English needs to be wary of his ambitious M.P.’s

For the last several days National Leader and Leader of the Opposition Bill English, has been keeping a low profile, as has his Deputy Leader Paula Bennett. With sore and embittered M.P.’s itching for action against the new government, and no clear leader to co-ordinate the attack, this is surprising.

So soon after losing the Prime Ministership, Mr English is taking a risk. There are a number of Members of Parliament that Mr English needs to keep a wary eye on. But these ones are not on the Government benches. They are in the ranks of his own National Party.

One can understand every now and again, the Leader of the Opposition taking time off to see family or to have a quick breather. But so soon after the election, with sore M.P.’s still adjusting to the cold reality that they are no longer in power and being on the Opposition benches entails a completely different set of skills and tasks, Mr English is conspicuously absent.

Mr English has several ambitious Members of Parliament in his party who probably quietly want his job. Although they were all unified in support of him when he lost the Prime Ministers job to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, it would not have been lost on any of them that this was the second time Mr English has lost the election. Perhaps though, this should not be so surprising, because despite the polls on Stuff, One News and Newshub, the public support for National-A.C.T. and United Future had definitely soured. Worsening environmental, mental health, crime, education and social welfare problems were finally becoming – after nine years of simmering in the background – a conflagration that could no longer be ignored.

His ambitious members include Judith Collins who was cultivated by Prime Minister John Key and was active as a Minister of Justice and Minister of Police – two portfolio’s she strongly believes in. Ms Collins was undone by the well known Oravida scandal and and many members of the public judged her as corrupt. Another one is Amy Adams, a work horse Minister who held a range of portfolio’s during her time in Parliament. Although she has never shown a great desire, Mrs Adams is smart, respected in what she did in Parliament as Minister and could be playing a long term game.

Also dangerous to Mr English’s future are Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye and – although she too has been in hiding of late – Paula Bennett. Mr Bridges, a senior member and M.P. for Tauranga held a number of portfolio’s including Minister for Energy and Resources. He sits at 6th spot and is Shadow Leader of the House. Ms Kaye, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has since returned, is the Spokesperson for Education. At age 37, she is the same age as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She has potential and also appeals to the more left-wing parts of the National Party.

Paula Bennett has been keeping a low profile of late. However her seniority as Deputy Leader of the National Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Spokesperson for Children, Women and Social Development. Ms Bennett’s combative approach could potentially make enemies and hand the Government ammunition.


Labour and Greens surge in post election poll

Three weeks into her first term as Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern can smile at the poll gods, who yesterday signalled that Labour and the Greens would be able to govern alone if elected today.

Perhaps the public are finding the sour grapes of National and A.C.T. too much to swallow, so they are relishing the more pleasant ones on offer from the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour. For the last few weeks, National has been relentlessly attacking Ms Ardern and her new Government – be it on taxation, Pike River or their first days in Parliament as the new Government.

This is realistic. Normally the public are happy to give a new Government a few months to settle in, during which time mistakes are simply considered part of the settling process. A new Oppositions’ initial attacks are usually not that effective as its M.P.’s will be still smarting at the election loss and – if it was a big one – they might well be looking for a new leader. During this time the new opposition parties can normally just bide their time, look at what they did wrong in the election.

And that is what makes this situation interesting. National only lost the election because New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had to make a choice – prop up a Government out of ideas and out of touch with the socio-economic needs of New Zealanders. The risk here is that would perhaps tear N.Z. First apart whilst ensuring National and A.C.T copped a right thrashing in 2020.

I can understand how National M.P.’s and their supporters might be bitter. They had the numbers to clearly form a coalition without A.C.T if Mr Peters had come on board. But this was a Government ignoring concerns that Labour and the Greens were able to capitalize on about housing, about mental health, about education and welfare among a host of others. Those concerns were being ratcheted up to deafening levels. The other point is that National should be well aware by now that there is an unwritten rule in Parliament that only a truly exceptional Government survives to have a fourth term.

