Labour surges; National dives – and a smorgasbord of issues demand action


A new political poll came out yesterday, which put Labour ahead of National. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s popularity is also well ahead of out going National Party leader Bill English.

The recent poll of support for our political parties should not really come as a surprise. Despite the best attempts of the National Party to get a fix on Ms Ardern and her Labour led minority Government, Ms Ardern’s popularity is soaring just like her party’s.

At 48%, Labour’s support is the highest it has been in 15 years. It would have have enough to be able to jettison one of its minor support parties and govern with the other. In this case it would not have any choice, as on current support of just 5% the Greens would be the only one returned to Parliament. At 3% New Zealand First would not be returned to Parliament, the lowest support that the party of Winston Peters has seen in nearly a decade.

If an election were held today, these results would show a radically altered Parliament.

  • LABOUR = 48%/58 seats (59 seats)
  • NATIONAL = 43%/52 seats (54 seats)
  • GREENS = 5%/6 seats
  • ACT = 1%¹ = 1%/1 seat

¹David Seymour holds the Epsom seat, thus A.C.T. has a place in Parliament. ²Remaining seats needed to fill the 120 seat Parliament come from the party lists.

But the real pressure on Labour is still to come. The real pressure comes from the smorgasbord of issues demanding action from a Government that promised much. Issues with crime, the economy, mental health, waste, education and a host of others are ringing loudly. In a year where the rise of particular social movements – one calling for better recognition that sexual harassment is totally not okay, and the other a seemingly sudden declaration of war on single use plastic – Labour can grab an opportunity to steal a march with legislative changes or other support to shore up its base.

Labour needs to be careful though as many of the other issues are ones where normally one hears an emphasis on them from conservative parties, such as justice and the economy. Labour needs to move on one or more of these to deprive National of political oxygen. With almost daily violent crime being reported up and down the country, and an alarming level of it involving drug addled individuals wielding weapons, it is not a great look for a country that prides itself on being safe.

So, whilst Labour can take some pleasure in the results, there is much to be done and the public are hungry for action.

A.C.T.’s End of Life Choice Bill before Parliament


Lecretia Seales, a Wellington lawyer who had an incurable brain disease, died nearly 2 1/2 years ago. She was 42. Through out the last stages of her life she fought to have the right to die a peaceful death by lethal injection on her own terms, instead of potentially losing her dignity. The case has raised the issue in New Zealand of whether or not one should have that right. Three separate attempts to resolve it through the legislative processes of Parliament have all met with failure.

Yesterday another attempt in the form of A.C.T. Party Leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill began. Mr Seymour who has actively championed a right for a patient in terminal pain or suffering a terminal illness, particularly if it is debilitating in nature, is confident New Zealanders will support the Bill.

It has the support of various National and Labour Members of Parliament including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour M.P.’s Iain Lees-Galloway and Kris Faafoi, as well as National M.P.’s such as Chris Bishop, Nathan Guy and Mr Seymour. New Zealand First will support it if an amendment to require a public referendum on the issue is added – which Mr Seymour said he will support if N.Z. First can find the votes.

There are moral and ethical issues that any court considering such an issue should deal with.  It needs to be sure that it is not going to set such a legal precedent that could be reasonably challenged in a court of law.

I personally support a process to allow people with terminal illness or pain to die with dignity. To watch someone a person loves and cares about suffer pain they do not need to suffer, knowing it will never go away and over time will only get worse is devastating. To watch their dignity disappear and the life, the personality of the person drain from their being before ones eyes is not something I would wish on anyone.

The process will need checks and balances. I propose the following checks and balances:

  • Is fully aware of the decision that they are making and able to comprehend it
  • Has signed something that has a prominent place on their medical file, expressly permitting them to be put to sleep
  • Has a doctor whose ethical suitability for administering the lethal injection has been certified, and that a process overseen by an appropriate medical organization such as the Royal College of General Practitioners for ensuring only such doctors are able to carry out such procedures is in place

I understand that this will provoke a substantial and at times tense and controversial reaction. That is quite okay. This was always going to be a contentious Bill of Parliament no matter which way it goes, or how far through the legislative process it gets. I understand that those adhering to a particular faith will be potentially alarmed at what they will see as an attack on morality. Again, it is quite okay to express strong opinion.

