Labour fails to act on welfare report recommendations


In August 2017, hot on the heals of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern becoming Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, co-leader of the Greens Metiria Turei took a gamble. She admitted in a speech where she laid down the case for complete reform of Work and Income New Zealand that she had committed benefit fraud.

The nation was stunned. The Greens were understandably horrified, especially when she mentioned it had not yet been paid back. A political revolt was brewing. One of the brightest rays of hope in the Greens was flushing her career down the toilet and trying to take the party with it. To any Green member that gurgling sound must have sounded like something from a horror movie that had become too real for their liking.

But maybe it was a political master stroke in disguise whereby she would end her career, the Greens would get a new co-leader – though I honestly thought Mrs Turei was alright – and the Greens would use her credibility to get a promise of reform from Labour. Master stroke or not, that is what looked like happening.

Until Friday. On Friday the report that was meant to recommend widespread reform of the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies was finally delivered 20 months after Labour formed a coalition and 21 months after Mrs Turei’s shock announcement. The hard done ever suffering honest folk who deal with Work and Income on a daily basis and the similarly suffering folk who work there must have been quietly thinking that this would be the day when the Government would announce sweeping reforms to enact the changes recommended.

Quelle horreur!!! Jaws dropped to places where hydraulic assistance will be needed to get them back. Hearts sank to the the deepest recesses. The hopes of thousands dashed by a pathetic flimsy announcement that only three of the recommendations in the report would be adopted by the Government.

The temptation to blast the Greens for having gone along with this is there. However in fairness to them they managed to squeeze out in the 2018-19 Budget a significant amount of money. When added to the promises Labour made to its own members and $3 billion to New Zealand First for regional development, the total amount of money that is locked up is substantial and does not leave much spare change behind. The Greens might have to just bite a potentially painful bullet and accept that this is not going to happen rapidly – and as one who has been messed around by Work and Income, I can understand the frustration of those who might have benefited from a bigger effort to implement the recommendations.

Instead it is Carmel Sepuloni who finds herself in the sights of this blog. After a year of relative inactivity in terms of getting policy passed and implemented, to come out and say that just three of the recommendations are going to be implemented, this is really a massively wimpish response. It could be forgiven if there is an election year promise or something more in either this years or next years Fiscal Budget. Otherwise when Ms Ardern reshuffles her cabinet, I don’t fancy Ms Sepuloni keeping hold of the Social Welfare portfolio.

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.

Early rumblings in 2019 local government elections


The first rumbles of the 2019 local government elections are starting to reverberate through the political landscape of New Zealand local government. Although the main campaign period is some months away, it has not stopped several notable local politicians from announcing they are standing Mayor.

In Auckland, former Labour Member of Parliament John Tamihere has announced his intention to stand against incumbent Mayor of Auckland and one time Minister of Justice, Phil Goff. Mr Tamihere proposes to open up the council finances to Aucklanders so that they are able to better see where their rate payer dollars are going.

Further south in Christchurch, incumbent Mayor Lianne Dalziel has announced that she will stand for a third term in office. Ms Dalziel secured the mayoralty in 2013 after much of the Christchurch City Council was voted out following a controversy – and disaster ridden – second term by the then Mayor Bob Parker. During her tenure, Councillor Raf Manji has rebalanced the council books which showed serious flaws, including considerably under-estimating the value of Christchurch’s assets when filing a claim with the insurance companies over earthquake damage.

Also possibly standing for Mayor is Councillor Jamie Gough, linked to businessman Anthony Gough who was one of the major private players in the dividing up of C.B.D. land. Mr Gough’s decision to announce a possible stand was in part informed by the growth of council projects that amount to unnecessary expenditure, but also a need to rein in rates.

However, since then, a tendency by the council to embark on projects that do have necessarily have sufficient or appropriate rate payer support, has resulted in much criticism being laid. They include a current plan to redesign Riccarton Road to have a traffic island with green space down the middle, unnecessary arts installations around the city including random steel sculptures set in the middle of the Avon River. Also planned is what I call an arty farty design around the perimeter of Cathedral Square which in my opinion do nothing for it.

Worryingly for some districts where the population base is quite tiny, a person can stand for council and get in simply because in their ward there might not be anyone else standing. Such a situation to me suggests two things:

  1. Local Government politics are simply not worth most peoples time
  2. Perhaps these small districts whose population base in some cases is only a few thousand should be looking at being dissolved into their neighbouring districts

In other councils such as Westland District Council, which has been rocked by scandal, rate payers will be looking forward to enacting a change of guard. The W.D.C., which in 2016 was made to admit that it had hired a company that bakes cakes to do work on a waste treatment plant in Franz Josef, that due hiring processes had not been followed. All of this which resulted in multiple high profile departures

Watch this space as we move further into 2019 and other potential candidates put their hands up to be a on a local board, council or even mayor.

 

Government doing okay considering differences


Yesterday I blasted the state of politics in New Zealand and how I find myself along with others feeling abandoned by the party we supported over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Whilst all true and I stand by it, this is just one dimension to a multi-dimensioned state of New Zealand politics, which this article will discuss.