The alternative was the one that Mr Peters choose: to support a new untested combination in Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw. Whilst untested and the Greens barely starting to recover from Metiria Turei’s gamble, Ms Ardern clearly had the charisma, the attentiveness to public opinion and a few ideas on addressing what the public sees as major issues.

The agenda is ambitious. And new expenditure plans are being announced at regular intervals. People on the centre right want to know where the money is going to come from, but seem to forget that under National and A.C.T. we borrowed tens of billions of dollars and nary a word got said by these critics then. The Government has announced details of its tax committee just like what was promised when Ms Ardern first mentioned it. Steven Joyce’s attacks on their expenditure are those of a man with sour grapes who does not want to admit he is wrong.

But the polling gods seem to approve of the plans laid out so far, or Labour and the Greens would not have achieved the support they did in the recent poll.


A turbulent fortnight for Jacinda

It is true that the last fortnight has been a rather turbulent one for Jacinda Ardern.

Barely two weeks into the job and maiden speeches still being made in Parliament, the National Party attack machine is already humming in the background. The transition from the Beehive to the offices of the Opposition were never going to be easy for National, and it is shown by the bitterness of some of the attacks being launched by their supporters. Accusations of already trying to mislead Parliament; of announcing financial measures that were not covered in the election campaign; of trying to erode the previous Government.

It is not just National that is attacking though. Stuff media have been printing articles suggesting that the old and the wealthy have good reason to “hate Labour”. They have rushed head long into printing articles suggesting Ms Ardern and her Government are trying to overturn our strong relationship with Australia.

Normally a new Government, unless in time of crisis where decisive action is needed quickly, has a time to settle in where the media generally accept that a well oiled Government coming cold from so many years on the Opposition benches will take a few months to fully find its feet. During this time articles and coverage tend to speculate about what is going to happen rather than suggesting something negative is already in progress.

Ms Ardern on one hand seems to be keen to get off to a flying start, whilst her colleagues are stumbling through their first days like they are still half asleep or hung over from the victory party. The first day in Parliament when a new speaker was supposed to be elected turned into a farce when Chris Hipkins could not do the simple job of ensuring there were enough Labour/Green/New Zealand First M.P.’s in Parliament to elect a new speaker. In the end Mr Hipkins and colleague Grant Robertson were seen hastily trying to stitch up a deal with National where in return for them having more seats on Parliamentary Select Committees, they would support the Governments choice of Trevor Mallard as the new Speaker of the House.

So far the Greens have already clashed with Labour. Today the James Shaw led Greens wished to get a Parihaka Day on 05 November instead of Guy Fawkes. Just the day after giving her maiden speech, Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman suggested horse trading in the form of a Parihaka Day might be necessary in order to get New Zealand First’s “waka hopping” legislation over the line.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has had a good fortnight with suggestions he might lead a New Zealand delegation to North Korea in an attempt to defuse the crisis. He has come to Ms Arderns defence on at at least one occasion in Parliament.

Speed wobbles from trying to start off strongly when one has not even fully found their feet are a certainty. The new Government needs to be careful not to end flat on its face.

Winston Peters attacking the media?

Some journalists and commentators have expressed fears for the well being of journalism in New Zealand after Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters served legal proceedings against members of the media. This came about after it emerged during the election campaign that his social welfare information had been accessed. Now, with New Zealand having slipped in the world press freedom rankings, concerns are growing about the trend.

This is not the first time the media have struck grief. During the fallout following a leaked report regarding the G.C.S.B. a few years ago it emerged that Parliamentary Services had tracked the activities of journalist Andrea Vance. Earlier following a complaint from former Prime Minister John Key about the Teapot Tapes, there was a raid on media offices by the Police in search of evidence that might link someone to the incident where a tape recorder recorded the conversation of the then Prime Minister and then A.C.T. leader John Banks.

