Parliamentary services would have access to it prior to the release.

Still, this will not be a great look for the Government on the eve of its second budget, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Mr Robertson will no doubt be at pains to make sure this does not happen again.