New Zealand, despite its nearly 25 years of experience with coalition Governments, nonetheless has a somewhat chequered history with them in a Mixed Member Proportional environment. M.M.P had its first election in 1996, which resulted in a hung Parliament – neither the incumbent National Party or the Oppposition Labour Party were large enough as a result of that election to form a Government on their own and needed New Zealand First, which had gathered 17 seats and held the balance of power.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chose National. That lasted 20 months and about a year after it formed, the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger was ousted by his deputy Jenny Shipley. After a tumultuous eight month in which Mrs Shipley floated the sale of Wellington Airport, privatizing the energy sector and pushing through reforms that led to significant increases in university fees (and equally significant student revolts in campuses across the country in 1999), the coalition Government collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Contrast that with the coalition Government of today, and contrary to the assertions of National Party Leader Simon Bridges that it is in disarray, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is doing alright. Do they agree on everything? Absolutely not and there are plenty of good opportunities coming up for the two to have major disagreements. Mr Peters, whilst claiming to reject the neoliberal stance of both National and Labour, undermined that when his party chose to support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something myself and others had staunchly hoped he would reject.

They are co-operating on other matters. Mr Peters got a N.Z.$1 billion injection of spending into foreign aid shortly after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs (for a second time). New Zealand First is able to announce significant projects for rural development, something that National lagged behind on during its time in office.

New Zealand First is likely to clash significantly with the Greens. On issues such as defence, justice, criminal law and so forth, New Zealand First will always be more conservative than the Greens. It is not to say that the stance is necessarily correct as there is a great need to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of urgency and review how we treat drug addiction, which is distorting crime statistics significantly with arrests and punishments for relatively minor offences.

Whilst the Greens have made some progressive since Metiria Turei’s departure, it is still struggling with the fallout from Mrs Turei’s admission of having lied to Work and Income New Zealand. This gives New Zealand First a chance to make inroads in pushing the great body of policy that makes up the party manifesto. Whether N.Z.F. realizes this and seizes the opportunity is another story altogether.

The party will also probably clash with Labour at some point. Labour, despite its swing to the left in the last election is still tarred – and might be forever – by its experiment in the 1980’s with market economics. It’s failure to buy back the electricity grid in full has disappointed many. It’s reluctance to announce significant increases in investment in science, diversifying the economy

I am expecting to see significant further announcements across the remainder of this Parliamentary term in a range of areas – from the Defence Force announcing what will replace the C-130 Hercules transports, to the $300 million promised for Christchurch transport to the education review and how the concerns over oil and gas bans will be tackled.

But that does not change the fact that if an election were held in the very new future your guess would be as good as mine about how I would vote. Right now, I honestly don’t know.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 1


When one is on holiday, it is a chance to note how the locals live and what one can learn from the experience. As a tourist through the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands, I kept a photographic record of what I saw. This part focuses on tourism in Europe.

Starting off in the United Kingdom I visited central London over the course of several days. It is a nice city with much history. The congestion in the central city, despite the efforts of the local councils to reduce it is still as present as ever. I found that there were parts that were really clean and lovely and parts that were not so great. The grounds of the attractions were clean and well maintained, but the number of people just casually stubbing out cigarettes on the ground and leaving them there at railway stations like London Paddington was disappointing, as was the sight of full up rubbish bins that obviously needed urgent emptying.

The old town quarters in Stockholm and Goteburg were cleaner. That might have more to do with the banning of non emergency and service vehicles from them. As cars did not exist when the streets were first laid down, it is also too narrow for them to safely manoeuvre. But the great aspect of this was, as a tourist on foot, you did not need to worry about being run over, and it also enabled street artists to perform their crafts and let audiences gather to watch.

These centres also had nice pedestrian friendly squares where much activity was taking place. Again, no cars unless they are service or emergency vehicles. These public areas were being used for concerts and other public events, as well as food, craft stalls and buskers. I saw good examples of this in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Brussels.

Public square in Stockholm, Sweden, with the creamy coloured building housing the Nobel Prize Museum (R. GLENNIE)

Small towns such as Ypres had their own centres of public attention. Each night at Ypres, which spent most of World War 1 within both German and Allied artillery range, there is a short ceremony to acknowledge the huge loss of lives in the five battles that took place around it. The ceremony happens daily at 2000 hours at Menin Gate, which is this huge arch over one of the vehicle entry points into the old town. Roughly 800-1000 people turn up each night. Each panel in the walls of the arch from top to bottom are filled with the names of dead Australians, British, Canadian and other allied nationalities who fought in the battles.

The daily remembrance ceremony at Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

Others, such as Brugge did not so much have a focal point, as a wide range of craft stores. Brugge is renown for its chocolate, waffles and craft beers – all specialties of Belgium. Bars, restaurants and cafes as well museums with rich local histories all help make the flavour of the town. To cap it off, a functional wind mill and historic watch towers also exist in the town limits.