A.P.E.C. Security Bill of Parliament largely unnecessary


One of the Bills of Parliament currently sitting before the Select Committee is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (A.P.E.C. 2021) Bill. The purpose of this Bill of Parliament as shown in the Explanatory Note in the legislation is to:

The policy objectives of this Bill are to—

  • support safe and secure APEC 2021 events for all world leaders, attendees, and the general public; and

  • assist in mitigating security risks that could result in harm to individuals or property or the disruption or cancellation of APEC 2021 events; and

  • assist in facilitating the timely and efficient operation of APEC 2021.

To be absolutely clear, it is not that I oppose the need to have security at these events. We will be hosting the Presidents of China, America, possibly Russia, the Philippines and a host of other nations with whom our relations are in varying states. They as visitors will want to be absolutely sure that their delegations are going to be safe and not disrupted. We as a nation want to be equally sure that we are not going to have a national embarrassment, or international incident occur because we were too slack on security.

However given that they will have their own perceptions on what constitutes a security risk, I believe that the New Zealand Police should brief them on what they can and cannot do, and turn away anyone who refuses to comply. If the foreign powers want to bring in equipment that breaks the firearms legislation currently before the House of Representatives, I believe this would create unnecessary tensions . Instead, if we have such stock available, they should be

Further more I expect that the personnel accountable to the likes of the Filipino, Russian and Chinese delegations – among others – will likely have less tolerance for protestors, given their poor regard for human rights.

Because of that I find myself in the relatively rare position of supporting Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman’s comments that New Zealand’s existing laws should be sufficient for the task at hand.

I propose the following amendments:

  1. A clause that requires all actions regarding detention, confiscation, search and other such overt actions that under other circumstances could be considered intrusive, to be in compliance with – as appropriate – the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the New Zealand Human Rights Act, 1986
  2. New Zealand Police shall act as a go between between any protestors or other persons making a statement and any foreign protection forces; New Zealand Police shall have the final say on what happens

During the 1999 A.P.E.C. Conference there was a State Banquet in Christchurch involving United States President Bill Clinton, the then President of China Jiang Zemin and former New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. Prior to the State Banquet a couple of Christchurch Boys High School students protested against Chinese repression of Tibet. Because of the proximity to the Banquet, and the extreme adversity of Chinese officials to public protests, the Chinese President refused to attend until the protestors were dispersed. Eventually New Zealand Police were requested to move the protestors along, which sparked controversy, but which I think in hindsight was probably the right thing to do, as Chinese security officials would not have taken so kindly.

The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020


2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

Alternatives to road transport dip out – again – in National transport document


National is proposing to remove fuel taxes if it is elected to office in 2020. And then effectively reinstate them as road user charges. Which to the ordinary New Zealander on the road means one thing only: we still pay for it – just under another name.

National spokesperson for Transport, Chris Bishop announced the new proposal in National’s newly released transport discussion document.

In fairness, Mr Bishop may have a point about fairness of payment methods. A less efficient vehicle might use more fuel per kilometre than a newer vehicle, especially if it is a hybrid, which is designed for low petrol use or an electric car. His solution to introduce road user charges intend to ensure that the kilometres a vehicle drives will determine how much in the way of road user charges a driver has to pay.

How will the road user charges be administered. My father owns a 1995 Toyota Surf that runs on diesel. He has to pay new charges every 10,000 kilometres. Is that an appropriate frequency in terms of kilometres travelled to pay new charges? How would this be administered to petroleum driven cars and after how many thousands of kilometres would new charges have to be paid for?

But the basic fundamental National Party paranoia about “tax”, “taxes” and “taxation” and the desperation to redress need to find replacement funding to cover what would be lost from scrapping the “tax” is at the heart of the subject – if you believe Stuff. What Stuff ignore though is perhaps not so much the fact that National is playing games with the type of funding mechanism that they use to fund roading, as it is that railways, the merchant marine and public transport once again seem to dip out in the discussion document. Perhaps – which would be legitimate for a discussion document, they are credibly asking what the funding priorities should be in these areas, in which case credit to them. But if after an election they win National choose to let these areas slip and slide away, it will be to New Zealand’s detriment.

National also appear to be playing a game of two islands. The North Island comes up in terms of funding announcements, but the South Island often dips out. Neither Christchurch, nor Dunedin seem to rate mentions in terms of funding or what National thinks it might do – or not do. There are several things that could be done, not least:

  • Making Otira tunnel safe for all trains to transit through again without the risk of coal dust causing an explosion and/or fire.
  • Using the South Island Main Trunk Line more for freight, especially through the Kaikoura area where some trucks are simply not made for those roads
  • Introduce a Lyttelton to Wellington/Lyttleton to Port Chalmers ferry service that could take freight and passengers if railways are not efficient enough

This is not to say National’s discussion document is a waste of time. I welcome it and I hope that constructive discussion is generated by it – even if I don’t want a National Party victory.

