Winston Peters wants Level 1 now – Not so fast Winston


It has been revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants New Zealand to go to Level 1 now. Mr Peters, who believes we have been at Level 2 for too long, said that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted at a Cabinet Meeting that she thought we need to get to Level 1 as quickly as possible.

Not so fast Mr Peters. Whilst it is true that at the time of sending this to publish, there had been no new cases for 5 consecutive days, New Zealand needs to 28 consecutive days of no new cases to completely break all transmission. After 28 days with no new cases, two full incubation cycles will have passed. After 28 days if the current run continues, there should also be no active cases left in New Zealand.

Then we can move to Level 1. And I would fully expect to do so at that point. I understand the desire to get out of Level 1 quickly, but COVID19’s tail is still thrashing around. There are still 22 live cases that need to be fully recovered before we can move along from running at 2/3 speed.

At Level 1 COVID19 will be like a bad storm disappearing into the distance, and people can get on with cleaning up the mess it left behind – all the while hoping that when the borders reopen a second storm does not come marching in and put all the hard done recovery work back to square one. New Zealand will need to have a much more robust quarantine system in place than the one currently in use to protect the country from those who are coming from jurisdictions where COVID19 has not been so well managed.

We will need to work closely with Australia and our Pasifika neighbours whose weak health systems cannot sustain the level of care that COVID19 hospital patients require. So it was welcome news yesterday to hear that $37 million has been allocated to supporting research for a vaccine and to help ensure that our Pasifika neighbours do not miss out because of nationalist politics in larger countries.

For myself personally, Level 2 still seems like Level 2.5 despite the easing of restrictions. My work requires cars to be sanitized before they are handed over to customers. Our staff room still observes social distancing and higher level sanitization requirements. We bring our own cutlery and glasses. I still observe the distancing where possible in public.

At Level 1, with COVID19 hopefully permanently consigned to the history books, we can overhaul hygiene legislation with the hindsight gained from from nine weeks of lock down. Among the changes I want to see are:

  • Requiring all people entering bars, restaurants, cafes and eateries to sanitize their hands
  • Require inspectors to check the availability of sanitizer stations as part of their (re)licencing of premises
  • Suspend licences for any premises that are non-compliant; cancel licences for any premises that do not meet requirements when the second check happens

 

The problem with personality politics


It is a problem that rears its ugly head every election cycle.

Personality politics is the art of playing the person instead of playing their politics. To me there is nothing to be gained from indulging in the kind of poo slinging that this style of politics encourages – it is a highly destructive, demeaning practice which goes some way towards justifying the oft-spoken view that politicians are just big kids behaving like little kids.

One has only to look at the last several New Zealand election cycles and see what happened to the key candidates. In theĀ  2005 campaign there were the Exclusive Brethren allegations that permeated the National Party’s campaign. In between there have been posters that intoned former Prime Minister John Key to be a Nazi or a “Jewish Banker”. From the 2014 election campaign came the Dirty Politics book written by researcher Nicky Hager to the most recent attacks on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s character, in which she has been called a Communist, a pig with lipstick (Gareth Morgan), a hater of freedom.

The problem however goes beyond the simple attacks on politicians. As a result of allegations leaked to the media, it has a negative influence on the release of policy which often goes missing in action. Elections are meant to be as much about which party has the best policy platform for the next Parliamentary term as about which party is the most in tune with New Zealanders views on the world.

Thus no one should be really surprised that the number of people who say that they like a particular politician but cannot name or describe a single policy that that politician stands for is large. They like their style, but the devil is in the detail – do they support a social welfare system; will they support research/science/technology so we can offer our skilled labour better jobs.

This maybe made worse by the tabloid nature of a lot of media these days. In New Zealand and Australia we can blame it on the excesses of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire whose influence encourages media to print high exaggerated and often completely misleading articles with click bait headlines and little substance to them. The interference run by Mr Murdoch has heavily influenced politics in Australia where a direct correlation between the rise of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the destruction of the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard can be made.

For their part the media might be taken in by a politician who is charismatic and has a joke up their sleeve, but not ask critical questions such as whether Carmel Sepuloni is going to clean out Work and Income management for their systemic lying; will any politicians consider a G.S.T. tax cut instead of raising/lowering income taxes for the umpteenth time?

So whilst it might provide nice click bait headlines and a mud fight at the election, how much good personality politics do for New Zealand is questionable at best.

 

 

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.