Chief Statistician resigns: But is that the end of the story?


Chief Statistician of New Zealand, Liz McPherson handed in her resignation to Minister of Statistics James Shaw on . Whilst Ms McPherson’s departure is definitely a step in the right direction, can we trust Statistics New Zealand and their treasure troves of statistical data? And if the answer is no, what will it take to restore that trust?

To briefly recap Ms McPherson’s chief task as the boss of Statistics New Zealand was to make sure that the 2018 Census ran smoothly. As is now very clear, that was anything but the case. Ms McPherson is now gone, but there are huge holes in the 2018 edition and considerable uncertainty no doubt exists among the many ministries and departments whose planning for the next few years has been thrown into turmoil.

Would it be better to simply organize a full brand new census for the earliest possible date and assume that the 2018 data is not able to be properly used? Possibly, but a new Census is not a cheap, logistically easy or rapid task to be carried out in terms of organizing it, never mind Census Night.

If not, do we know how much of the data is usable? How much data is missing? What data is missing? Are there minimum data amounts that must be maintained in order for particular data sets to be of use, and if so what are they? No doubt these questions have been taxing a lot of minds in Statistics New Zealand, as well as its Minister in Charge.

Let us assume the worst. The data sets for multiple agencies simply do not permit them to carry out appropriate planning and the next few years will be based on educated guesses rather than hard data. We will assume that it affects the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development among other significant users and providers of data. I cannot help but wonder what health, social, and education programmes are going to be underfunded, under resourced or simply stop working because of this ineptitude.

To be painfully honest, I have no confidence in Statistics New Zealand. Unless Mr Shaw reruns the Census I believe he should hand back his ministerial warrant for that particular portfolio. In April of this year Ms McPherson acknowledged no Iwi related data would be released. She also admitted that that data collection was insufficient for what was expected of the set. She should have handed her resignation in at the same time.

Where is National on this? Where is A.C.T.? I would have expected both parties to be busy making political hay out of this. I would have thought that A.C.T. leader David Seymour would have been left, right and centre telling us what A.C.T. would do and why this Government is not fit for the tasks ahead.

Stuff reporter Thomas Manch suggested that it might take years to restore the level of trust we need to have in Statistics New Zealand and its leadership. Given that even with the handing in of her resignation, Ms McPherson was still trying to play down the gravity of the situation, I am inclined to agree.

Years.

 

Assessment of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


As a response to the growing concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand, and in order to give effect to our commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015, the Government has drafted the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill. This article attempts to assess the C.C.R. Bill.

The Bill of Parliament is broken into the following parts:

  • Part 1A focuses on the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, its powers/functions/duties, composition and so forth
  • Part 1B focuses on the establishment of the emission reduction targets, the emission budgets and the processes for establishing these budgets, as well as the role of the Commission and the monitoring of the targets
  • Part 1C focuses on adaptation to climate change
  • Part 2 examines consequential amendments

There are good parts in this Bill of Parliament. They include provision for:

  • A Climate Change Commission that will include a range of figures from scientists to people in the business community, as well as those familiar with local government and planning processes
  • Reducing emissions that are not biogenic methane to net zero by 2050; reduce biogenic methane by 24-47% by 2050 and by 10% or more by 2030
  • A sequence of emissions budgets that act as stepping stones towards the above targets
  • Require the Government to develop policies for adaptation and mitigation

There is however significant room for improvement. There does not appear to be any mention of providing for more immediate as well as intermediate steps that do not need substantial policy development and which are already known to work. The lack of urgency around these has been a cause of concern among environmentalists and the Green Party, but are also potentially likely to have useful social outcomes such as improved energy budgets. I have covered all of these concerns in previous articles.

This will need a comprehensive roll out so that all agencies are aware of their obligations, but also the tools and resources at their disposal. One of the biggest problems across policy making in New Zealand and probably true of the world is the number of agencies that do not communicate and whose awareness of where they fit into the larger framework of policy is not new. For policy to be effectively given effect to, this must improve.

I expect that this Bill of Parliament will run into significant resistance when it returns following the closure of submissions. A.C.T. will oppose it point blank. National will want business concessions and be concerned about the impact on the economy and tax payers, some of which might be granted, but not all. New Zealand First as a coalition partner will likely support it, but have significant concerns about the impact on rural communities. Labour and the Greens will support, but will differ over the extent to which they should move, which might cause tensions inside the coalition.

Businesses will have concerns, and some of them will be quite valid. Others will be more about protecting sectors that are considered to be sunset industries, because in a world adapting to climate change they will probably be phased out. As adaptation is the name of the game, technological and procedural innovation are likely to feature strongly in any attempt at staying relevant.

 

ACT: The leopard thinking it can change its spots


Yesterday it was announced that A.C.T. was changing its party branding. A.C.T. Leader David Seymour announced that his party has changed its branding in an attempt to change public perceptions of a party that has struggled since 2011. From a party with 5 Members of Parliament in 2008 including the man behind Rogernomics, Sir Roger Douglas, to a one man band that has consistently polled at 1-2% and only exists at all because of Mr Seymour’s hold on the Epsom seat, why has A.C.T. consistently struggled?