What is not okay is to openly advocate violence against institutions or people that support/do not support this. That will just – aside from being criminal due to the violence promoted – be hugely and unnecessarily inflammatory. What is not okay is to be deliberately obstructionist.

I hope I never have to make this decision on behalf of a loved one, but I would be guided by what they want first and foremost. Then I would worry about how to carry their wishes out legally. And the moralizing people will just have to live with it.

Labour and Greens surge in post election poll


Three weeks into her first term as Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern can smile at the poll gods, who yesterday signalled that Labour and the Greens would be able to govern alone if elected today.

Perhaps the public are finding the sour grapes of National and A.C.T. too much to swallow, so they are relishing the more pleasant ones on offer from the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour. For the last few weeks, National has been relentlessly attacking Ms Ardern and her new Government – be it on taxation, Pike River or their first days in Parliament as the new Government.

This is realistic. Normally the public are happy to give a new Government a few months to settle in, during which time mistakes are simply considered part of the settling process. A new Oppositions’ initial attacks are usually not that effective as its M.P.’s will be still smarting at the election loss and – if it was a big one – they might well be looking for a new leader. During this time the new opposition parties can normally just bide their time, look at what they did wrong in the election.

And that is what makes this situation interesting. National only lost the election because New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had to make a choice – prop up a Government out of ideas and out of touch with the socio-economic needs of New Zealanders. The risk here is that would perhaps tear N.Z. First apart whilst ensuring National and A.C.T copped a right thrashing in 2020.

I can understand how National M.P.’s and their supporters might be bitter. They had the numbers to clearly form a coalition without A.C.T if Mr Peters had come on board. But this was a Government ignoring concerns that Labour and the Greens were able to capitalize on about housing, about mental health, about education and welfare among a host of others. Those concerns were being ratcheted up to deafening levels. The other point is that National should be well aware by now that there is an unwritten rule in Parliament that only a truly exceptional Government survives to have a fourth term.

The alternative was the one that Mr Peters choose: to support a new untested combination in Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw. Whilst untested and the Greens barely starting to recover from Metiria Turei’s gamble, Ms Ardern clearly had the charisma, the attentiveness to public opinion and a few ideas on addressing what the public sees as major issues.

The agenda is ambitious. And new expenditure plans are being announced at regular intervals. People on the centre right want to know where the money is going to come from, but seem to forget that under National and A.C.T. we borrowed tens of billions of dollars and nary a word got said by these critics then. The Government has announced details of its tax committee just like what was promised when Ms Ardern first mentioned it. Steven Joyce’s attacks on their expenditure are those of a man with sour grapes who does not want to admit he is wrong.

But the polling gods seem to approve of the plans laid out so far, or Labour and the Greens would not have achieved the support they did in the recent poll.

 

Government to end “Three Strikes” law


Today Minister of Justice, Andrew Little announced that the Three Strikes law, which was presented to Parliament by the National-A.C.T. Government in 2009, will be replaced.

A.C.T and National have savaged the Government. A.C.T. leader David Seymour claimed Little has created the “evilest clean slate law”. He further said that it was a green light for offenders to go on to commit further serious crime because the deterrence of a harsh sentence would no longer be there.

Mr Seymour is jumping the gun. The announcement was that the law would go and that the legislation to repeal it would be presented to Parliament late next year. It did not say that Mr Little has created new legislation, when it was acknowledged no thought had yet been given to a replacement law. Mr Seymour further ignores the fact that a disproportionately harsh sentence is as dangerous in dealing with an offender in terms of rehabilitation and understanding what s/he did, as a weak sentence that fails to recognize the gravity of the offence/s.

