Green “teething” issues in transition to Government

Yesterday the Green Party left its allocated oral question in Parliament blank. The oral question is one of the few opportunities that the Green Party has to put questions to the Government. It was immediately noticeable in Parliament when their allocated question slot came up and no one rose to take the opportunity.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson acknowledged the error, but said that it was just a bit of disorganization.

A bit of disorganization? Just wondering how the party has come to have five vacancies in its Parliamentary office. Given the potential research and policy development work that could have been going on, whilst appointing new staff cannot be done over night, one should ask how long have those positions been vacant?

The Green Party has not been the same since Metiria Turei resigned in disgrace from the co-leadership and ultimately Parliament in 2017, following the announcement that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her being on a benefit when she was a single mother. Whilst this is not the first problem, it is potentially one of the more embarrassing as it is happening to a party of a Government struggling in the polls, but also struggling with the transparency expected by New Zealanders that goes with holding high office.

Mrs Davidson has kept a rather low profile for a Member of Parliament who is co-leading a party in Government. This makes me wonder if she is shy of the attention, something that Mrs Turei was not. Whereas Mrs Turei was widely popular across the party, suggestions during the nomination campaign to replace her that Mrs Davidson might cause a split in the party may have some credibility.

Recently Green Party M.P. and Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage made a potentially damaging mistake in her handling of an application to Nongfu Spring to purchase land so that they could expand their Bay of Plenty processing site. The decision caused much angst in the Green Party who have staunchly opposed land sales to foreign entities and was claimed to have undermined their stance on fresh water. Ms Sage made the decision along with two other Ministers acting on advice from the Overseas Investment Office.

Whilst no Minister is perfect and plenty of other Ministers perceived to be a safe pair of hands have made significant mistakes, in most cases these did not contravene the policy platform of the party they represent. That makes Ms Sage’s decision all the more damaging.

It is not that the Green Party does not have other pairs of safe hands. Julie Anne Genter, Minister of Transport is well liked for her solid work in Opposition on dealing with transport. Since she came to office Ms Genter has not made any mistakes and has actually picked up extra work after Labour M.P. and Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority following the use of his cellphone whilst an aircraft he was on, was airborne.

Another safe pair of hands, though not a Minister, is Gareth Hughes. Mr Hughes made a significant contribution as Green spokesman for the Energy portfolio whilst in Opposition.

National changes tune on climate change

National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.

Jacinda Ardern leaves the building: It’s show time Winston

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has left. Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is about to take charge. With media claiming the Government is in strife the onus is on Mr Peters to show who is boss and bring a bunch of loose cannons under control. And himself.

I think Mr Peters will be okay, if he can keep his tongue in check. He has been Acting Prime Minister in the past. The challenge will be keeping control of a bunch of Cabinet Ministers who seem to intent on stamping their mark, which would be fine, except the manner in which they appear to want achieve this is not so fine.

Shane Jones, Minister for Regional Development is one. His attacks on Fonterra, whilst probably accurate in terms of the allegations made, are unbecoming of a Minister of the Crown. Mr Jones, who joined the New Zealand First party last year and was given a high party list ranking for the 2017 General Election has drawn the ire of many in the party.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is another. Mr Peters joined Mr Jones in attacking Fonterra, saying that Mr Jones’ comments are seriously accurate. Mr Peters might be the long serving serving Member of Parliament and have critical experience, but his volatility dealing with the media and naturally suspicious nature may make him a long term liability.

A third is Minister of Housing, Phil Twyford who was blindsided by the meth house scandal. He struggled to answer in a straight manner question posed by journalists about whether there would be compensation for those who were kicked out because the state houses they were in were thought to be contaminated.

And then there is Eugenie Sage, Minister for Environment. Ms Sage who had been unblemished until now, made a mistake in permitting a Chinese water bottling company to take land for developing a plant. Aside from being completely contrary to Green Party policy and principles, it has aroused significant anger among grass root Greens. Ms Sage will have also disappointed many people who thought that she was above the neoliberal politics of National and Labour. They would have been expecting her to decline the right to take land, just as she declined the application develop an open cast mine on the West Coast.

Six weeks is a long time in politics. All politicians know that one day they might be feted and celebrated for their stance on something and then the next possibly felled by an ambitious rival, they are suddenly on the outer. It might be hard enough as a Member of Parliament, but when one is a Minister of the Crown, the expectation of total transparency and the exercising of self discipline by the public is absolute. And with an Opposition still stinging from the election defeat and unified in their attempts to destroy this Government and put doubt in New Zealanders minds about this Government, any major failure in the six weeks that Mr Peters is Acting Prime Minister could have a long term repercussions for the Government of Jacinda Ardern.

Jacinda Ardern mustering the troops ahead of Winston Peters arrival

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a busy few days ahead of her. With a misfiring Cabinet, an absentee (both in mind and presence)Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a baby on the way, Ms Ardern knows time is not on her side.

Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis has been largely invisible. Some say he was deliberately made to go into hiding and press the flesh with the Iwi as a way of shoring up the Maori vote that enabled Labour to sweep the Maori Party from office. Some say he has been shielded because his performance in the House of Representatives when answering questions from the Opposition has its own questions to be answered. Whatever the case, Mr Davis does not seem to be handling some of the more basic duties expected of a Deputy Leader all that well.

Add a misfiring Cabinet, rattling off gaffes that no doubt give National leader Simon Bridges cause for hope, the complexity of the problems facing Ms Ardern in the next 7 days just got quite a bit worse. Transport Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority after being caught using his cellphone on a flight.

Ms Ardern has her own problems too. And that is not a reference to her impending date with maternity ward, so much as it is a nod to the fact that one of her flag ship policies, ending oil exploration has not gone down the way it was intended. Whilst it now takes a bit of a breather as climate change policy is before the public whilst they are granted the opportunity to make a submission on it, no mistake should be made about the fact that National is going to assemble a formidable case against banning oil exploration. Whilst the result would probably have still been the same, it should have at least been put to Cabinet first.

With all of these problems, little wonder Ms Ardern is only intending to be on leave for six weeks. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, First Man in New Zealand and First Dad will have a significant role to play at home, not just looking after their baby, whenever and however it may come. So who will fill the void for six weeks?

Cue Winston Peters, the survivor of a dozen terms in Parliament, with experience as Cabinet Minister in three Governments. Captain of the Nation for six weeks.

New Zealand politics might be in a piece of uncharted water here. With just a couple of weeks to go before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives birth to her first child, the New Zealand First-Labour-Green Coalition is readying itself for a six week period with an acting-Prime Minister.

Winston Peters however is not new to this situation. He has been Acting Prime Minister in the past, when New Zealand First supported the National led Government of formers Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley. As the longest serving member of Parliament – having spent most of the last 40 years in and around the Beehive and Parliament Buildings – Mr Peters knows the Standing Orders better than anyone including probably the Speaker of the House.

Mr Peters also has significant ministerial experience as well. He was Treasurer in the National-led Government of Mr Bolger/Mrs Shipley for 20 months before being fired by Mrs Shipley in August 1998. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs under former Prime Minister Helen Clark in the 2005-2008 Government. During that time he met a number of high ranking politicians from overseas including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Mr Peters has a knack for reading the minds of the voters. It is not possible to get as far as Mr Peters has without being able to read the electorate. Combine this with his witty, charismatic nature, ability to dish out one liners or complex answers as they are needed and you have the makings of a leader. But to get as far as Mr Peters has, one needs to have a genuine passion for the role, a hunger to succeed and

E.Q.C. report nothing new

Another E.Q.C. report – the same old story: disgruntled claimants, botched repairs and no one being made to take responsibility.

After 7 years of dealing with the consequences of the 04 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 earthquakes the latest E.Q.C. report was not surprising in the least, except perhaps with regards to how scathing it was.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Megan Woods has been in the job for 8 months now. Annette King who was appointed Chairwoman of E.Q.C.’s Board has been instructed by Ms Woods to accept the findings and begin implementing the recommendations immediately.

All well and good so far. But having spent most of a decade waiting for satisfactory resolution to their claims and fair, full and final payouts to match, many will be short on patience. Some of the claimants are in their 80’s and should not need to be still dealing with problems that might have started when they were still in their 70’s. These are the people who should be happily living out their final days enjoying their time with their relatives and friends, doing things they like and not having to worry about what the Earthquake Commission is or is not doing about their property.

The Earthquake Commission for its part needs to play along with Mrs King’s implementation of the findings. No time to delay, no games to play – anyone who begs to differ should be shown the door forthwith..

The report, whilst welcome has some serious issues to overcome, namely:

  • What will be the period in which claims can be settled – open ended settling periods are not acceptable and have been the cause of considerable and well documented angst among claimants
  • Will Cabinet approve the reimbursing of insurance companies if they agree to immediately settle on all over-the-cap claims? Ms Woods says that she will, but given the financial pressure it is likely to add, it remains to be seen if Cabinet will come on board
  • The standard of repairs needs addressing – the repairs should not have been signed off in the manner that they were until someone with neutral oversight could check the standard
  • Hire the necessary staff to do the job and stop pretending everything is under control when it is clearly obvious that it is not
  • Tell E.Q.C. that non-compliance is not an option

It is with guarded optimism that I wait to see what will happen. Having been in Christchurch for all of the magnitude 6.0+ events – 04 September 2011 (7.1); 22 February 2011 (6.3); 13 June 2011 (6.4) and 23 December 2011 (6.0) – as well as nearly all of the aftershocks between magnitude 5.0-5.9 and felt the stress, I can totally understand the frustration and anger. It is long since time to get this mess fixed.