In recent years Mr Seymour, as the public face of A.C.T., has tried to soften the party’s image. A quite successful stint on Dancing With The Stars, which many people had thought was an April Fools joke – aside from some twerking – showed him as an under dog, given he was expected to exit early and perhaps ungracefully like his predecessor Rodney Hide did (after dropping his partner on stage). And New Zealanders do admittedly like an under dog – one who does better than expected.

Unfortunately for all of A.C.T.’s rebranding, the leopard is not going to change its spots. Deep down A.C.T. will still be A.C.T. – a party being kept alive out of convenience to the National Party. It can change its spots dozen times. It can make them pink the rest of it markings white. It could paint itself orange or some other bright colour, but deep down nothing has changed all is still the same.

It is still the party trying to undermine our checks on speech so that it is not responsible for its undisguised bigotry. Golriz Ghahraman will still be Golly to Mr Seymour, and still a Iranian refugee M.P. who is apparently trying to boss New Zealand around. It will still be the party that Louis Crimp, an avowed disliker of the Treaty of Waitangi who thinks Maori are savages and wanted to scrap funding for Te Reo Maori, supported.

A.C.T. will still be the party that refuses to recognize the necessity of tightening up controls on semi-automatic weapons. These include the availability of accessories and modifications such as the one that has enabled mass murders including the Christchurch mosque attacks. It did not want to know about the fact that there would be further opportunity to comment when the second tranche of law comes before Parliament towards the end of this year. Concerns that become all the more stark when one considers that the primary lobby organization for gun ownership in the U.S. – a country A.C.T. and to a lesser extent National think can do no wrong – the National Rifle Association is struggling in the face of several recent mass shootings, and students saying that they have had enough.

A.C.T. will still be the party that thinks climate change is a hoax and that the best approach is the business as usual approach. It will ignore the massive loss of biodiversity around the world, the rapidly worsening number of carbon particles per million. In the name of lesser regulation it will stonewall attempts to create a collaborative approach that brings business on board. Instead of relying on “market forces” that neither know nor care for environmental or social well being, which A.C.T. espouses, knowledge of the environment, technology and society would be put left right and centre and driven by the urgency of knowing time will be needed to adapt and therefore major steps have to be taken now.

Mr Seymour would be well advised to wind up the A.C.T. Party and start over. A.C.T. is a leopard. A leopard cannot change it spots and no amount of painting over its colours will change that. When their initial leaders resigned or left under a cloud caused by acts of stupidity that they brought upon themselves, A.C.T. should have taken the opportunity to under go a rebranding then to either be something other than a failed corporate party that pretended to be about responsibility and liberty.

 

2019 New Zealand Fiscal Budget run down


Yesterday Treasurer Grant Robertson announced the 2019 Fiscal Budget, which is delivered in late May. It sets down the spending priorities for New Zealand.The Government made a promise that the 2019 Budget would be a budget about “well being”. Many people on the centre-right thought that the whole idea was all just fluffy feel good spending with little practical value.

At a first glance there appears to be little unexpected expenditure. Defence, education and a number of portfolio’s that have had recent major announcements knew not to seriously expect much more than what had already been allocated. As noted in other articles, the Defence Force is getting P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that can watch our waters, but also perform search and rescue. At some point in the next couple of years a solid decision will be taken on what shall replace the C130 Hercules as our major transport plane.

Not surprisingly the major beneficiaries of Budget 2019 have been those who need social welfare assistance from the Government. One of the several measures introduced is to index benefits to wages, which stands to affect about 339,000 individuals and families.

Schools were a surprise winner. Despite the teachers being on strike and Minister for Education Chris Hipkins being adamant there is no more available, $1.2 billion has been set aside for maintenance and upgrading of school property. This will help fund new class rooms for expanding schools, new/replacement buildings.

Perhaps the biggest loser was health. Few significant announcements appear to have been made. I was wondering if there might be money for upgrading hospitals and a modest top up of the District Health Boards following issues in recent years around funding calculations.

There was a very welcome investment of N.Z.$1 billion for railways, as an acknowledgement of the significant but under appreciated role that they play in our economy. Hopefully it will lead to Kiwi Rail better utilizing the South Island track network, which could easily allow more freight to go on rails instead of via road.

National and A.C.T. invariably cried foul on the apparent lack of regard paid by the budget to the economy. This demonstrates to me that they clearly have not latched in any way onto the fact that from Day 1 this Government has said that it will have a stronger focus on the well being of people. It is an attempt to provide redress for the socio-economic consequences of National’s market drivenĀ  philosophy. From those with family in mental health institutions, to those struggling to get their children through school and retirees concerned about being left behind in the digital era, this Budget appears to try to address their needs.

On a cautionary note though, the budget, whilst nice for those in income poverty and having issues with mental health, does raise – again – questions about the wisdom of removing the Capital Gains Tax from the table. Going into election year with National and A.C.T. nipping on Labour’s heals, the money taken from a C.G.T. would have gone some distance ensuring New Zealand’s debt does not get too big.

 

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.