Other instances included a raid on left wing journalist Nicky Hager’s house, following his authoring the book Dirty Politics, examining the relationship between National, A.C.T and right wing blogger Cameron Slater. A blogger named Martyn Bradbury (a.k.a. Bomber)found that his financial information was improperly accessed by Police when they suspected him of complicity in the Dirty Politics computer hacking.

All of this should be a concern to readers, journalists and people involved in social justice alike. Although New Zealand is still a very highly ranked nation in terms of press freedom, last years slip down the rankings may have potentially damaging consequences in the long term for our day to day reputation.

I believe that the law needs to be amended to check the power of politicians when it comes to censoring journalists. This is not a wartime environment where sensitive information that jeopardize New Zealand’s national security is being leaked, but rather a frayed peace time environment where trust is at a dangerously low level and suspicion is the operational setting.

In the case of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, his relationship with the media has never been very good. He has frequently accused them of bias, not doing their job or asking things they have no need to know about. The danger stems from the fact that Mr Peters is now part of Government where the public expectation about transparency and maintaining a responsible relationship with the media is everything. Mr Peters and the new Government need to be careful because if the media feel like they are being shafted, it could be a long and not very pleasant 3 years in office for him.

Simon Bridges’ hypocrisy

Today it emerged that National M.P. Simon Bridges has accused the new Labour-led Government of trying to avoid scrutiny. Mr Bridges was complaining about the number of National Party Members of Parliament that would be allowed to sit on Select Committees. It reminded me of a stunning piece of hypocrisy that happened on his watch in 2013.

In April 2013, as the then Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Bridges (M.P. for Tauranga) introduced a Bill of Parliament to the House of Representatives. It was called the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act, 2013.

The way in which this Bill of Parliament was forced through to this day in my mind is one of the greatest shames of the New Zealand Parliament. Mr Bridges must have had some idea that this Bill was going to generate significant opposition, during its passage through Parliament. The opposition that arose was indeed substantial. During the short period between the Second Reading and the Third Reading, a coalition of notable New Zealanders and organizations signed a petition trying to stop the passage of the legislation. Organizations that signed included Amnesty International, Greenpeace and 350 Aotearoa. Notable individuals included former Prime Minister and constitutional lawyer Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Green M.P. Jeanette Fitzsimons and Peter Williams QC.

At the Third Reading, New Zealand First, which had been originally set to support the Bill of Parliament turned against it. In speaking against it their spokesperson N.Z. First List M.P. Andrew Williams informed Parliament that the party would not support its passage any furthe due to draconian changes introduced by Mr Bridges that included:

  • using the Royal New Zealand Navy as an arresting force
  • effectively criminalizing freedom of assembly on the high seas
  • disproportionately heavy fines

New Zealand First’s resistance was justified. Not only were the changes draconian, they were in a Bill of Parliament that was forced through with no scrutiny allowed by the Select Committee. No public consultation was permitted either and the Bill was pushed through under urgency, as a number of others during the early and mid years of the fifth National Government.

Following the passage of the Bill through Parliament and its controversial vote, I took action as a private individual. My first course of action was to contact Amnesty International and ask for advice on what to put in a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission. One of their staff agreed to review my complaint and offer suggestions.

After about 6 weeks, I got a response from the Human Rights Commission. They agreed that on the surface as an individual I could say that my basic rights were infringed. They acknowledged the complicated matter of the law, but their basic premise was that this Act of Parliament was an unacceptable infringement on an individual’s basic human rights.

As a New Zealand First Member at the time I also decided to put forward a remit for the Annual Convention in Christchurch that year. I would propose that the party make it policy to repeal the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act, 2013. It passed with overwhelming support. Delegates and M.P.’s told me at the time it was a good remit.

Based on the aforementioned Act of Parliament and the nature of its passage, which still annoys me to this day, I find it rather rich of Mr Bridges to be accusing the new Government of trying to escape scrutiny. Especially when Mr Bridges was found to have infringed the basic human rights of a private individual.