Remembering Jim Anderton

Former leader of the Alliance and Progressive Parties, and businessman, Jim Anderton (James Patrick Anderton, born James Patrick Byrne)passed away on Sunday 07 January 2018.

There were plenty of times when I disagreed with Jim Anderton. The more socialist policies, with the exception of Kiwi Bank and Kiwi Saver, I found too left-leaning for my liking. The failure of his party to support minor gold mining operation on the West Coast by individuals who had obtained resource consents and were only operating for themselves I found off putting in a region where opportunities for economic development were – and still are – few and far between.

Disillusioned with the market economics that Labour was starting to support and in trouble for explicitly refusing to back selling the Bank of New Zealand, Mr Anderton left the Labour Party. He formed the New Labour Party on 01 May 1989 and used it to challenge Labour at the General Election the following year, where Mr Anderton became the first to form a new party and retain his seat.

In 1991, New Labour became the Alliance when it combined with the Mana Motuhake, Democratic and Green parties. In 1996, the Greens left to become an independent party once more. They would provide supply and confidence to the Labour-Alliance minority Government.

Mr Anderton took some significant risks with his decision to support the Labour Government decision to deploy the S.A.S. in Afghanistan. Most of his party were desperately opposed to it and factions began to form in the party. One was led by Laila Harre and and consisted of much of the Alliance Party, which little did it know, was in the early stages of electoral oblivion. Mr Anderton and his deputy Sandra Lee who also had the Conservation portfolio in the first term of the Labour-Alliance minority Government plus a couple of loyal backers made up the rest.

However, before the Alliance disintegrated, Mr Anderton had notable successes including the formation of Kiwi Saver, a sovereign fund to partially fund superannuation and Kiwi Bank, a Government controlled bank. Mr Anderton also claimed success in abolishing market rates for rental housing and lifting the minimum wage for ordinary New Zealanders.

It was the type of infighting that destroys a party, and when it broke out, combined with a swing to the centre that benefitted New Zealand First and United Future, this is what killed the pary in the 2002 election.

Mr Anderton retired from politics in 2011. He endorsed Labour candidate Megan Woods to stand in the electorate. Mrs Wood is now Minister for Earthquake recovery.

Following his retirement, Mr Anderton and a former National Party Member of Parliament, Philip Burdon decided to push for the rebuild of Christchurch Cathedral. In 2017 Mr Anderton was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

In his private life, Mr Anderton and his wife Carol had three sons and two daughters, who survive him. He was 79.

Jacinda’s first 100 days

100 days. The first three months plus 10 days. It is a thing in politics to lay out for everyone to see what one plans to do in their first 100 days in office.

Well, most governments. I cannot recall any such plan being put in place by the LIberal Government of Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, which at a glance looks like it is really not supposed to be there. Clueless as to the issues, wracked by infighting and potentially crippled by revelations that several of its most senior politicians are not legally entitled to be serving, one cannot help but wonder if they will the next Government to fall.

Contrast that with former President Barak Obama of the United States and current President Donald Trump. Both had extensive plans for their first 100 days in office. Contrast it also with former Prime Minister John Key who also had a first 100 day plan.

So does Labour leader Jacinda Ardern. And yesterday she laid out for everyone to see, what Labour’s priorities would be should Ms Ardern and her colleagues in Parliament pick up enough seats to form a coalition. At an address in Wellington to hundreds of Labour Party supporters and their candidates, Ms Ardern told New Zealand what Labour would do as immediate priorities:

  • Urgent legislation banning overseas speculators by Christmas from purchasing houses that they are not going to live in
  • Tertiary education will be free from 01 January 2018

Other priorities outside the first 100 days, but within the first year of taking office would include:

  • The minimum wage will rise to $16.50 from
  • Implementing Labours family support package by not later than 01 July 2018
  • Locking in carbon emissions at zero
  • Investigating a capital gains tax that exempts the family home – no details until after the election

Whilst appearing to be a relatively full on agenda for the first 12 months, Labour caucus members need to be thinking at the back of their minds about a longer plan. I am not talking about one just until 2020 when Labour would be up for re-election. I am talking about a bigger vision for New Zealand for the next couple of generations. In other words a plan that New Zealanders can try to see into the future with.

Political parties – and this might be an M.M.P. symptom – generally seem to look at the country’s future through the election cycle, i.e. every 3 years. Yet they seem to like using the word visionary. It would be more realistic if they could think about the next couple of generations rather than the next couple of election cycles.

Show me the money: Parties await the opening of Treasury’s books

Today is the day of the big reveal for Treasury. Today is the day that it reveals the state of the New Zealand Government coffers. Today is also the day that the election campaign writ is issued, enabling the formal period of campaigning to begin.

But back to the Treasury’s books. If not today, tomorrow or in the next couple of days is when, based on what the individual political parties know, to expect substantial policy announcements. The major policies relating to tax, investment and spending priorities will be arriving shortly.

I expect that Labour will focus on health, education and investment in jobs creation. New leader Jacinda Ardern has promised that there will be significant moves made to address climate change and has also mentioned an emphasis on railways.

We have already seen a major signal from National that its priority is road transport in its $10.5 billion announcement on roading projects. The party will also be trying to woo voters by appearing serious about policing, health and education in an attempt to shore up its voters.

New Zealand First made a major announcement in 2016 at its convention that year about its Upfront Investment policy for tertiary education, which was costed at $4.6 billion. It has mentioned several times that its major transport plan will be to improve railways.