Labour and coalition partners climb in poll; National drops


A YouGov poll just out shows a gain in the number of seats every party in Parliament except for National, were an election held today.

After a slump over the last few months following the outpouring of respect for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in dealing with the Christchurch Mosque attacks, Labour can afford to smile again. Its 41% support in the YouGov poll would leave it with 51 seats in Parliament, five more than its current 46.

National Party leader Simon Bridges would be disappointed with the results, but a determination to rehash old ideas is not helping the centre-right party. Thanks to Mr Bridges outdated views on justice and his sudden insistence on the importance of being tough on crime when National failed to make any substantive changes in sentencing, it has slumped to 40 percent. That would see it surrender 9 seats to the other parties to leave it on 47.

New Zealand First and the Greens both do alright in the poll, and would have 10 seats a piece. That would give New Zealand First another M.P. and the Greens two more M.P.’s. Notably though, this was taken before the donations saga became known to the media – I do not imagine the public would have been so kind if they had known this beforehand.

Even A.C.T. for the first time since 2011 would have more M.P.’s, as its 2% plus assuming leader David Seymour is returned in Epsom would bring in an extra M.P. That would be the only bright spot for A.C.T. though as with National on 40% in this scenario, the right wing of New Zealand politics would be comfortably stuck on the Opposition benches.

However if the New Zealand public had known about the allegations embroiling New Zealand First before the YouGov poll was conducted, it is unlikely they would have been so kind to New Zealand First. The allegations, which point to serious fiscal mismanagement inside the party stem from disgust over years of opaque governance by the New Zealand First board of directors with regards to the party’s financial position.

If we held the YouGov poll today, with the fallout from the New Zealand First donations problem accounted for, this is how I expect the results would look (% / # of Seats):

  • LABOUR 42 / 54
  • NATIONAL 40 / 47
  • GREENS 9 / 11
  • N.Z. FIRST 5 / 6
  • A.C.T. 1 / 2

This would be devastating for New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. It would leave his South Island membership with no representation in the House of Representatives as Mark Patterson, a list M.P. in Clutha-Southland would be forced to leave Parliament. Labour, A.C.T. and the Greens have all had legislative victories of late or  – in the case of the Greens – M.P.’s comments going viral and starting a discussion. These would have raised their profiles somewhat and proven that they were keeping their promises, and combined with National’s surprisingly poor performance, would help to prop them up.

With the 2019 Parliament year soon to end and the 2020 campaign year just over 5 weeks away from starting, Ms Ardern might be cautiously smiling at the moment. But if the donation saga drags on and causes the conservative N.Z. First voters to leave it might be Mr Bridges with the biggest grin this time next year.

The end for political donations?


One potentially positive side effect of the New Zealand First donations saga is that it will bring to long over due attention to bear on donations and the effect that they have on New Zealand politics. The attention comes in the run up to the 2020 General Election and amid growing calls for stronger measures to control what is considered acceptable, by Members of Parliament past and present.

The Electoral Commission says that parties must report immediate donations and/or loans in excess of $30,000.

Parties may keep up to $1,500 of any anonymous donation, and up to $1,500 of any donation from an overseas person.

If an anonymous donor gives more than that, the party must pass the extra amount to us within 20 working days. If an overseas person gives more than that, the party must return the extra amount to them or, if that isn’t possible, to us within 20 working days.

However, a party can keep more of an anonymous donation if it is a ‘donation protected from disclosure’. These are payments that we make to the party on behalf of donors that want to remain anonymous. Between two successive elections, parties can receive up to $307,610 in donations protected from disclosure. If a donation will take a party over their limit, we will return the excess to the donor.

However the money donated to New Zealand political parties pales in comparison with what is donated to the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States. The money needed to cover a U.S. Presidential campaign would probably pay the basic income of every single New Zealand Member of Parliament for 40 years (based on the Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances Determination 2017). That money is used for leverage with the candidate, which is why accusations of the United States really being governed by corporations who effectively determine which party will have the White House are so effective.

Perhaps then it is telling that former Members of Parliament from both sides of the House are starting to call for donations to be dropped. Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger is just the most recent.

Member of Parliament for Botany and independent Jamie-Lee Ross has called for new rules around donations from foreigners to New Zealand political parties. Whilst some might argue that Mr Ross is acting out of spite against National for their effective expulsion from the party, the issue is one that an independent Member of Parliament can probably best carry out themselves. Mr Ross accused his former boss National leader Simon Bridges of mishandling a $100,000 donation from a Chinese by asking him to collect it and it would then be split into smaller sums to make it compliant with New Zealand

Green Party Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman is another who is trying to take action against donations through a Bill of Parliament. Her Bill calls for the declaring of all donations with a value greater than N.Z.$1,000 (currently $1,500).

But whether anything happens that changes donation laws before Parliament dissolves for the 2020 election is another story altogether. Parliament, despite words being uttered to the contrary, does not appear that interested in serious change in this election cycle, thus ensuring what the Guardian described as a weeping sore, will weep a bit longer yet.