I support its removal as the “Three Strikes” law has led – just like it has in the United States, where the inspiration for the law came from originally – to some grossly disproportionate sentences, such as the case of a prisoner who committed indecent assault in prison on his third strike and had the book thrown at him.

If the Three Strikes system is removed though, I do wonder what will replace it.

What I believe is more urgent is for the legislation governing sentencing to be amended. It is all very well to hand down a sentence, but to have it the accused then only do a fraction of it is to undermine the whole point of that sentence in the first place. For example, if someone commits murder and the sentencing judge hands down 20 years, but the accused is out in 10 years, where is the justice in that. The family and friends of the dead person will be understandably aggrieved by what has happened as they will never see their loved one/friend again. To then be told that the offender will be out after only serving half of the sentence will be seen as a miscarriage of justice.

This announcement is a positive one. However much wider reform is needed. Better allowance for the rights of victims needs to be made; sexual abuse victims need to have greater confidence in the justice system and the police – whilst the latter has made good progress in the last decade, there is still work to be done.

New and unfamiliar homes for National and Labour


When Parliament sits for the first time, there will no doubt be a new round of maiden speeches, as new Members of Parliament are asked to tell New Zealand and the world about their journey to Parliament. There will be the swearing in of the Members and the new Government. All of which may seem a bit disconcerting for people who were in some cases people holding down regular Monday to Friday jobs just a few weeks ago.

Spare a thought for the new Opposition and the new Government, suddenly sitting in seats in the House that – depending on which one part one refers to – were either dreading, or long for. Without a doubt there will be humorous moments where someone forgets their allocated seat and sits somewhere else, only to have to move.

For a time there is no doubt it will seem strange to National Members of Parliament to find themselves sitting on the Opposition benches, which just seven weeks ago they had every reason to believe they would avoid sitting on for another three years.

The enthusiasm for replacing Leader of the Opposition-designate Bill English seems minimal at this time. National, having had the advantage of watching Labour churn through Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little before settling on Jacinda Ardern, will have understandably little appetite for its own inquisition. Perhaps that might come later, should the polling suddenly drop out from under the new Government.

Instead, National will no doubt focus on using its formidable resources and 56 M.P.’s to mount a devastating counter attack. The three years in Opposition will be long and they will no doubt cause a few Members of Parliament to reassess their priorities, but many – having witnessed what they thought was a growing arrogance – will be pleased to see Members of Parliament such as Jonathan Coleman, Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett among others being forced to eat humble pie.

Its traditional support partner, the one man band of David Seymour, called A.C.T. will find plenty to be frustrated with. Impotent as a one person band, wondering why National did not follow more of its suggestions and wondering how to grow, there will be plenty on its plate. On top of all this, A.C.T. has Mr Seymour’s euthanasia bill before the House. Given it is one of the few things A.C.T. sees eye to eye with left leaning M.P.’s on, this could be its one chance to do something useful.

Likewise for Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens, those first few weeks on the benches normally reserved for the governing party or in this case parties, will seem equally unfamiliar. For the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand it will be a completely unfamiliar – albeit very welcome – feeling.

Going from a party that was dead in the water and sinking at the end of July to holding office with the Greens and New Zealand First – I am sure in all three parties there will be M.P.’s pinching themselves, wondering how they managed to pull this off. Given that most of these M.P.’s have never been Ministers before, including the Prime Minister-designate, it will be a period of steep learning as they come to grips with their Ministerial portfolio’s and responsibilities.

For the Greens this will be the start of a whole new chapter, there will be only a few instances around the world of a Green Party holding ministerial portfolio’s. Having waited nearly 20 years to hold the ones that they will be handed, the incentive to be careful will be strong.

For New Zealand First, this is just the second time they have been the King (or in this case, the Queen)maker. The memories of 1996, where New Zealand was made to wait for 9 weeks was not lost on them, and this time despite having a much more fractured Parliament, it was able to reach a decision after just 26 days. Like the Greens, the incentive to be careful will be strong as it is unlikely Mr Peters will get another chance to be in such a role.