We can expect significant policy announcements to follow from the Greens, A.C.T. and Maori Party in the next few days as well. I expect that A.C.T. will focus on reducing taxes and red tape, as well as ways of implementing its promise to build 600,000 new homes. The Green Party will have social welfare, the environment and climate change at its core, and I expect some significant policy from them on mental health. And the Maori Party will be looking at ways to improve socio-economic indicators for Maori in education, health, social welfare and crime – none of which have done very well in the last nine years..

Once the books are open and we can see what shape they are in, I will make recommendations on what the spending priorities for New Zealand should be. Although I showed at the weekend my general drift on where I think New Zealand should be heading, I have not yet mentioned in depth policy. That will come when I have an idea of the state of the Treasury books.

Local Government Act 2002 becoming convoluted

As we approach the end of the third term of this Government, it is important to look back at how the legislation defining local government in New Zealand has changed. Since 2008, a number of changes have been made that significantly alter how local councils operate and the obligations that they are expected to meet. As many of these changes have flown under the radar many New Zealanders are not aware that they even happened.

To understand how the Local Government Act 2002 came to be in its current state, we need to look at prior legislation. One of these prior Acts of Parliament is the Local Government Act 1974, which among other things made provision for the establishment of District Councils, Regional Councils, Unitary Authorities,

Prior to the 2002 Act being passed by Parliament, the 1974 legislation was quite prescriptive in terms of what councils were permitted to do. The newer legislation gave councils the flexibility to choose activities and how they are undertaken, viewed as relating to general competence and applicable in equal terms to both regional councils and territorial authorities. Since then these changes have been amended by the Local Government Amendment Act, 2010. This was prompted by public perceptions that there were councils over reaching their prescribed mandate to spend money on activities and items that are not permitted in the Local Government Act.

One such case was Kaipara District Council which in the end was found to have not breached the Act, after a dispute over the Mangawhai waste water scheme. The Auditor General agreed to pay out $5.4 million in settling the dispute.

Another is Westland District Council, which has been found wanting over repairs to infrastructure damaged by flooding in 2016. W.D.C. have had a long, drawn out and at times messy public dispute with key council managers and the Chief Executive, which have led to some high profile resignations. Although it is not clear if the Act was breached, given that a cake decorating firm with no prior knowledge of waste water was involved in a multi-million dollar contract, I think it is safe to say something went wrong.

In acknowledging the 1974 Local Government Act and the 2002 Local Government Act, it is important to briefly acknowledge the 1989 Local Government Amendment Act. This Act acknowledged that the increasingly complex, convoluted and potentially dysfunctional L.G.A. 1974 needed a significant overhaul. To that end it dismantled or merged 850 separate bodies into 86. Of those 850 there had been 249 municipalities and the other 601 were catchment boards, drainage boards and harbour boards. The current configuration includes 13 regional councils and 73 territorial authorities (City and District Councils).

In 2012 there were changes made that repealed Sections 91 and 92, which pertain to the processes for identifying community outcomes and obligations to report against said community outcomes. This essentially meant councils were no longer obligated to indicate how they were progressing in terms of creating healthy integrated communities, compared with the outcomes identified in council planning papers. In the same year, the powers of the Minister were significantly increased (s257-259) so as to permit the appointment of a Crown Observer, Crown Manager, a Commision or even calling of general elections of a council in place of one thought to be incapable of performing its statutory obligations.

I fear that if too many more Amendment Acts are passed that the Local Government Act 2002 will be too convoluted to remain in existence, thereby becoming obsolete.

Metiria’s Gamble

It was a bold thing to do. When Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her housing arrangements whilst collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit, she knew full well it was putting putting her in a minefield.

In some respects I admire her honesty. She could have said nothing and left New Zealand, the authorities and the Green Party delegates assembled none the wiser.

In other respects though there is a degree of cynicism about her admission. In doing so, she had another goal in mind other than living up to her statement that an M.P. has to be honest. That goal was to give an example – and a very risky one – of a person struggling with the D.P.B. and making a choice to not be honest with Work and Income New Zealand.

I have had my own struggles with Work and Income. But the whole time I have been transparent with them, however much I might have been tempted to lob a verbal grenade across the desk. My association with Work and Income started back in 2000 when my parents decided to check out what legal assistance a 19 year old with permanent hypertension.

It is not to say that I have got on with W.I.N.Z. or the Ministry of Social Development at large – I have not. In August 2011 after 2 months on the unemployment benefit post 22 February 2011, I started studying for a Certificate of Business Administration (about 25 hours per week)and notified W.I.N.Z. Without telling me, despite asking, how to change my support, they cut the benefit and I only found out when I went to buy lunch one day and my EFTPOS card was declined – I had gone into overdraft because I was withdrawing money that I did not know that I didn’t have. After an argument with W.I.N.Z and another with Ministry of Social Development they put me on a student allowance, which – shock, horror – was actually worth $30 LESS per week than the unemployment benefit. I finished the C.B.A. and went back on the unemployment benefit just before Christmas 2011. For the two years I played a relentless game of cat and mouse – them trying to find a way of getting me off the benefit, and me staying one step ahead of them. It is not that I did not want to work – I was desperate to work, but the job market in post-earthquake Christchurch had essentially collapsed unless you were prepared to work in construction or hospitality, neither of which I thought I was capable of doing. When I finally got a job, it was no thanks to W.I.N.Z. and totally because of my own perseverance and a gentleman at Avis Budget Group being impressed by my ability to tough out a job.

But back to Metiria. She was admittedly between a rock and a hard place. She had bills to pay. She was certain her support would be cut if she told them the truth, which would have complicated her life considerably with her university degree and having to raise a daughter on top of expenses.

I don’t think there was any malicious intent in what she did then – or in admitting her past actions – but at the same time this is the kind of activity that has given National its licence to wage war on beneficiaries. And yes, she should pay back the money anyway.